When it’s just the two of you and you want something comforting like a baked pasta dish, this chicken, spinach and artichoke cannelloni is easy to do on a small scale. It’s elegant enough for a special dinner and you don’t even have to get a pot of water boiling to cook the pasta.
Cannelloni and manicotti are terms that get used interchangeably, however, subtle differences do exist. In a nutshell, cannelloni is made with sheets of pasta or crepes and rolled to contain the filling, while manicotti starts with large dried pasta tubes and is stuffed. Flat no-boil dried lasagna noodles replace fresh pasta sheets. The noodles require only a short soaking in hot tap water to make them pliable for rolling.
Because it’s just the two of us, I didn’t want to purchase an entire container of ricotta cheese for the filling, use only a small amount and then figure out a use for the rest. What usually happens is it sits in the refrigerator, gets funky and I end up having to throw it out. Instead, I used spreadable cream cheese flavored with onions and chives. I only used half of an 8-ounce container, but it’s easier to use it up and keeps longer than an opened container of ricotta.
Frozen artichoke hearts are always going to have better flavor than canned. If you can possibly find them in a bag versus a box, you’ll be able to simply remove what you need and return the rest to the freezer for use at a later date.
The filled cannelloni is smothered in a creamy Parmesan bechamel. Be sure to leave the edges of the cannelloni slightly uncovered so they get nice and crispy from baking.
Serve with a simple green vegetable or salad.
Non-stick cooking spray
6 flat no-boil lasagna noodles (such as Barilla)
2 cups fresh baby spinach (packed)
8 frozen artichoke hearts (about 1/2 cup), thawed, patted dry and coarsely chopped
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast half (about 1 cup), cooked and diced
4 ounces cream cheese with chives and onions (1/2 of an 8-ounce container), room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 pinch ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 11 x 7-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. Fill a shallow pan with hot tap water. Soak the lasagna noodles until pliable while preparing the filling. When pliable, drain and pat dry with paper towels.
Place spinach in a microwave-safe container and add 1-2 tablespoons water. Microwave on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until wilted. Drain, cool, squeeze out any excess water and coarsely chop. Combine spinach, artichoke hearts, chicken, cream cheese, garlic, 1/4 cup Mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Set aside.
Heat butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened. Stir in salt and pepper, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and a pinch of nutmeg. Pour 1/2 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
Place even amounts of the chicken filling on one of the short sides of the lasagna noodles. Roll up and arrange in a row on the bechamel sauce. Pour remaining sauce over the cannelloni. Sprinkle remaining Mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.
Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20 to 25 minutes or until top is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling.