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.
Did you try this recipe? Please let me know how it turned out by leaving a comment below or sharing a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #makingthymeforhealth. I love hearing your feedback!
I LOVE this idea–brilliant. Stuffed shells were always my one request every year for my birthday. They’re just so darn good and comforting.
These are absolutely delicious and I have made them numerous times. I do question one thing and maybe you know or know how to find out what is the nutritional label on this? Like how many grams of protein how much fat how much all of that stuff? Most recipes will share that but I’m not sure how you go about doing that. Thanks any information would be great!
Oh what the cashew cannot do! Love, love, love this ‘ricotta’ spinach stuffed shells recipe Sarah! This would make a fantastic holiday meal… we usually do pasta for Christmas or a cottage pie. Love them both and it’s fun doing something not so traditional. Have a fabulous holiday my dear!
This. Is. Genius. Also dying over these pictures! Obsessed with this recipe!!! <3
We always always have Italian food for Christmas! This year the husband and I are staying in NC by ourselves for the holiday because of his work … but of course I’m still making italian for us! Your eggplant rollatini to be exact! :) Merry merry christmas friend! Hope it’s a great holiday!
I’m honored to hear that, Ashley! Cheers to a delicious Italian Christmas, lady! :)
Oh I love this! I’m a fan of stuffed shells, lasagna, and manicotti and make one of them every couple of months. I actually just made spinach lasagna last week! But I’ll have to try cashew ricotta for myself. Great vegan alternative!
This looks delish!! Do you think this would work in eggplant rolatini!? That’s my dish on Christmas Eve…
Hey Brett! Yes, I think it will work great with eggplant rolatini! I hope you have a great Christmas! :)
These sound absolutely amazing, Sarah! I love Eat, Live, Run’s dairy-free shells that she stuffed with tofu, but I’m not a big fan of soy anymore, so this is right up my alley! I will definitely be trying it for an upcoming meatless Monday. Thanks for the awesome idea.
Thanks Kelli! I never saw those on Jenna’s site but I’ve heard of tofu shells before. I have a feeling you’re going to like the cashew version even better! I was so happy with how they turned out.
Made these tonight for Meatless Monday. They were so tasty! Stuffed shells are always a bit more work than I’m used to for during the week but they are so worth it. My house smelled like an Italian restaurant (in the best possible way). David really enjoyed them, too being the meat lover he is. I’ll definitely be repeating this recipe. Thanks for the fun twist, Sarah!
I love that you review my recipes, Kelli! Thank you for giving them a try. I’m so happy you guys liked them! I’ll make you a tray if you let me go sledding with you in Truckee, haha! ;)
Oh my gosh!! This looks amazing! What a great recipe and cheese alternative. I’m not a full vegan, but I don’t eat dairy… so this would be perfect for me! I love that you made your cheese alternative without soy or a much of ingredients (I’m soy free as well)… this is so simple, healthy and amazing! <3 Thanks for sharing love!
These shells look incredible! So hearty and healthy- delicious :) Pinning!
Those sheeeeeells! Ugh they look so flavorful and I love that the “ricotta” is super healthful! My mom is all about making homemade manicti and has been trying to eat healthier, so I’ll 200% suggest she make cashew ricotta ASAP. I’m in love!
Thanks, love! I hope she loves it as much as I do!
Looks terrific. Can’t wait to make.
Thanks Ryan! I hope you love them! :)
These are absolutely delicious! We had them tonight…with lots leftover for tomorrow. My husband could not believe they were dairy free! This is a keeper for sure. Thanks so much. I’d attach my picture..but I don’t know how!!
Yay! I’m happy to hear these were a hit, Heidi! Thank you so much for the feedback! :)
Pingback: Vegan Ricotta + Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms - Simply Quinoa
Just made these tonight (half batch) and they’re really tasty. I had some trouble blending the cashews as there wasn’t much liquid, so they came out a bit chunky. I didn’t really notice in the final product though! Thank for the recipe, I’d definitely make these again.
Thanks Jillian! That’s too bad that they came out chunky but I’m glad you still liked them! I would try adding a little more liquid (like one teaspoon at a time) next time and see if that helps. :)
Pingback: Cashew 'Ricotta' and Spinach Stuffed Shells | Recipe Recommendation
Pingback: Cashew 'Ricotta' and Spinach Stuffed Shells | Recipe Recommendation
Hi there! ! These sound amazing but I was wondering if these could be prepped then frozen to cook at a later date?
Hi Jessyka! I think it would work fine but I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure. If you do please let me know how they turn out! :)
Your comment is from several years ago so this is a long shot but any chance you tried to freeze and bake later? I wondered if it’s better to only make the stuffed shells and hold off on adding marinara sauce and extras until baking? I would love to hear from you or anyone else in the comments if they have tried to make in the future. Thanks!
