Several years ago an episode of America’s Test Kitchen gave me another of their superb cooking hacks – a way to make manicotti or canneloni without struggling to fill pasta shells that often cracked, sometimes just in the box from shipping, but more often from the pressure exerted in stuffing them. The trick is to use no-cook lasagna noodles in lieu of manicotti shells, softening them in very hot water until pliable, and then doing rolls-ups with your stuffing of choice – in this case, a combination of fully-cooked Italian chicken sausages, a mix of shredded Italian cheeses, and ricotta.
This dish has much of the character of lasagna, but is far easier to serve in specific portions. I have an obvious preference for ingredients from Trader Joe’s for this, but wherever I specifiy that, feel free to substitute your favorite brand. But I do believe the TJ’s products used in this are superior in flavor and value to other supermarket brands. The no-bake noodles from Italy develop a tender texture as they bake in the sauce. the sauce is the best store-bought marinara I’ve ever cooked with, and the Quattro Formaggio obsoletes the task of purchasing and shredding multiple Italian cheeses.
Sausage & Cheese-Stuffed Canneloni
16 sheets of Trader Joe’s No-Cook Lasagna noodles
2 28-ounce cans Trader Joe’s Low-Fat Tuscano Marinara
12-ounce package Trader Joe’s fully cooked Italian Chicken Sausages (either mild or spicy, as you prefer)
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 tsp EVOO
15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta
1 cup Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio shredded cheese blend
2 tbsp + 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
Sauté the whole sausages and chopped onion in the olive oil over medium heat until onions begin to turn color. Turn sausages over, continue to cook another 3 minutes. Add the wine or vermouth and turn up the heat, stirring often until all the wine is absorbed and onions are golden. Remove to a plate to cool.
Combine the ricotta, shredded cheese mix, 2 tbsp romano, parsley and pepper in a medium bowl. Cut the cooled cooked sausages into 1/4″ dice and add, with the onions, to cheese mixture. Filling should weigh about 2 lbs. on a kitchen scale.
Fill a 13 x 9 x 2″ baking dish with 1″ very hot water, and immerse the uncooked noodles in the water, making sure to keep them separate. Allow to soak at least 10 minutes, until pliable enough to be rolled. Lay them out flat on a tea towel.
Lightly brush bottom of that baking dish with olive oil and spread about 1 cup of the sauce in it. Spread about 2 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) of the filling on lower two-thirds of each noodle, and roll up from the short side. Lay them in the baking dish seam side down. All 16 should fit perfectly in 2 rows of 8. Cover completely with most or all of the remaining sauce and sprinkle top with remaining 3/4 cup grated cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Uncover, raise oven temperature to 425, and bake just a few minutes longer until cheese on top is just golden. Let rest about 5 minutes and serve.
Note: The filling can be made a day ahead and kept refrigerated.
Served with lightly dressed green salad and Dutch-oven-baked Artisan rosemary bread.