How to Make Perfect Cannelloni with Carla Tomasi

Carla Tomasi was a trailblazing chef in early 1980s London - she was the first on the scene, before Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of River Cafe fame. She ran her own restaurant called Frith's in Soho for years - until Westminster Council pushed up rentals making it impossible for her to keep going. These days she's a teacher in Rome at the Latteria Studio in Trastevere. Her classes are full of vegetables she's grown in her own kitchen garden. Go if you ever find yourself in Italy. 

This is her recipe:

The inclusion of marjoram, mint and lemon zest do not vouch for a traditional recipe but add a light and fresh note.

The recipe is a long one, with 3 different elements, but it's not difficult. Cannelloni freeze well so make more than you need and save some for later.

The pasta

For a 3 egg pasta: weigh the eggs. Double the amount, then subtract 10g. This is the amount of 00 flour you should mix with the beaten eggs to form a smooth dough. If it is too dry, then add a tiny bit of water. Watch the video as to how to roll out and prepare the pasta.

The filling

The light and delicious filling can be used to make cannelloni, ravioli, crespelle or layered in a lasagna. Any leftover filling can be frozen, for later use, up to three months without losing too much flavor. Ricotta is a cheese that connot be frozen on its own – I have tried and once defrosted it is unuseable- but once mixed with other ingredients ( namely grated parmigiano or pecorino that seem to hold it together) it is fine.

300g cleaned weight of spinach or a mixture with Swiss chard for a more mellow taste

250g cow’s milk ricotta- or sheep’s milk for a stronger flavour but make sure it is well drained

3 to 4 tablespoons of grated parmigiano or a mix with grated pecorino

Several gratings of nutmeg

Leaves from few sprigs of fresh marjoram- chopped


Cook your chosen leaves in boiling salted water. Drain, leave to cool a little and then squeeze out most of the water. Chop with a sharp knife if you wish for some texture or turn into a puree in a food processor. Tip into a bowl,  add the rest of the ingredients and give all a good mix. Few grindings of black pepper and some salt if needed. Filling can be made few days in advance and kept under refrigeration.

The thin bèchamel sauce

Call me old fashioned but I simply love a good béchamel, thin enough to just nap the food and not cover it with thick blobs of white and pasty sauce.. Google napping sauce and you’ll know what I mean..:)  A well made béchamel has its proper place in a kitchen. Just think of a tian of Pasta gratinata in bianco con prosciutto, piselli e funghi. A classic pasta dish al gratin, with a well flavoured sauce binding tiny peas, prosciutto and sauteed mushrooms. The final layer of béchamel is dotted with butter and baked till brown spots appears and bits of pasta sticking out become golden and crunchy. Just thinking about it...

Any leftover béchamel can be frozen for a later use.

300ml full fat milk

30 gr butter

20gr plain flour

Salt and black pepper

Lemon zest

Few mint leaves- chopped

Scald the milk. Melt the butter in a small pan and then add the flour. Keep on a low flame and stir for a minute or so to cook off the flavor of the raw flour. Pour in the hot milk gradually and stir all the time. Add some seasoning and cook till it bubbles up. Do not expect a thick sauce, it will be thin and light. Add some zest and some mint. Stir, taste and see if you need to add more zest or mint. I like it zippy and fresh with just a hint of mint.

Assemble and cook the cannelloni

Preheat the oven and while it warms cut out the pasta and roll it round sausage of filling. Try and make sure you have equal amounts of filling in each cannelloni. Spread a thin film of the béchamel on the base of your baking dish, arrange the cannelloni, and use the rest of the sauce to 'nap' each of them - ie cover with a small amount.  Bake for 25 minutes.