Pingback: Vegan Cashew Ricotta Zucchini Lasagna - Making Thyme for Health
I haven’t had dairy in years because I’m lactose intolerant, but my boyfriend who eats cheese regularly DEVOURED these. He just kept going “Oh my God.” If it’s boyfriend approved, it’s a winner! I loved them too but I got filled up with snacking while making them.
I did end up using about two tablespoons of the pasta water to help blend the cashews into cream because the blender kept stopping. It was very useful! Added a little extra salt too.
Looks like these will become a comfort staple in our home. Thank you!!
Aw, this made me so happy to read! I’m so glad that you both enjoyed it. Thanks for the comment, Denise! :)
Pizza!! This “cheese” is perfect for vegan pizza
That’s a great idea! Thanks Cherie! :)
Pingback: Weekly Vegetarian Meal Plan: Week of 9-3-16 | Hummusapien
Pingback: Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan 09.04.2016 - The Roasted Root
Pingback: Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan - Week Nine - She Likes Food
I can’t get raw cashews in my area & want to make these tomorrow. How would the roasted cashews work?
Hi Linda! I’m not sure that roasted cashews would work the same because I haven’t tried it. You can always buy raw cashews online and have them shipped to you, although that doesn’t help you for tomorrow.
How many shells in a serving size?
Hi Annie! The nutrition facts are for one shell. I hope that helps!
I’ve made these a few time and have them in the oven once again. Great recipe! Thank you for sharing!
I’m so glad you like them as much as we do! Thanks Hope! :)
I just finished making these! Followed the recipe completely other than using 1 cup of finely chopped spinach instead of 16oz of frozen and oh my god, so delicious! Thank you so much! Not telling the rest of the family that it is vegan so we will see how they like it. Can’t wait to make a just the ricotta for pizza!
Yay! I’m so happy you like them, Kelsey. Hopefully they were a hit with everyone else too!
Oh my gosh !!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this recipe. Now I’m on the hunt for pasta shells.
Could you water it down to create a spinach dip?
Could you use 1/2 cashews and 1/2 potato to cut the calories?
Hi Linda! I’m not sure if those substitutions will work because I haven’t tried them. Let me know if you do!
I made these last night for a group of friends and they were a HUGE hit. None of us are vegan per say, but certainly enjoy it, but the real draw to this recipe was the fact it’s dairy free. I pretty much followed the recipe to a “T” and they were so flavorful. I will scour your site for other delicious recipes!
Thank you so much, Jenny! :)
I have made this recipe 3 times now and we love it! I would serve this to any non vegan any time! So yummy!
I’m so happy to hear that, Elizabeth! Thank you! :)
Pingback: 3 October, 2017 20:18 – Vegan Recipes
Genius! This recipe is absolutely wonderful. If I didn’t know about the “cashew ricotta” I probably would have mistaken it for the real thing – so delicious! Will definitely be making again.
So glad you enjoyed it, Erica! Thanks for the comment! :)
Pingback: Roasted Sweet Potato, Kale and Farro Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing - Making Thyme for Health
I made this tonight and it was super delicious. Do you think I could use fresh spinach next time?
Hi Ronny! I’m so glad you enjoyed them! You could use fresh spinach but you would have to cook it first. If you add it raw then it might turn the cashew ricotta green. That wouldn’t look very appetizing, haha!
Pingback: Overnight Vegan Eggnog French Toast Casserole - Making Thyme for Health
Pingback: Vegan Butternut Squash and Kale Lasagna - Making Thyme for Health
Hi! We love this recipe! I make both shells and lasagna.I made a double batch of the cashew ricotta filling. One batch with spinach and the other batch without spinach for our little boys who prefer it with just the cashew “ricotta”. At the last minute I made them spaghetti. Can the cashew “ricotta” be frozen and then thawed later for the lasagna or shells?
p.s. I’ve also used this filling for enchiladas with black beans. The spinach cashew filling with black beans is delicious.
Oh I love the idea to use the ricotta in enchiladas! Genius!
I haven’t tried freezing the ricotta yet so I can’t say for sure. That’s definitely something I will have to do soon. :)
This far exceeded my expectations (& I had high hopes). My non-vegan husband said it was one of the best things I’d ever made. Now if only cashews were cheaper
Aw I’m so glad to hear that, Tiffany! Thank you for the feedback.
And I agree that it’s a shame cashews are so expensive. If only the government subsidized nuts (and produce) they way they do meat & dairy. We’d have a much healthier nation with cheaper healthcare, that’s for sure!
