Jay loves pasta dishes with lots of tomato sauce and cheese, and here's one recipe that never fails to make him go for seconds and even thirds: vegan stuffed shells with spinach ricotta.
This is hearty, satisfying food and it's also one-dish: you will get all the veggies and protein you will need from it.
It takes a little time to stuff the shells but you can make most of this dish ahead, when you do have a little time on your hands, and assemble it in a hurry.
Shell pasta, especially the large, stuffed shells, go down especially swimmingly with kids (How did you get the stuffing in the shells, mommy? Erm...because I'm a little big magic!). The shells just look fun and when they taste just as fun, you can be sure they'll disappear before they can say "grilled cheese."
Ingredients for vegan stuffed shells
- Vegan marinara
- 16 oz vegan "beef" or "sausage" or 3 cups cooked lentils (approx two 14-oz cans)
- Vegan parmesan
- Raw cashews
- Frozen spinach
- Garlic powder
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Large shell pasta
- Vegan mozzarella shreds
Tips and tricks
- Much like a lasagna, there are five elements in this vegan stuffed shells recipe: the pasta, the marinara sauce, the ricotta, the mozzarella and the parmesan. Everything but the pasta and the mozzarella are homemade, but it doesn't have to be.
- You can, for instance, use a storebought marinara.
- You can also make the different elements beforehand.
- The vegan marinara needs five ingredients and less than five minutes of prep time.
- The ricotta comes together in the blender in under five minutes.
- The cashew parmesan is also super simple and you should always, always have some on hand because it's just so great to toss into all sorts of pasta dishes.
- I like stirring in vegan meat or crumbles into the marinara, because it adds more protein and also a bit more heft to the sauce. You can use lentils, which are a healthier, cleaner substitute (although the meat substitute is definitely more kid-friendly).
- If you add the vegan meat or lentils, heat the homemade or storebought marinara, add the crumbled meat or cooked lentils, and heat everything through before layering it into the baking dish. If you are cooking the marinara from scratch, add the meat or lentils to the marinara in the last few minutes of cooking.
- I use vegan mozarella cheese shreds to top off the stuffed pasta shells, but these can easily be substituted with seasoned panko or any bread crumbs. Toss the crumbs with herbs like oregano or basil and salt and black pepper and scatter on top of the shells.
Frequently asked questions
You need to slightly undercook them as they will continue to cook in the oven.
Cook the pasta shells two minutes less than the recommended time on the package. That will also make it easier to stuff them -- they will break if too soft.
The filling should be just enough to stuff 12 oz of pasta shells, but if you do have a few shells leftover, just tuck them into the baking dish between the stuffed shells. No reason to waste, there's lots of good stuff for them to soak in with the marinara, mozzarella and parmesan.
If you have leftover ricotta, just scatter it on top of the shells after placing them in a baking dish.
You can make the entire pasta ahead of time. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake, covered, for 30 minutes, and then uncovered, for another 30 minutes, before serving.
You can also make the different elements ahead. The marinara sauce and ricotta can be made up to five days ahead and refrigerated.
The cashew parm can be refrigerated for a month.
What to serve with the vegan stuffed shells
It's a one-dish meal in itself, but a fresh salad on the side would be amazing with this.
Vegan Stuffed Shells with Spinach Ricotta
- 13 by 9 inch baking dish
- Large pot for boiling pasta
For spinach ricotta
- 1½ cups raw cashews
- 8 oz frozen spinach (thawed and as much water squeezed out as possible)
- ¾ cup vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ¼ cup parsley
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cook the shells in boiling and salted pasta water for 2 minutes less than the recommended time on the package.
- Once the pasta shells are ready, drain them in a colander and run cold water over them to stop them from cooking further. Reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water.
- If adding sausage or lentils to the marinara, place the sauce in a pot. Add the crumbled meat or lentils to the pot and bring them to a boil. Simmer for five minutes, then turn off heat.If making marinara from scratch, add the vegan sausage or lentils in the last five minutes of cooking time.Stir the reserved cup of pasta cooking water into the marinara.
- To make the ricotta, place all of the ricotta ingredients in the food processor or blender and process until smooth. If the blades don't move, trickle in just a tiny amount of water to help them move again, no more than a tablespoon at a time. If the ricotta gets too runny you will find it difficult to stuff it into the shells. Make sure it has enough salt.
- Ladle half the marinara sauce into a 13 by 9 inch baking dish and spread evenly to cover the bottom..
- Put a tablespoon of the spinach stuffing into each pasta shell. Arrange the shells in a single layer in the baking dish. You might need to pack them in tightly, but don't place them on top of one another.
- Ladle the rest of the marinara over the shells. Sprinkle on the cashew parmesan and the mozzarella shreds. Cover with aluminum foil.
- Place in the oven and bake 30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil after 30 minutes and continue cooking for another 20 minutes.
- Let stand 10 minutes before serving.