Vegan stuffed shells are creamy, cheesy comfort food! Jumbo pasta shells are stuffed with a savory ricotta filling covered in a bright and simple tomato sauce.
Happy 2022! Oh wait, that was already a month ago. I’ve been over here making vegan stuffed shells for what seems like forever. That’s what I’ve had for dinner or lunch more times in the last month than I can count. It took a few tries to get this recipe right, and then I made it a bunch more times to film my first YouTube video in over two years. So yeah…there’s been a lot of stuffed shells. Luckily, they’re super tasty!
One of the reasons I struggled to get this recipe right was that I thought it should be as “plantified” as possible, so I assumed that my protein-packed marinara or vegetable bolognese would be good options for the sauce. Both of those sauces are wonderful, but they weren’t quite the right match. There were so many different flavors and textures that they competed with each other and nobody won. In the end, the simplest sauce was the victor. Paired with the rich and savory vegan ricotta, it’s just right. Ok, ok, we get it, let’s make it already!
Step 1 – The Sauce
First off, let’s be clear. If you don’t want to make your own tomato sauce (even though it’s easy), of course you don’t have to. Use your favorite jarred sauce and be happy in your life. But if you want a super simple sauce to have on hand, here you go.
Minced garlic, a smidge of olive oil (or water), and canned crushed tomatoes. That’s it. Seriously. And it’s super good. Saute the garlic, stir in the tomatoes, and simmer while you move on with the recipe. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I love Muir Glen crushed tomatoes with basil, but I have also had great results with the 365 brand at Whole Foods (which I am suspicious is actually the private label for Muir Glen, but who knows), and many others. Find one you love and stick with it!
Just a note – this sauce doubles easily and freezes beautifully (why do I always think of Steel Magnolias when I say this?).
Step 2 – Cook the pasta
For this recipe, you need jumbo shell pasta. I am usually able to find the American Beauty brand, and I’ve also seen them made by Barilla. If you can’t find jumbo shells, you can use manicotti. The important thing is to salt the cooking water generously to flavor the pasta, and then strain the shells into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking and keep them from drying out until you’re ready to stuff them. While they’re cooking, you can make the vegan ricotta!
Step 3 – Make the vegan ricotta
If you’ve ever made my best damn vegan lasagna, this vegan ricotta will look familiar. Because it’s the ricotta I use in that recipe, minus the spinach. Can you leave the spinach in? Of course you can. I like it both ways, but just chose to go simple in this recipe.
To make the ricotta, pulse raw cashews along with miso paste, garlic, salt, and nutritional yeast until the cashews are in fine pieces. It’s important to leave some texture at this point.
Next, add a package of extra firm tofu that has been drained. Pulse to combine with the cashew mixture until you get a ricotta-esque appearance. It doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth, but you also don’t want large chunks of cashews. It doesn’t take much in the food processor to get to this point. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl so you can add the best ingredient ever. Fresh basil in the winter is a gift from heaven. Thank you, grocery stores, for usually having it.
Step 4 – Stuff the shells
Now comes the fun part – stuffing the shells! I like to use a piping bag for this because it’s the least messy and I can control how much goes in to each shell. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can use a ziplock bag and snip off the corner with scissors. You can also just use a spoon, but I advise against this if you don’t like having vegan ricotta on your hands. 🙂
This recipe makes enough filling to stuff 21 shells, which fit perfectly in a 9×13 casserole dish. It also means you will have leftover shells. There could be some correlation to the conspiracy theory raised by Steve Martin in Father of the Bride (hot dogs vs hot dog buns, anyone remember?), but I’m more inclined to think it’s because there are nearly always stuffed shell casualties during the cooking process. All that to say, if you are the kind of person who needs to have the perfect amount of shells for the perfect amount of filling without anything leftover, you’re going to be disappointed. I humbly apologize in advance.
Now take some of that beautiful tomato sauce and slather it on the bottom of the dish – a sauce bath, if you will. Nestle those stuffed shells into their bath and spoon some more sauce over the top. A sauce shower? Yes.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350F and anticipate the tastiness while you do the dishes and curse me for having a recipe that requires so many pans and cooking tools. Simple, my foot, you’re thinking. I know, I know. But here’s an idea to make your efforts more efficient – double the sauce and the ricotta, and freeze them for later. Then when you want stuffed shells another day, all you’ll need to do is boil the pasta! You’re welcome.
I’m sneaking this in at the end because it is the primary reason why it took me so long to get this recipe posted. I’m back on YouTube for the first time since June of 2019, and I look, um, different. I didn’t like seeing myself on camera AT ALL. But here I am, the real me. I feel like I’m having to re-learn pretty much everything about how to do this food blogger/content creator thing, but the good news is I am enjoying it enough to push past my insecurities and just put myself out there. So, hi!
How to Make Vegan Stuffed Shells – Video!
Vegan Stuffed Shells
- 9×13 casserole dish
- 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes (I love the Muir Glen brand with basil)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil, optional
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon white or yellow miso (I use chickpea miso)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 14 oz package extra-firm tofu, drained
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, optional but recommended*
- 1 12 oz box of jumbo pasta shells (you’ll have enough filling for about 21 shells)
Make the sauce (if using)
- In a medium saucepan, saute minced garlic and salt in olive oil or a splash of water for 1-2 minutes.
- Add crushed tomatoes, and stir to combine.
- Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Cook the pasta
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Add a generous pinch of salt to the water and add the pasta shells.
- Cook according to the package instructions.
- Strain the cooked pasta into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process and keep the shells fresh until ready to use.
Make the ricotta
- In a food processor fitted with the s-blade, add the cashews, garlic, miso paste, salt, and nutritional yeast. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs but is not pureed.
- Add the drained tofu, breaking it up into pieces as you go.
- Pulse until the mixture is fully combined and still has some texture from the cashews.
- Remove the mixture to a bowl and stir in the chopped basil, if using.
Stuff the shells
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Drain the shells from the water bath, gently shaking to remove any water hiding in the shell cavity.
- Add the ricotta mixture to a piping bag or plastic food storage bag and snip off the end to leave about a half inch opening. Alternatively, you can spoon the ricotta mixture into the shells, it just is a little messier.
- Spread 2-3 cups of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish or similar size baking pan.
- Stuff the shells, nestling them into the sauce as you go. Depending on how much filling you use, you should have enough for at least 21 shells.
- Spoon more sauce over the stuffed shells, cover the pan with foil, and bake for 30 minutes at 350F.
- Serve immediately with a salad or side of your choice.
- I kept this recipe as simple as I could, but if you want to add more plant power to the vegan ricotta, stir in some fresh chopped spinach before you stuff the shells. Arugula could be good too! Mmm…or artichoke hearts. Maybe olives? The point is, you’ve got options.
- This meal is a perfect candidate for bulk cooking. If you double the sauce and ricotta, you can freeze the extra for another meal. Like the best damn vegan lasagna!
- You will have leftover jumbo shells. This is just how it works. Accept it and move on with your life. 😉
- If you’re feeling extra, thin out a ½ cup of savory cashew cream with water until it’s a pourable consistency and drizzle it over the top of the shells after the 30 minute cooking time. Broil until browned and then enjoy! I usually don’t feel the need to do this because the filling is so rich as it is, but just wanted to throw that option out there.