My family loves this dish. This is the 3rd or 4th time I made it and was told that it is definitely a keeper. My husband will try anything I made, except quinoa, and our daughter is a meat eater all the way and really wants nothing to do with anything plant based. When I made this the first two times she loved it and never asked and I never told. Tonight, I asked her if she wanted to lick the bowl of “ricotta” and she asked what it was and I told her it was cashews. She continued scraping the bowl, ate 3 shells at dinner and saved 3 shells for lunch tomorrow. It’s the best, not only in taste but healthiness too. Thank you!
Wow, that is so awesome that she likes it! Thanks for the review, Heidi!
Great recipe!! I used dried parsley instead of basil (I hate basil), used fresh spinach, and I covered my shells with nutritional yeast after the bread crumbs!! DELICIOUS!!!!!
I am making them again tonight and will try using fresh parsley since I have some leftover in the fridge ❤️
I never reviewed a recipe but this particular one was worthy! My husband and I are about 6 months into being vegan and we miss creamy cheeses. This recipe was easy and incredibly satisfying. My husband went back for seconds and requested I make another batch tomorrow.
Cheese was the hardest for me to give up to! I’m glad this recipe has made it a little easier for you. Thank you for taking the time to write a review! :)
This is “Omnivore Company Worthy”. The flavor was perfect and I love that you can prep the day before. When company shows up, you just pop it in the oven!
Thank you for the awesome review, Renee!
Have you tried this yet, with gluten free shells. Usually they are made with rice flour
This recipe is suitable as a plant-based replacement for ricotta and tastes good (the flavor really comes from the sauce), but the claim that it’s “healthier” is misleading. A calorie comparison of cashews versus ricotta shows that the cashews are nearly the same amount of calories cup-for-cup, and that’s if you’re using whole cashews. When you blend the cashews and compress the volume, ricotta is less calories.
The flavors in the cashew mix were decently balanced, but if I am hankering for pasta, I’d really prefer to just go with spaghetti/zoodles next time.
If you classify a health food based on how many calories it has then you’re right, cashews are more calorically dense then cow’s milk. However, I personally view it as a better option because you are getting fiber + essential vitamins and minerals that cannot be found in milk. Not to mention all of the antibiotics and hormones that factor into the dairy process.
Wow! I would give this 10 stars if I could! I just made this for company and everyone loved it. If I hadn’t made it myself, I wouldn’t believe it was vegan. I didn’t use breadcrumbs because I realized that my breadcrumbs aren’t vegan (I’m new to this). I sprinkled some vegan mozzarella on top which was really good. Thank you for this wonderful recipe!!!
I’m so happy to hear it was a hit! Thanks for the feedback, Denise!
I can not commend this recipe enough; the cheese flavor and texture were leagues better than dairy based recipes IMO. I added some minced mushrooms to the cashew cheese mix (more because the marinara sauce I used was using mushrooms already) but it really added to the overall flavor! My non-vegan family raved about it! Thank you!!!
I’m thrilled to hear you love these as much as I do! Thank you for the review!
Pingback: Index of Traditional Holiday Recipes, Categorized - Sweet As! - Delicious & Easy Recipes
Pingback: 11 Great Substitutes For Ricotta Cheese For You (May. 2018)
Yum! I made this for my husband and I last night and it was just delicious! The only things I tweaked was to add just a bit of nutritional yeast to the cashew cheese mixture, added a bit of almond milk to thin the cashew cheese which was just a bit too thick, then top the finished creation with shreds of fresh basil rather than parsley. I can’t wait to try the recipe again for my non-vegan son. It’s a true winner! Thank you so much!!!
I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it, Denise! Thank you for the review!
This was so good! My mother just switched to vegan, due to kidney health issues, and has been missing her comfort foods. I do a family dinner at my house and made this for all of us, she even helped. It was a huge hit! My dad and I had seconds and mom talked about using the ricotta for calzones and such. I was glad to see her get excited over her new diet. We used fresh basil, fresh spinach and a little vegan mozzarella, otherwise, no tweaks. We will definitely make it again! Thanks for this great recipe!
I can’t tell you how happy your comment made me, Laura. Thank you for taking the time to write it! :)
Oh my….I bumped into this recipe by accident and I had all the ingredients at home except the spinach. It was so easy to make and I love reading the reviews. I made this dish tonight and my husband and I loved it! We are fairly new vegans and this is another great meal to love being vegan even more! Thank you so much for all your recipes and I look forward to trying more!
Aw I’m so happy to read this, Sue. Thank you for the kind review!
Hi! What is the nutritional info for these? Really would just like to know the calories.
This is the second time I am making these. It is definitely time consuming, but well worth thee effort.
Thanks for the review, Carolyn!
Absolutely amazing!!! Tastes just like the “real thing” my whole family loved them. My daughter never liked stuffed shells but she loved these!
Love hearing that! Thanks for the review, Amber!
