With a sauce of creamy béchamel spiked with Louisiana crawfish layered over stuffed pasta, my Crawfish Cannelloni is baked bubbly hot and browned on top. And thanks to my sister, this is one of the classic dishes that helped propel my lifelong culinary journey.
My sister Marie Graham Huguet introduced me to a perfect plate of Italian cannelloni some years ago in one of the unlikeliest locations. My sister is a skillful cook that has always pursued adventure in the kitchen—an influence that helped shape my early palate. Lucky for me, she and her husband Jim moved around to unique regional locations (Houston, Philly, Tulsa, and Connecticut to name a few) and my visits were always a tasty education.
One locale, in particular, was St. Louis, Missouri where there is a rich Italian American culinary heritage in a vibrant community called The Hill. With dozens of great Italian eateries, it was in one of those little joints that my sister insisted that I order the cannelloni—pasta shells stuffed with herb-infused ricotta layered with a creamy sauce. At a young and impressionable age, I was astounded at the flavors and textures that a kid from small-town Louisiana had never experienced. At that time of my life, Chef Boyardee was about as close to Italian as my taste buds had gotten. But this cannelloni–slathered with piping hot sauce and bursting with cheesy filling–was a culinary awakening that I still count as one of the top gastronomic experiences of my life.
My sister discovered cannelloni during her college years at LSU in Baton Rouge where she dined at The Village–a legendary Italian restaurant owned by Vince Distefano that has long since closed its doors. She learned to make it classically with meat stuffing accented with spinach, cheese, and herbs and topped with a combination of traditional red sauce and white béchamel.
On numerous occasions, I’ve ordered cannelloni from a menu to lackluster results, and I’ve even adventured into my kitchen to try and recreate that original dish. Recently, I experimented with a version that duplicates that first time, but with a decidedly Cajun flavor profile that suits my taste these days. It is a recipe that combines the best of international flavors with locally sourced ingredients that fit right into my Acadiana Table repertoire.
Today, I am sharing this recipe for Crawfish Cannelloni with you. And perhaps, you’ll make a food memory for someone you love.
Thank you, sister.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 5 cups half and half
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch of white pepper
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Dash of hot sauce
- 1 pound Louisiana crawfish tail meat
- 12 cannelloni (manicotti) pasta shells
- 3 cups ricotta cheese
- 3 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ½ pound Louisiana crawfish tail meat, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour, using a rubber spatula. Cook the flour to eliminate the raw taste and add the half and half, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Season the mixture with cayenne, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the tomato paste for color and season with a dash of hot sauce. Add the crawfish tails and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook until the mixture is reduced to a smooth, creamy consistency and the crawfish is just warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes. Sample the sauce and adjust to your taste. Turn off the heat, cover, and keep warm until serving.
- Preheat your oven to 375ºF.
- In a large pot filled halfway with water over high heat, bring the water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain and cool the pasta shells. Wrap the shells in a moist towel until ready to use.
- In a mixing bowl, add the ricotta, egg yolks, parsley, and crawfish. Season with Cajun seasoning, pepper, and salt, and stir to combine thoroughly.
- Using a pastry bag, fill the pasta shells with the crawfish stuffing.
- Spread a thin layer of sauce and add the filled pasta shells to a baking dish coated with non-stick spray. Pour the remaining crawfish cream over the top and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake in the oven until bubbling and beginning to brown on top, 20 to 35 minutes. Serve with French bread and a chilled white wine.
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