Stuffed Shells w/Tofu Ricotta, Pesto & Creamy Cashew Cheese
This recipe is for a lazy Sunday when you have time to make everything; or you can make the various sauces and cheese ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator, and simply cook the pasta and assemble the recipe the next day. Just don’t do what I did and start the recipe when you’re hungry; you might not get very far (I had to stop what I was doing, make a quick recipe of vegan macaroni & cheese, and only then was I able to concentrate on the task at hand). Also, don’t be put off by the seemingly long list of ingredients; many of the items are used two or three times.
The ricotta here is adapted from a fantastic book called Ann Gentry’s Vegan Family Meals.
12 oz jumbo shells
For the Marinara:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon salt
For the Tofu Ricotta (adapted from Vegan Family Meals):
14 oz firm tofu
1/4 cup yellow miso
1/4 cup tahini
2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8-10 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
For the Creamy Cashew Cheese:
1 cup whole, raw cashews, soaked for 1-2 hours
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon yellow miso
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Pesto:
1 cup packed fresh basil
1 cup packed fresh arugula
1/3 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
2-3 garlic coves, peels & crushed
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup good olive oil
Start with the marinara sauce since this recipe takes the longest: heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet. When hot, add the garlic and turn down the heat. Add the oregano. With a wooden spoon, quickly stir the garlic and oregano for about 30-45 seconds. Don’t let the garlic burn whatever you do! Then add the tomatoes, red wine, and agave. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes and taste. Adjust seasonings.
On to the ricotta: roughly break up the tofu and place into the food processor and add everything else with the exception of the fresh basil leaves. Process until the tofu is mostly, but not quite, smooth. Then add the chopped basil leaves and process until the ricotta is smooth, and flecked with green.
For the creamy cashew cheese: drain the cashews and put in a blender. Blend until smooth. Taste; it should taste creamy and just barely sweet.
For the pesto, put all of the ingredients except the olive oil into a food processor and pulse several times. You want the greens, seeds and garlic to be only partially ground; not totally minced. Then through the opening at the top of the processor (or however your particular model works), turn the processor on and slowly drizzle the olive oil in. You maybe have to stop the machine several times and scrape down the bowl until the olive oil is properly emulsified. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use (or make last, before assembly).
When you are ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 375° F. Heat up a large pot of water and cook the pasta according to directions—only undercook by one minute; the pasta will finish cooking in the oven (my box of shells actually told me the pre-baking time of 9 minutes; because who is going to eat the shells out of the pot?? They are made to be stuffed and baked).
While the shells cook, spread a layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of a large shallow baking dish. Then in a large shallow bowl, roughly mix about half of the ricotta with half of the pesto. Just a couple of swirls is fine.
Drain the shells and rinse with cold water to cool down; you need to stuff these by hand and you don’t want to burn yourself. Now comes the fun/tedious part. With a spoon, stuff each shell with a mixture of the ricotta and the pesto. Go easy—don’t overstuff; there are a lot of shells and if you’re not careful, you’ll be left with a colander full of empty shells and no more ricotta!
Lay the shells in the baking dish. Once the dish is full of shells, cover with more marinara; then spoon some of the creamy cashew cheese on top. Take another spoon and dab some of the pesto around the top of the shells.
When your pan is ready to go in to the oven, cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. When time is up, remove foil and let bake for another 5-6 minutes. You want it really hot, but not dry.
A 16 oz box of shells is a lot of shells, and you may consider cooking just half of then, and then stuffing the crap out of them. I usually stuff sparingly, but use two baking dishes. Do whatever works for you. I usually cook the whole box of pasta and make two pans of stuffed shells; then I have lots of leftovers. I’m all about the leftovers.