When I first started eating plant-based, I thought I was going to have to say good-bye to some of my favorites… like “cheesy” pastas. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Tofu, eggplant, and nutritional yeast make for a convincing creamy ricotta “cheese”. These Stuffed Shells with (Vegan) Ricotta Cheese are of course vegan, oil free, plant-based, and can be gluten-free if you are able to source gluten-free shells.
I first tried these stuffed shells when a (non-vegan) work friend was so excited to have found this recipe that she made it and brought it in to work for me to try out! I’m sure you can understand how touched I was by her thoughtfulness. When we are vegan, it is easy to feel like we are missing out on so many of the food-sharing social activities at work and with friends. It really meant a lot that she cared enough to want to share a dish with me that I could enjoy. She was inspired by this recipe on Minimalist Baker. If you haven’t checked out their website you really should as a great recipe resource! My friend massaged that recipe and gave it to me and then I massaged it further.
This is a recipe that I consider a little crazy complicated with multiple steps. I’ve made it so many times though that I think I’ve perfected how to do it from start to finish. Follow the steps in the recipe card and (hopefully) it will go easy enough for you too!
Start with your eggplant. I’ve never been a fan of eggplant because I never really understood how to cook it correctly. It was always a little slimy-textured to me. If you salt it well and then squeeze out the extra moisture before cooking, you won’t have the texture problem. You can see that I’ve scored and salted it well. Let sit salted for about 30 minutes and squeeze out the extra moisture before cooking it face down on a silicone baking sheet.
After it’s cooked in a 400° oven for 40 minutes it will be done. The eggplant will be a little shriveled and softened enough so that you can easily scoop out the creamy insides. Toss the skin, you won’t be using it in this recipe.
While all that is going on, drain and press your tofu. I use a tofu press.
You will also need to soak your cashews. Make sure to drain water before using in the recipe. Use raw cashews because you will get a creamier texture than if you used dry roasted cashews.
You normally can’t find raw cashews in the grocery store unless it is a health or specialty store. I usually source mine online.
After the tofu is pressed, roughly break it into chunks and reserve 1/2 cup. You’ll be stirring that in later to give your ricotta “cheese” a little texture.
This is also a good time to cook your baby kale. Just put in a sauté pan along the with the garlic. Line your pan with vegetable broth to prevent the kale from sticking. It’s done when it’s wilted and about 1/3 of the size. Crazy huh?!?
If you are unable to find baby kale then substitute with baby arugula or baby spinach.
Sometime during all this, you’ll need to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the jumbo shells until just al dente as they will be cooking longer in the oven once stuffed and covered in sauce. If you overcook then they will be mushy and fall apart when stuffing. Make sure you use the jumbo shells. Here’s a photo next to a dime for size comparison.
When they are cooked, drain and set aside. The shells will need to be mostly dried of the extra bits of water or your dish will be runny – but not too dried or they won’t be flexible enough to stuff. This cooking thing can be a bit of a dance!
Make your creamy “cheese” sauce by putting the tofu (except for the 1/2 cup reserved), drained cashews, and plant milk in a high speed blender. You can use any type of plant milk you like (soy, almond, cashew, etc.) BUT make sure it is unsweetened.
Process till smooth then scrape into a large bowl along with the cooked and skinned eggplant, cooked kale, and seasonings.
Nutritional yeast is an important ingredient that can’t be left out or it won’t have that cheesy flavor. Nutritional yeast is different from brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast. It really is a staple of a vegan kitchen. It’s not always easy to find in the grocery store but sometimes can be found near the “health food” section, or area near gluten-free foods, or the section with the specialty grains. I usually just order mine online.
Take a mixer – I like an immersion blender – and throughly blend together. You’ll know it’s done when the kale is in little pieces and is well incorporated.
It is at this point that you add in the reserved tofu. Only mix enough so that it’s a little chunky and the texture somewhat resembles ricotta cheese.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER! Finally!
Line a large baking dish with a pasta sauce of your choice. For this I usually find a large jar of sauce that makes me happy because honestly, this recipe is hella work already without having to make your own sauce. If you want to be ambitious and make your own, try my Pasta Sauce. It’s oil-free, plant-based, and vegan. I make it with canned crushed tomatoes so the the process does go a little more quickly.
Carefully stuff each shell with the ricotta mixture and set in the dish. You will get 18-20 shells – probably depending on the size of your eggplant and how fully you stuff them. Spoon more sauce over of each shell and then sprinkle some vegan parmesan cheese on top. If you use mine, I make it with cashews. You MUST disclose to anyone you serve that it contains nuts as people won’t be expecting nuts in a cheese sprinkle.
Bake uncovered in a 350° oven for 30 minutes. I always sprinkle more vegan cashew cheese on top because honestly, it’s the bomb!
Stuffed Shells with (Vegan) Ricotta Cheese
- 1 large eggplant sliced in half and scored
- 1 16 ounce block tofu extra firm
- 20 jumbo shells
- 3/4 cup cashews, raw soaked
- 5 ounces baby kale
- 2 cloves mined garlic
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth or more to keep pan from sticking
- 1/2 cup plant milk of choice unsweetened
- 3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 25 ounce jar pasta sauce
- 1 recipe vegan cashew parmasean cheese optional
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Slice eggplant in half lengthwise, score the flesh side and sprinkle generously with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. When finished, squeeze out excess moisture. Place cut-side down on a silicone lined baking pan and cook for 40 minutes.
- After you take the eggplant out, turn oven down to 350°. Let the eggplant cool enough to handle and then scrape out the insides into a dish. Set aside. You can discard skins.
- While the eggplant is sitting and cooking do the following:1. Drain and press Tofu,2. Soak cashews,3. Boil water for shells,4. Sauté baby kale.5. Blend/process pressed tofu (except 1/2 cup), soaked cashews, and plant milk. (Specific directions are in steps below.)
- Drain and press Tofu until most moisture is squeezed out. After tofu is drained and presses, break into small chunks and divide - setting aside 1/2 cup in a separate bowl.
- Cook jumbo shells according to package direction for al dente. Drain and set aside to cook.
- Soak raw cashews in water for 30 minutes. After cashews have soaked for 30 minutes, drain water and toss it out. Set aside cashews to blend later.
- Line a large sauté pan with vegetable broth. Sauté baby kale along with garlic until wilted and tender. Set aside.
- Put soaked drained cashews, unsweetened plant milk, and all but 1/2 cup of pressed tofu into a high-speed blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Pour/scrape into a large mixing bowl .
- Add the cooked baby kale, cooked and scooped eggplant and all other seasonings and ingredients (except for pasta sauce, shells, and vegan parmesan cheese) to the bowl with the ricotta mixture. With an immersion blender, agressively blend until smooth.
- At the last minute, add the reserved 1/2 cup tofu. Continue to lightly blend until mixture resembles the consistency of a ricotta cheese mixture.
- Line the bottom of a large lasagna-type of pan with a thin layer of pasta sauce.
- Carefully stuff the shells with the cheese mixture and place in a single layer on top of the pasta sauce.
- Spoon remaining pasta sauce on the top of the stuffed shells. Sprinkle generously with vegan parmesan cheese.
- Bake uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes until heated through.