I made this for dinner one night for my mum who is vegan. It was such a hit with everyone that it’s the go-to recipe to make whenever the family get together. Even all the toddlers devour it.
I love hearing that! Thank you Jenni!
Pingback: 15 Vegan Recipes So “Cheesy” You’ll Swear They’re Lies – Fitness Tantra
I’ve been vegan for about 16 months and this has become one of my very top recipes. I do it half and half, vegan/vegetarian or vegan/meat eater. So it’s super easy when you have a guest around who wants to have cheese and/or meat.
Thank you so much for this recipe. It’s pure gold!
It was really good and I was amazed how the cashews resembled ricotta. HOWEVER, the lemon was a bit overpowering. And by stuffing the shells this full and having so little sauce, I wound up with something that was overly dry and slightly hard to swallow. The next time I make it – and yes, there will definitely be a next time! – decrease the lemon juice and add a little at a time, and add MUCH more marinara sauce. Otherwise it was a really great recipe!
This was SO good!! The house smelled like an Italian restaurant yumm!! I wish I’d used a little more sauce but the recipe itself was perfect! This will become a regular staple in my house now ! Ty for sharing !
So glad to hear that! Thank you for the review!
Pingback: Vegan Valentine’s day recipes- breakfast, lunch, dinner – DIY Lifestyle
Made these stuffed shells for dinner tonight. My hubby & I love this dish. DELICIOUS!!!
Pingback: Pasta shells stuffed with cashew ‘ricotta’ cheese and spinach are an elegant... - Dinner-Recipes.Site
just made this one for our wedding anniversary vegan diner. The cheese was delish before I stuffed the shells and baked the whole thing under marinara…. After – the cheese is savory-acidic, the marinara is savory-acidic… I was disappointed by the result :/ it looks so terrific but smth was off with the overall taste composition. maybe it’s me or some of my products… the ricotta recipe on it’s own is a keeper!
Made these pasta shells for lunch today and they tasted great. I used prego spaghetti sauce but would be great with and marinara. I will make again.
Pingback: 15 Easy Vegan Meals for Weeknights | Simple Happy Mama by Shelby Reyes
I made baked penne pasta with your cheese. It was amazing. I made it yesterday AND another batch today. My daughter has celiac disease. GF isn’t a choice for us. Our home has to be GF. Thank you!
Love that idea! Thanks for the review, Terri!
Wow! This is such a great recipe! Thank you very much for posting it!!!
Pingback: 19 Plant Based Pantry Recipes - Beautiful Minutiae
This recipe is FANTASTIC!! My husband has been vegan for 8 years, every meal we make at home is plant-based. So we have been through a lot of…ahem…less than amazing recipes that attempt to replace cheese. This is, by far, the best recipe we have found! Served at Christmas for the first time, my whole non-vegan family loved it. We have made several times since then. Amazing. Can’t say enough good things about this. Thank you and keep up the great work!
Question: did you use small lemons? I used two big ones and it over-powered the meal, unfortunately. I’m really bummed about it. I will be making it again because I could tell it was really good otherwise.
I usually get about 2-3 tablespoons of juice per lemon so in total it should be about 1/4 cup. Some palates are more sensitive to citrus though so I would suggest starting with 1 lemon and taste testing to see if you prefer more. I’ll add that to the notes for others as well. Thank you for the feedback!
I have made this twice and quite enjoyed it both times. Are people really only eating three stuffed shells as a serving..?
I boiled my cashews for 20 minutes and soaked them for an hour in lieu of an overnight soak. I added about 1 tablespoon of the water from their cooking to the ricotta mix to help with the consistency. I found one (large) lemon to be sufficient, although a little bit more couldn’t have hurt. I also didn’t have oregano so subbed in a mix of dried sage, marjoram, and thyme which worked well. I wish I would have invested in a better marinara or put a bit less on top of the shells as it distracted from the lovely flavor of the ricotta filling. Thank you for sharing!
I used the cashew mixture to make eggplant involtini. It was delicious!
Pingback: Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan - Week Twenty - She Likes Food
Just found this. Tried it tonight. My husband and I LOVED it. Unfortunately after trying 5 food stores, I had to give up on finding large shells, so I used lasagna noodles- which was an adventure in and of itself. However, I finally figured out to boil them 2-3 at a time until pliable. Then used the lasagna noodles like tortillas. I put a large scoop full of filling into the end of the noodle and rolled it up. Then lined them up in the pan to cook. ( my other deviation was after I puréed the cashews in my Vitamix, I just threw in the spinach, garlic and spices instead of getting another bowl dirty.)
In the oven now. Loved the filling so expecting baked version to be delicious. First time visiting your site- recipes look yummy!
Pingback: Christmas Butternut Squash - Plant Based Health