Being Italian, ricotta was a staple in my life: lasagna, ravioli… stuffed shells. Lasagna is one dish I haven’t felt the need to veganize yet (though it obviously has been done), and butternut squash raviolis in sherry cream sauce keep me pretty damn happy, but stuffed shells is one dish I had to try the second I’d heard of cashew cheese.
My favorite part? Cashews, like ricotta, are expensive, making this a special occasion dish. Bitches loves special occasion dishes.
When I made this last, it was on our trip to Michigan to visit Dane’s family. His cousin’s wedding reception was going to be that weekend, so we drove up from Atlanta for some mitten shenanigans. I loved it–got to cook for his family and friends, who are veg-curious. His sister Lauren had just gone vegan and I talked to his mum and dad about it a lot; I even made them some tofu scramble for breakfast one morning as well as my special chorizo sausage gravy to go on some veggie dogs. Wicked filling, wicked good food.
But I knew for our last night I had to go all out: stuffed shells with garlic cashew cheese and lentil balls. Big pasta meals are how my family used to get together, so I channeled my grandma. The big win of the night was that Dane’s uncle, who is a self-proclaimed “very picky eater,” said this was the best meal he’d ever had. And Dane’s dad has been saying I need to come back up just to remake this!
Molly was a sweetheart–we invited her to dinner and she cooked up a vegetable dish cheese-free for us and brought a bunch of perfect tomatoes, which I sliced and coated in balsamic vinaigrette.
Making this, prep your lentil balls ahead of time. Once you’re at the step that they’re setting up in the fridge, begin with the shells.
Stuffed Shells with Garlic Cashew Cheese
- 1 box jumbo semolina shells
- 2 cups raw cashews
- 3 Tbsp fresh minced garlic
- 3 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
You’ll want to soak your cashews ahead of time, for at least three hours. Typically when I make any kind of cashew cheese, it’s an overnight soak. Get your shells into a pot of boiling water and cook until al dente. Make sure you’re stirring them in a big enough pot, because if they stick to the bottom and rip you’re going to have a mighty hard time stuffing them.
Preheat the oven to 350. Add the cashews, garlic, salt, and lemon juice to a blender and puree until smooth. It won’t be completely smooth and that’s a good thing–neither is ricotta! Drain the shells and let them cool a tiny bit in the colander while you very lightly sauce the bottom of a glass baking dish. I suggest a 9″x13″–in Michigan, I had to use two dishes to bake the shells because there were so many.
Once by one, stuff the shells and place them neatly into the sauced baking dish. Don’t go crazy with the stuffing so that the cheese is overflowing–try to use the same, even amount and then go back when they all have some to divvy up the remaining cheese, if there is any. Give each stuffed shell a dollop of sauce on top.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or very lightly oil them. Roll the lentil ball mixture into golf-ball-sized balls and place them on the sheets. Feel free to make them a little bigger–I always do. Put everything in the oven and let bake for about 15-20 minutes, rotating once. The shells bake with them.