A bone-strengthening recipe for spinach and ricotta cannelloni

Dish of cannelloni

Photo credit: catspyjamasnz via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni — not only delicious but also good for your bones! That’s because it’s made with some bone-strengthening ingredients.

When I think about what I should be doing to help keep my bones strong and prevent osteoporosis, the first things that come to mind are weight bearing exercise and nutritious food that is rich in calcium and vitamin D. That is what’s recommended, so I’m on the right track.

Vitamin D

But getting your daily allowance of vitamin D in the food you eat might be a challenge. You can get some from wild-caught mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines and fortified milk and orange juice, but not all that you need.

Here’s what the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) says about vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps your body use calcium. If you don’t get enough vitamin D, or if your body doesn’t absorb it well, you are at greater risk for osteoporosis. Your skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun and is also available in a few foods. However, many people need a vitamin D supplement. Find out how much vitamin D you need and if a supplement is right for you.

How much vitamin D do you need?

  • People under age 50 need 400 to 800 IU a day.
  • People over age 50 need 800 to 1000 IU a day.


Getting calcium from your food is a different story. You can get what you need or at least, quite a bit from food.

How much calcium do you need?

  • Women under age 50 and men under age 70 need 1000 mg a day.
  • Women over age 50 and men over age 70 need 1200 mg a day.

The best calcium sources include dairy products and fortified foods and drinks. Heidi Skolnik, a registered dietitian who sits on the NOF board and is president of Nutrition Conditioning, Inc., says you should try to get what you need from food first and then add a supplement. “You should say, what did I consume today,” she advises. “I had a yogurt at breakfast, a cup of milk as part of my snack or a cheese snack. I’ll have 250 milligrams of a calcium supplement versus automatically taking 500 milligrams in the morning and 500 at night regardless of what you’re eating.”

Add more nutrients to your diet

You should make sure you get other nutrients as well so you can provide your body with an array of bone-healthy foods. “We need a balanced diet,” says Heidi. “Different foods do different things for different reasons. We need carbohydrate foods for certain things and we need protein foods for other things. And we also need the healthy fats.”

NOF has a handy chart that shows all the nutrients we need for healthy bones and where you can find them.

If you’d like to know more about preventing and treating osteoporosis, read my blog post The latest research on why we lose bone as we age and what we can do about it.

I also have a recipe for you that is full of calcium-rich ingredients, compliments of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. It’s not a quick and easy recipe, but I think it will be worth the effort.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Recipe Adapted from Chef Nick Stellino

Crepes are easy and satisfying to make at home. But if you don’t have time, you can find pre-made Crepes in a re-sealable plastic bag in the produce aisle. Look for the savory kind, as the ones with added sugar are usually better for desserts.

Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes (store bought crepes) 2 hours (making crepes)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Inactive Time: 10 minutes
Level: Intermediate
Yield: 6 servings


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained, and chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound fresh spinach leaves, cleaned and dried (about 16 cups, loosely packed)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1-15 ounce container part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1Tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 cups tomato sauce or 1-14.5 ounce can stewed Italian style tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 recipe savory crepes, recipe follows or 1 package of store bought crepes 


Make Spinach Filling:

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until the onions are tender, about 6 minutes. Add the spinach by handfuls and cook until it is wilted and dry, 6-8 minutes. Let cool.

Make Parmesan Béchamel sauce:

In a medium sized saucepan melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes until it is a golden brown. This thin paste is called a roux. Remove the roux from the heat.

In separate medium saucepan heat the milk, bay leaf, salt, pepper and nutmeg until milk is steaming. Remove the bay leaf.

Return the roux to the heat. Slowly pour the steaming milk into the roux, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue stirring over medium heat for 3 to 6 minutes. When the mixture thickens, take it off the heat and stir in 1 cup Parmesan cheese until it is melted. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

If you would like to make the béchamel in advance, dot the surface with additional butter or place a piece of buttered waxed paper directly on the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Gently re-heat the sauce before using (don’t cook).

Continue Spinach Filling:

In a large bowl, blend the ricotta, egg, and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan béchamel sauce. Add the spinach mixture, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup Romano cheese, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

Make the Crepes. (See recipe below)

To make the Cannelloni:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Lightly grease a large lasagna pan and pour the tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan. Place 1/2 cup of the spinach mixture in the middle of a crepe and roll it up like a fat cigar, repeat. Place the filled cannelloni on top of the tomato sauce. Pour the remaining béchamel sauce onto the cannelloni. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the cannelloni is warmed through and the sauce is lightly brown and bubbly.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. 

Savory Crepe Batter

Yield: 14-16 8-inch crepes


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup cold 2 % milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking crepes


Measure the flour, water, milk, eggs, butter and salt into a blender or a mixing bowl. Blend or whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate the batter for 15-30 minutes. When ready to cook the crepes, add about 1/4 cup more cold water to thin the batter to the consistency of heavy cream.

Select a very well seasoned skillet or a 10” non-stick fry pan for best results. Heat the pan over medium-high heat and add a few drops of olive oil. Lift the pan from the heat and ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into the center of your pan. Quickly tilt the pan in all directions so the batter forms a thin, lacy pancake. Cook the crepe for 30-40 seconds until the edges curl and brown slightly. Flip the crepe over with a flexible spatula or nimble fingers and cook the second side about 15 seconds, until spotted with brown and dry. Remove from the pan. Stack crepes on top of each other as you cook to keep them warm.

If towards the bottom of the bowl, the batter becomes thick and the crepes do not have tiny, lacy bubbles around the outside rim, add another teaspoon of water and continue cooking.

Chef’s Tip:

When making the crepes ahead or to freeze, stack them with a sheet of film wrap or paper towels in between. You may store crepes in a re-sealable plastic bag overnight. The finished crepes can be frozen for several weeks when wrapped well.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.