Cashew ‘Ricotta’ and Spinach Stuffed Shells
Cashew ‘Ricotta’ and Spinach Stuffed Shells- an elegant and delicious plant-based meal that everyone will love. Suitable for vegans and can be prepped a day in advance to help save time!
I know a lot people go crazy over meat for the holidays but in my family, it’s all about the stuffed shells. My grandmother has made them for as long as I can remember and every year there’s nothing I look forward to more.
Unfortunately we haven’t traveled back home to Florida for Christmas in several years so it’s been quite a while since I’ve had them. I would never try to imitate her recipe because I know what makes them so good is the love she puts into them.
So instead, I decided to create a plant-based version inspired by her delicious shells made with raw cashews in place of the ricotta cheese.
The best thing about this version is that of course it’s much healthier, but also that they’re incredibly easy to make.
All you have to do is soak the cashews in a shallow bowl with water for at least 6 hours (I usually let them sit overnight), strain the excess water and place them in a blender with fresh lemon juice and sea salt, then blend until a smooth texture forms, almost like a ricotta cheese.
Then you combine that in a bowl with spinach, fresh garlic, basil and oregano, stir everything together and stuff it into the cooked shells.
The last step is to top them with marinara sauce and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs, then cover and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes. You can also prep them a day in advance and then just wait to bake them until everyone is ready to eat.
We were blown away by how delicious these were, especially considering that they’re entirely plant-based. The creamy cashew ‘ricotta’ pairs perfectly with the fresh garlic, spinach and seasonings. It’s seriously hard to tell that it’s not the real thing!
If you’re still looking for a vegetarian or vegan meal that you can prep for the holidays then I highly recommend giving these a try. In the meantime, I’ll be experimenting with different things that I can put the cashew ‘ricotta’ and spinach mixture in. I’m thinking lasagna is next on the list. If you have any ideas, please let me know!
Cashew ‘Ricotta’ and Spinach Stuffed Shells
Yield: 21 shells / about 7 servings
Prep Time: 25
Cook Time: 35
Total Time: 1 hour
- 2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water*
- juice of 2 lemons**
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 16 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 21 jumbo shells
- 1 (25-ounce) jar marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs + fresh parsley for topping
Start by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the box of jumbo shells as directed. It should make more than 21 shells but that’s okay. It’s good to have extra in case some break. Strain the shells, rinse with cold water (so that they don’t stick together) and set aside.
Next make the cashew cheese by draining and rinsing the cashews. Transfer them to a blender or a food processor, add the lemon juice and one teaspoon of salt. Blend on high until smooth with a texture similar to ricotta cheese. You may need to use a spatula to scrape down the sides in between blending. Spoon the cashew cheese out into a large bowl and set aside.
Once the frozen spinach has defrosted, place it in a strainer. Fold a few paper towels together and use them to press on top of the spinach so that the excess water strains out of the bottom. Repeat this step until the spinach is mostly dry. Add it to the bowl with cashew cheese along with the dried herbs, minced garlic and a dash of pepper. Stir everything together until well-combined.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and pour 1/2 of the jar of marinara over the bottom of a 9 x 13” baking dish. Using a spoon, scoop the cashew spinach mixture into each shell then arrange them in the baking dish. Spoon the remaining marinara on top, sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs, then cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the oven for 35 minutes.
Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Top with fresh parsley, serve warm and enjoy!
*Place 2 cups raw cashews in a large bowl and cover with water by a few inches. Soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. Or, if you’re short on time, you can soak them in very hot water for at least 1 hour.
**Depending on the size of your lemons you may want to start with one and taste test the ‘ricotta’ after blending to see if you prefer more.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to four days or freeze before baking for up to one month.