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Nuances make Portofino’s cannelloni special

By Robin Domeier
You Asked For It
Restaurant writer Robin Domeier tracks down Charlotte restaurant recipes that readers have requested. Domeier is owner of Nibbles Personal Chef.
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- Robin Domeier
Little touches, such as simmering the meat in wine, make the difference with the canneloni from Portofino’s in Charlotte.

More Information

  • Portofino’s Ristorante Italiano e Pizzeria

    Multiple locations: 5126 Park Road, 704-527-0702; 2127 Ayrsley Town Blvd., 980-297-7090; 3124 Eastway Drive #500, 704-568-7933; and 8128 Providence Road #100, 704-542-9911.


  • Portofino’s Cannelloni

    I bought fresh pasta sheets from Pasta & Provisions that were about 15 by 6 inches. If you cut two sheets into thirds, you will have enough for the recipe. If you can’t get sheets of fresh pasta, cook six no-boil lasagna noodles, which are similar in size to fresh sheets, in hot water just until they become pliable enough to roll. Once you drain the sauce, save the solids for another use. They would be great in a vegetable stew or as a chunky pizza sauce.

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    1 cup yellow onion, diced small, divided

    2 stalks celery, diced small

    3 cloves garlic, minced

    1 (24-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained

    1 (24-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

    5 basil leaves, stacked, rolled and sliced thin

    1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

    1 1/2 teaspoons salt

    3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1/2 pound lean ground beef

    4 ounces pinot grigio

    1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

    2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

    Pinch of Italian seasoning

    Salt and pepper to taste

    6 (6-by-5-inch) sheets fresh pasta

    6 slices buffalo or whole-milk mozzarella, sliced 1/8 inch thick

    HEAT olive oil in large stock pot. Add 1/2 cup onions and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue sautéing for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are slightly soft.

    ADD tomatoes, basil, parsley and salt and pepper. Simmer sauce, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to help break up the whole tomatoes. Strain sauce, discarding solids or saving them for another dish. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

    COOK the ground beef and remaining onions together in a separate pot while the tomato sauce cooks. Drain the fat. Add the pinot grigio and simmer until the wine is nearly evaporated. Set aside to slightly cool.

    COMBINE the ricotta, Parmesan and Italian seasoning. Add to the cooled beef mixture, with salt and pepper to taste.

    DIVIDE filling between six pasta sheets. Mound the filling horizontally (think in the shape of a log), starting approximately 1 inch from the top and stopping about 1/4 inch from either side of the pasta. Roll the top part of the pasta over the filling and continue rolling to form a cylinder. Place the cannelloni in a baking dish, seam-side down.

    POUR the tomato sauce over the cannelloni. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, uncovered. If the ends of the cannelloni are crisping too much, spoon a bit of the sauce over the crispier parts.

    PLACE one slice of mozzarella on top of each cannelloni and continue to bake for 5-10 minutes, just until the cheese melts and begins to slightly brown.

    Yield: 6 servings.


  • More information

    Are you looking for a recipe from a Charlotte-area restaurant? Send your requests to Robin Domeier, rdomeier@carolina.rr.com. Please include your name, why you like the recipe, the area where you live and the restaurant’s location.


Tracy Hill of Charlotte writes: “I know Portofino’s Italian Restaurant is technically a chain restaurant, but my husband and I love their food. I am looking for a copycat recipe for their cannelloni and so far cannot find one. Any ideas?”

Making cannelloni is second nature for Portofino’s Giovanni Looz. So the tricky part of getting this recipe was mining Looz’s memory for those nuggets that make the recipe special.

For instance, Looz started out by giving me a “recipe” of basic ingredients – tomatoes, ground beef, ricotta, etc. I had to prod him a little more to get specific quantities.

Then I prodded him a little more until I extracted those little nuances, such as simmering the ground beef in pinot grigio just until the liquid is nearly evaporated.

Once everything comes together, you end up with a homey dish that you might make again and again, like Looz, until it becomes instinctive to you.

Robin Domeier is owner of Nibbles Personal Chef.

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