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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Manicotti or Cannelloni: There IS a Difference

Distinctive Dishes With Unique Flavors And Textures

I wanted to make cannelloni the other day but I was pressed for time. So I went shopping and bought a box of manicotti shells. Actually, I really didn't buy “manicotti” shells; that's just what the manufacturer calls them.

Don't worry if you don't know the difference. Most “Italian” restaurants in the US don't either. And, obviously, neither do the people who make pasta for American consumption.

Manicotti – which roughly means “sleeves” – is a filled crepe rather than an actual pasta and is traditionally prepared in a special crepe pan. In Italy, one would be hard pressed to find “manicotti” on a menu as anything made from a crepe is likely to be called a “crespelle.”

Cannelloni is a stuffed pasta dish. And although the stuffing, or ripieno, can often be the same, the element that sets the two apart is the actual construction of the dish. In making cannelloni, you start with a pasta sheet which you stuff and roll into a tube. The word “cannelloni” loosely translates to “big reeds” or “big tubes.” Or you can buy said big tubes ready for stuffing. Except in America, they're sold as manicotti. Got it?

If you're going to make cannelloni at home, you can use a lasagne sheet or you can make your own pasta. You par cook the pasta sheets, lay them out on dampened towels or paper towels, put a couple of tablespoons of whatever filling you're using – cheese, meat, spinach, mushrooms, etc. – along a long edge, roll it up and place it seam side down in a baking dish already layered with your sauce of choice, usually either a tomato sauce or a bechamel. Pour a little more sauce over the top, sprinkle on some grated cheese, and bake it.

Or, if you're adventurous, you can use the aforementioned “manicotti” shells, but beware; stuffing a pre-made shell is not a task for the faint of heart or inexperienced of hand. Once you par cook the shells – and you do have to par cook them – the little buggers become both slippery and fragile. It's really easy to tear one in the process of filling it. And filling it is a process, for sure. You can try spooning the filling in – a technique almost guaranteed to tear up the pasta – but good luck getting an even filling all the way through. Piping in the filling from a pastry bag or its equivalent is a much better way to get an even fill, but here, too, you run the risk of popping the shell if you pipe a little too vigorously. It's faster, easier, and more authentic to do the roll up method.

And that's pretty much the same way you make manicotti. Same technique, anyway. Different building material. For manicotti, you need to start with a super-thin crepe. And I do mean super-thin. If your crepe is too thick or uneven in texture, you're going to have a hard time stuffing and rolling it. A decent crepe batter can be made with 3/4 cup flour, 2 eggs, 2 or 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 3/4 cup of milk, 1/4 cup warm water, and a little salt and pepper. A crepe pan is nice, but a good non-stick pan will work, too. From there on, it's a matter of technique. Getting the right amount of batter in the pan, swirling it around to get the right consistency, flipping it or turning it properly – if you can make pancakes you can do it. It just takes a little practice. Then you lay the crespelle out flat and fill and and roll it in the same manner as you would with pasta for cannelloni.

Most American cookbooks and recipe websites, as well as most Italian-American restaurants, use the terms “cannelloni” and “manicotti” interchangeably. But they really are distinctive dishes with unique flavors and textures. Try 'em both and experience the difference.

Buon appetito!

13 comments:

  1. Thank you for the explaination! I knew there had to be a difference. My family and I love the manicotti crepe. It "feels" so much lighter.

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  2. still looks like 2min noodles :)

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  3. Heck, and here I've been telling people it was the other way around; but they eats em just the same. Mary Zeman

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  4. Finally a decent explaination. I was confused ever so long about the difference. Thanking you all the way from Melbourne, Australia.

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  5. Thank you for the information! So what I understood here is no matter what the filling was, the difference is in the pastry! Manicotti uses very thin crepes or pasta, and the canneloni is a regular pasta tubes or uses pasta dough, am I right?

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    1. Yeah. That's pretty much 663 words boiled down to one sentence. :-) I went to a new Italian-American place the other day that correctly identified the dish as "crespelle"........and it was WONDERFUL. Like eating a pillow stuffed with ricotta. Which actually sounds kind of disgusting, when you think about it. But you know what I mean.

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  6. Excellent explanation. Thank you so very much!

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  7. Thank you!!! I made cannelloni tonight for supper and it WAS delicious (thought I'd have enough for 2 nights but my husband had other ideas!), made with store bought manicotti shells and I asked my Italian husband whether they were manicotti or cannelloni and his response!! LOL "I have no idea but they are freakin amazing!!" ;) I guess he liked them, I commented that they were so good, I might have to do them again this week!! So meat filled cannelloni is on the menu for later in the week after I settle down from this binge supper!! :)

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  9. Hey, I wanted to give you a secret way to use store bought "manicotti" shells and fill them easily. Do NOT par cook them, stuff them while they are still rigid. Then put them into the pan on a layer of sauce, cover with sauce and cheeses, then take a spatula and push the ingredients away from the edge of the pan to create a moat. fill the moat with red wine. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour at 425 then uncover and bake additional 20 minutes. The moisture from the wine cooks the pasta. My grandmother did the same thing for lasagna

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  10. I grew up Italian in northern New Jersey and we never had either manicotti or cannelloni. We DID have stuffed shells on occasion. I worked in an Olive Garden in PA during college and what they called manicotti was filled with cheese and what the called cannelloni was filled with meat (veal I think it was)

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