Stuffed shells were one of my favorite meals growing up. The combination of starchy noodles stuffed with creamy cheese then topped with red sauce brings warmth and comfort simply by thinking about the aroma, flavors, and textures that come with this meal. The traditional recipe calls for dairy ricotta, which I choose not to consume due to the ethical and nutritional implications. But that doesn't stop me from consuming what I love! What's fabulous about plant-based foods is that, oftentimes, you can keep traditional flavors and textures while optimizing nutrition in your favorite family meals.
Keeping my Italian roots and cultural traditions going strong is important to me and being vegan doesn't have to put a halt to those traditions. In fact, there are multiple ways in which to make this recipe. The overall process remains the same:
Cook your noodles and set aside.
Make the cheese.
Roll the cheese in the noodles and place in a baking dish.
Pour your favorite pasta sauce over top.
Bake for 20 minutes.
The plant-based cheesy ricotta version can vary, depending on your personal ingredient preferences. This recipe calls for almond ricotta made with blanched almonds and nutritional yeast, which gives the ricotta a cheesy flavor. The filling can also be made with cashews and miso paste plus nutritional yeast. The combination of miso paste and nutritional yeast gives an even more potent cheese flavor (a recipe for this filling is below). If you're looking for nut-free, firm or extra firm tofu works brilliantly as a ricotta cheese! (Recipe for the tofu ricotta is also below.)
To make this recipe more efficient, when you have limited time during the week, make the filling ahead of time. Any of the fillings you choose (almond ricotta, cashew ricotta, or tofu ricotta) can be make up to five days in advance and stored in the refrigerator so it's ready to go when you're ready to roll the noodles. The next steps are simply cooking the noodles, stuffing them, pouring the sauce over top and baking for 20 minutes.
This is a fun recipe to get the kids involved with mixing the cheese and rolling the noodles! Let me know if you try it and which creamy filling you choose to use. I hope this family tradition also brings your family some warmth and comfort with nourishing ingredients, incredible flavors, and soul-fulfilling aromas that will permeate your home.
Watch the video (using cashew cheese) on how to roll these here.
Makes: Approximately 18 stuffed shells
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
•8 oz whole grain lasagna noodles (whole grain, legume or other noodle of your choice)
•28-ounce jar of your favorite pasta sauce
Almond Ricotta ingredients
1 cup blanched almonds
2 Tbps nutritional yeast
2 tsps lemon juice
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4–1/2 c water (more for extra creamy, but not too much or else it'll be a sauce and not cheese!)
1 Tbsp avocado oil
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chopped raw spinach or kale
1/4 tsp sea salt
crushed red pepper flakes
How to make
Make the noodles
Cook the noodles as instructed and set aside. Note that you may need to run them under cold water after cooking to prevent them from sticking together.
Make the almond ricotta
Add all almond ricotta ingredients to a blender, starting with 1/4 cup water, and blend until smooth. You may need more water to make it creamy. Add 1–2 tablespoons at a time until you reach a creamy consistency (suggest adding no more than four additional tablespoons or else it'll be too thin for the noodle stuffing.)
Heat the oil in a large stovetop pan on medium-high heat. Add the onions, cook until translucent, about 2–3 minutes.
Add the garlic, spinach, and salt, cooking for an additional minute until the spinach is tender.
Add the spinach, onion, and garlic mixture as well as the almond cheese to a large mixing bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
At this time, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Make your shells!
Lay out pasta noodles on a clean cutting board to stuff and roll your noodles. (You may only be able to lay out three or four noodles at a time.)
Add one tablespoon of almond cheese to each end of the noodles.
Cut noodles in half, down the center (see video), with a spatula and roll with the almond cheese at the beginning of the roll. Continue until you've used up all of the cheese.
Place each stuffed noodle in a 9x13" (or similar) baking dish, side by side (they can touch).
Once you've used up all of your cheese, pour the entire jar of sauce over the top of the shells.
Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Once finished baking, add basil over top.
Serve with your favorite vegan parmesan, more basil, or crushed red pepper flakes.
Cashew Cheese Filling
1 Tbsp avocado oil, plus water or veggie broth as needed to keep onions and garlic from sticking
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups packed chopped spinach or kale leaves
1 cup cashews, soaked in water for two hours then drained
1 Tbsp mellow white miso
1/4 cup unsweetened and unflavored plant-based milk
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1/4 tsp sea salt (optional, taste test first)
How to make
Heat oil in a stove top pan on medium-high heat.
Add onions, cooking until they're translucent, about 3–4 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
Remove from heat and place onion and garlic in a small bowl.
In that same pan, add a bit of water or veggie broth and heat on medium. Add the spinach or kale and cook until tender (about 2–3 minutes), stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Add the drained cashews, cooked onion and garlic, miso, and plant-based milk to a food processor or blender. Blend until a ricotta-like consistency. To get it creamy, you may need to blend, scrape the sides, and repeat several times to reach that creamy consistency (and not have whole nuts in your cheese!).
Taste to see if salt is needed. If you'd like saltier flavor (miso adds some saltiness), add 1/4 tsp salt.
Transfer the cheese to a mixing bowl and stir in the spinach and green onions.
Your cheese filling is ready for your stuffed shells!
Tofu Ricotta Filling
14 ounces organic tofu (firm or extra firm, drained well)
2 tbsps tahini
3 tbsps nutritional yeast
¼ cup minced shallots
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsps lemon juice
½ tsp dried oregano
3 dashes ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
3 cups organic chopped raw spinach
How to make
1. With clean hands, crumble the tofu in a large bowl. Do this by holding the tofu in your hands and crumbling it with your thumbs into small bite-size pieces. The pieces can vary in shape and size, but you'll want roughly bit size pieces.
2. Add the tahini, nutritional yeast, shallots, garlic cloves, and lemon juice and mix to combine.
3. Add the oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix.
4. Fold in the chopped spinach, combining all of the ingredients. Note: the tofu should still be in small crumbles, not mashed and the mixture should hold together well but should not be too wet.
5. Your tofu filling is ready for your stuffed shells!
Note: To ensure the ricotta holds together well, drain the tofu well before crumbling it by squeezing it several times with your hands over the kitchen sink to release as much water as possible.