These vegan stuffed shells are filled with a mix of dairy-free cashew tofu ricotta and garlicky basil pea pesto, and baked up in a creamy sauce to bubbly perfection.
Have I mentioned how much I absolutely love pesto? Yeah, I have. Well, here's something really cool about pesto that I've discovered since I started food blogging: you can make it out of all kinds of things. Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts, garlic, and basil. But you can switch up the nuts, and often nobody will be the wiser. In fact, I often do just that, because pine nuts are a bit pricey (this recipe uses walnuts).
The basil is where I tend to get a little stuck. You can substitute all kinds of herbs, greens, veggies... you name it. But the whole garlicky basil combo is basically what I really love about pesto. So while making pesto out of all kinds of crazy colorful veggies sounds like fun, I'm always a bit disappointed at the lack of basil-y flavor.
That's where recipes like this come in. Veggies and basil go great together, so why not combine them in one seriously amazing pesto? I did this last year with kale pesto. Now I'm doing it again with pea pesto.
Peas actually work great in combination with basil pesto, because the sweetness adds a whole new layer of flavor, and they also give it a nice chunky texture.
I thought about stuffing some shells with just pea pesto, but I thought that would be a little intense, and I'd also miss my good old vegan cashew-tofu ricotta that I love so much in recipes like this. So what I did is whip up a batch of pea pesto, then whip up a batch of ricotta, and mix half of the pea pesto in with the ricotta. The other half of the pea pesto went into a creamy sauce that the shells were baked up in.
My shells turned out to be rich, creamy, packed with flavor, and just a bit of sweetness, thanks to the peas. They made for a very comforting dinner that was perfect for the early days of spring.
Vegan Pea Pesto Stuffed Shells
- 6 ounces jumbo pasta shells, about 24 shells
For the Pea Pesto:
- 3 cups frozen peas, thawed
- 1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves, about 1 bunch
- ¾ cup chopped walnuts
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
For the Vegan Ricotta
- ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked in water 4-8 hours, rinsed and drained
- ¾ cup unflavored soy or almond milk
- ½ pound extra firm tofu, broken into 3-4 chunks
- 1 small onion, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the Sauce:
- 1 ¼ cups unflavored soy or almond milk
- 1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Salt to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the shells and cook according to package directions. Drain into a colander, return shells to the pot and toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
While the shells boil, make the pesto. Place peas, basil, walnuts, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic into a food processor bowl and pulse until finely chopped and well mixed. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Scoop the mixture into a bowl.
Next make the ricotta. Place the cashews and milk into the food processor bowl (no need to clean it out first). Blend until smooth. Add the tofu and onion, and pulse until the mixture has a chunky, ricotta-like texture. Add in half of the pea pesto and pulse again just to mix the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Gather a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Make the sauce by whisking the milk and flour together, right in the baking pan. Add all but about ½ cup of the remaining pea pesto and stir until blended.
Fill the pasta shells with the ricotta-pea pesto mixture and place them in the baking dish with the sauce.
Cover the dish and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 5 to 10 minutes more, until the sauce thickens and just begins to bubble.
Divide shells onto plates and top with reserved pea pesto and additional red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve.