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Vegan Stuffed Shells (Gluten-Free Option)

These vegan stuffed shells are a classic Italian comfort food. They taste nearly identical to the real thing so much so that no one will even know they’re completely dairy-free.

pan of ricotta stuffed shells

Growing up, stuffed shells were a dinner-time favorite. The pillowy ricotta stuffed into each al-dente pasta shell paired with the sweet acidic tomato sauce were little bites of heaven.

The filling in this plant-based version is made with homemade almond ricotta, fresh spinach, spices, and pasta sauce while still embodying that same comforting richness.

Ingredients

  • Jumbo pasta shells – for a nostalgic meal choose jumbo shells if you can find them. Otherwise, see the substitutions section below for other options.
  • Spinach – fresh or frozen. If using frozen spinach, just make sure it’s thawed and you’ve wrung most of the excess water out first.
  • Almond or cashew ricotta – this ricotta cheese alternative is the hero of the dish.
  • Salt, pepper & dried spices – using additional Italian spices gives the dish that well-rounded flavor.
  • Pasta sauce – the sweet acidic nature of tomato sauce cuts through the richness of the almond ricotta for a great, balanced flavor.
  • Fresh basil – to garnish.

How to Make Vegan Stuffed Shells

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF and cook the pasta according to the package directions until it’s al dente (it will continue to cook in the oven).

Step 2. Add the slivered almonds, water, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt to a high-powered blender or food processor. Blend/pulse the mixture, scraping down the sides as needed. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Add more salt as needed, to taste.

Step 3. Transfer the almond ricotta to a bowl and add the garlic powder, dried basil, and dried parsley.

Ricotta, spinach, and dried spices

Step 4. Cook the spinach in a little olive oil over medium heat until wilted and reduced in size. Add it to the bowl with the almond ricotta and seasonings, and mix together until well combined.

Ricotta filling with spinach

Step 5. Add 1 ½ cups of pasta sauce to the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Stuff about 1 tablespoon of the ricotta cheese mixture into each shell and nestle it into the tomato sauce until you’ve used up all your ricotta and shells.

Step 6. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the shells, cover the pan with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Step 7. Carefully remove the foil, top with fresh basil, and serve immediately.

Pan of stuffed shells with pasta sauce and fresh basil

Make It Your Way: Ingredient Substitutions

Please remember that recipes are just a starting point.

How can you make these ricotta stuffed shells using what you already have? Here are some ideas

  • Gluten-free? – You can sub gluten-free jumbo shells. If you can’t find jumbo shells, you can alternatively use gluten-free lasagna sheets rolled up.
  • No spinach? – Use baby kale or lacinato/dino kale. Otherwise, omit.
  • No almonds? – you can also make cashew ricotta or use Kitehill storebought dairy-free ricotta (which will be a little pricey for the amount you’ll need for the stuffed shells).
  • Sub for ricotta? – You can also use cashew cream.

How to Store

Store any leftover cooked stuffed shells in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Freezing Instructions

I recommend freezing the shells without the sauce.

To do this, prepare the vegan stuffed shells, but skip adding the sauce to the pan. Put the stuffed shells onto a baking tray and arrange them in a single layer to freeze for 1-2 hours (this helps keep them from sticking together later on). Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container.

When ready to cook, add the tomato sauce to a pan with the stuffed shells nestled in and bake according to the recipe adding an additional 10-15 minutes to the baking time.

Top Tips

Have dry shells that are stuck together? Avoid trying to pull them apart until they’ve cooked. It’s easier to do this once they’re soft, otherwise, they’ll just break.

Cook more shells than you think you’ll need, in case any fall apart while cooking.

More Italian Vegan Pasta Recipes

Vegan Stuffed Shells (Gluten-Free Option)

5 from 3 votes
Vegan ricotta stuffed shells with pasta sauce.
These vegan stuffed shells are a classic Italian comfort food. They taste nearly identical to the real thing so much so that no one will even know they're completely dairy-free.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Serving Size 6

Ingredients
 

Pasta

  • 24 jumbo shells cook a few extra

Filling

  • 2 cups slivered almonds
  • ¾ – 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon each garlic powder, dried basil, dried parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 oz fresh or frozen spinach see notes

Sauce

  • 25.5 oz jar pasta sauce about 3 cups

Serving

  • fresh basil or parsley to garnish optional
  • vegan parmesan optional

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375ºF and cook the pasta according to the package directions until it's al dente (it will continue to cook in the oven).
  • Add the slivered almonds, water, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt to a high-powered blender or food processor. Blend/pulse the mixture, scraping down the sides as needed. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time until you've reached your desired consistency. Add more salt as needed, to taste.
  • Transfer the almond ricotta to a bowl and add the garlic powder, dried basil, and dried parsley.
  • Cook the spinach in a little olive oil over medium heat until wilted and reduced in size. Add it to the bowl with the almond ricotta and seasonings, and mix together until well combined.
  • Add 1 1/2 cups of pasta sauce to the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Stuff about 1 tablespoon of the ricotta cheese mixture into each shell and nestle it into the tomato sauce until you've used up all your ricotta and shells.
  • Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the shells, cover the pan with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Carefully remove the foil, top with fresh basil, and serve immediately.

Notes

I used organic jumbo shells and for the amount of ricotta, mine made about 24 shells. (Yours could make less depending on the size of the shells.)
Have dry shells that are stuck together? Avoid trying to pull them apart until they’ve cooked. It’s easier to do this once they’re soft, otherwise, they’ll just break.
Cook more shells than you think you’ll need, in case any fall apart while cooking.

Make It Your Way: Substitutions

Gluten-free? – You can sub gluten-free jumbo shells. If you can’t find jumbo shells, you can alternatively use gluten-free lasagna sheets rolled up.
No spinach? – Use baby kale or lacinato/dino kale. Otherwise, omit.
No almonds? – you can also make cashew ricotta or use Kitehill storebought dairy-free ricotta (which will be a little pricey for the amount you’ll need for the stuffed shells).
Sub for ricotta? – You can also use cashew cream.

4 Comments

  1. The directions say to set spinach aside but then never mention adding it to the ricotta mixture.. obvious that that’s what you do but just something I noticed.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Sarah! I’m fixing it now.

  2. What brand of organic jumbo shells did you use?

    1. Lindsey Jenkins says:

      Hi Michelle,
      I honestly can’t remember what brand I used, but any brand will work!

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