Welcome to the joyous wedding of two of my all-time favorite things: stuffed shells and vodka sauce. We all know and love a good stuffed shell. We all drool over pasta drenched in vodka sauce. So why not have both? I now pronounce you: pasta and sauce. These vegan spinach ricotta stuffed shells with vodka sauce are:
- Creamy on top of creamy, thanks to tofu-based ricotta and cashew-based vodka sauce
- Easy to make ahead and then bake off whenever you want a delicious pasta dinner
- Great for a crowd — plan for 4 shells per person, and make as big of a batch as you need!
Key Ingredients for Stuffed Shells Alla Vodka
There are four main components to this dish:
Jumbo pasta shells: The “jumbo” part is key here. Regular pasta shells will be too small and fiddly to fill with the spinach ricotta mixture. You’ll want to make sure to cook them just to al dente — not more — otherwise they’ll split when you try to fill them.
Spinach: I prefer to use frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry. You can also use fresh spinach, although you’ll need bunches and bunches since it wilts down so much after cooking. And make sure not to skip the squeeze step, otherwise your ricotta will be watery!
Ricotta mixture (Recipe follows): My favorite plant-based ricotta is super easy! Just blend up firm tofu in a food processor with some nutritional yeast, salt, and lemon. Pulse it until it’s creamy but still has a bit of texture, similar to dairy-based ricotta. You can also use blanched slivered almonds, but you’ll need to blend a bit longer to get a smoother consistency, adding quite a bit of water to reach the desired consistency.
Vodka sauce (Recipe follows): My vodka sauce starts with olive oil, vodka, whole peeled tomatoes, onions, and garlic that are slow roasted until they’re deeply sweet and intensely flavored. Then they go into the blender with cashews, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and oregano until you have the silkiest, most flavorful sauce.
How to Make Stuffed Shells with Vodka Sauce
Timing is important in this recipe, since you’ll be multitasking. Here’s how I suggest you approach the cooking process:
First, start on your vodka sauce. Get the oven preheating and follow all the steps for the sauce. It will take an hour and a half to bake — this time is crucial for the flavors to deepen and intensify. Trust!
While the sauce is baking, make the spinach ricotta mixture. You can also boil your pasta until al dente during this time. Just be sure to toss it with olive oil to keep them from sticking together.
Once the sauce is done baking, blend it up. You’ll add cashews to make it creamy and decadent. Then pour it into the bottom of a large rectangular or circular baking dish.
Now just stuff the shells and bake! You can also stuff the shells, nestle them into the sauce, cover the dish with foil, and keep in the refrigerator or freezer until you’re ready to bake. I recommend this if you have company coming over and don’t want to be sweating in the kitchen for two hours!
Like most hearty pasta dishes, my favorite way to serve these stuffed shells is with a big leafy green salad and some crusty bread to sop up all that sauce. It’s also gorgeous with a little basil pesto drizzled on top, if you want to get outrageous.
Serve in a wide, shallow bowl, portioning about four shells per person. You can also serve it as a small bite or appetizer before a meal, with just one or two shells per person. I personally love it alongside my vegan caprese salad for an Italian feast.
Stuffed Shells with Vodka Sauce
- 1 lb jumbo pasta shells
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 yellow onions diced
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
- 1 cup vodka
- 2 28-oz cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup raw cashews
- 1 14-oz block firm tofu
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach
For the vodka sauce:
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until they begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic.
- Carefully add the vodka, standing back to avoid flames, and simmer for 5–7 minutes, until the mixture is reduced by half.
- Add the tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven to bake for 1 1/2 hours.
- Pour the tomato mixture, cashews and water into a high-speed blender and blend until completely smooth and creamy. Be sure to vent the top with a towel to let the pressure out — the mixture will be very hot. Return the blended mixture to the dutch oven.
For the spinach ricotta:
- Press your tofu by wrapping it in multiple layers of paper towel or a clean kitchen towel and place something heavy on top for 15 minutes. This will ensure your ricotta isn't watery.
- Blitz all of the ricotta ingredients in a food processor except for the spinach. Add a dash of water if the ricotta is too thick to blend well. You still want a little bit of texture to the mixture.
- Squeeze out all the water from the frozen spinach and fold it into the ricotta.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (if it isn't already there from the vodka sauce)
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook the jumbo shells to al dente, according to package directions. Drain and toss the shells in a little olive oil to prevent them from sticking together.
- Pour the vodka sauce into a large rectangular or circular baking dish.
- Fill each shell with a few tablespoons of the ricotta mixture, until they're generously stuffed. Nestle each shell into the vodka sauce until they're about halfway (but not fully) submerged.
- Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until everything is warmed through and the sauce is bubbly.
- Serve hot and enjoy!