Cheesy Vegan Stuffed Shells are an absolute must-try recipe. They’re filled with a rich, creamy vegan spinach and ricotta mixture and baked in a flavorful marinara sauce. You won’t be able to resist going back for more!
Every Christmas, my aunt would bring a big tray of stuffed shells over for dinner, and they would always be the star of the dining table. This recipe is very near and dear to my heart, and I’m excited to say that this veganized version tastes exactly how I remember it as a kid. If you love this vegan pasta dish, you’ll love our collection of easy vegan pasta recipes!
Ingredients You’ll Need
Flax: Make sure to use ground flax – whole flax seeds will not absorb the water in the same way and will not blend nicely into the cheese mixture.
Spinach: Frozen spinach has already been cooked and is dense than fresh. If you only have fresh spinach, it can be used in place of frozen, but it must be cooked, chopped, and cooled before use. Similarly, you’ll need to remove the excess water before adding it to the cheese filling.
Vegan ricotta: We always use our homemade tofu ricotta recipe. It can be made at home in the food processor with just 7 ingredients, including lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and olive oil. If you are soy-free or short on time, opt for a store-bought almond-based ricotta like Kite Hill’s Ricotta Alternative.
Dairy-free mozzarella cheese: Store-bought mozzarella cheese shreds are used in the ricotta mixture and sprinkled over the top before baking. Use your favorite brand – there are several available in stores these days!
Herbs: For the best flavor, we highly recommend using fresh over-dried. If necessary, replace every teaspoon of fresh herbs with ¼ teaspoon of dried.
Jumbo Shells: Essential for making stuffed shells! When shopping, buy jumbo pasta shells, not regular ones. If you can’t find jumbo shells, manicotti pasta is the next best option.
Marinara Sauce: Both our homemade marinara and your favorite store-bought pasta sauce will work here. Rao’s Homemade is one of our go-to store-bought brands.
Prepare the flax egg. Whisk together the ground flax seed in a small mixing bowl with 3 tablespoons of water. Set aside for 5-10 minutes or until gelatinous.
Cook the jumbo pasta shells. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the shells until al dente. Once al dente, strain and set aside to cool.
Thaw the frozen spinach. Place the frozen spinach in a fine mesh strainer and run under warm water. Mix it with your hands and break apart any icy chunks. Once thawed, squeeze out the excess water and set aside.
Make the vegan ricotta filling mixture. In a large-sized mixing bowl, mix together the tofu ricotta, flax egg, thawed spinach, vegan mozzarella shreds, fresh herbs, onion powder, salt, black pepper, and optional red pepper flakes.
Prep the baking dish. Spread half of the marinara sauce into the bottom of the baking dish.
Stuff the shells. The easiest, quickest way to do this is to transfer the ricotta filling into a piping bag and pipe it into the shells. We were able to fill about 24 jumbo pasta shells. If you do not have a reusable piping bag, opt for a large zip-lock plastic bag with the tip of the corner snipped off. This tutorial shows you how to frost cupcakes with a Ziploc bag, but the method is the same for piping tofu ricotta into stuffed shells.
Arrange the shells in the baking dish. Evenly arrange the shells in the baking dish. We were able to get 6 rows of 4 shells, but your results may vary depending on the size of your baking dish.
Top the shells with sauce and vegan mozzarella. Top the shells with the remaining sauce and a sprinkle of vegan mozzarella cheese.
Bake. Tightly cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the dish is hot and bubbly.
Optional broil. If you’d like to make the vegan cheese shreds extra melty, broil the stuffed shells for a final couple of minutes. Be sure to watch carefully to prevent burning.
Serve. Remove the stuffed shells from the oven and top with freshly chopped parsley, basil, and additional salt and black pepper. Serve while warm with your favorite sides.
Gluten-free jumbo shells are a little harder to find than other varieties of pasta, but they do exist! Try this brand made using brown rice pasta. To be safe, double-check to make sure your vegan cheese shreds are certified gluten-free, too.
Store leftover stuffed shells in a tightly covered dish or container in the fridge for up to 5 days. We have not attempted to freeze these stuffed shells, but if you give it a try and have good results, please let us know!
To reheat, place the stuffed shells in a microwave-safe dish and cook until warm or place the shells in an oven-safe dish and cover them with foil. Cook at 350 F for 10-15 minutes or until warmed through again and the pasta sauce is hot and bubbly.
Can I thaw frozen spinach in the microwave?
Yes, place the spinach in a large bowl and microwave it on high for 3 minutes. Allow the spinach to cool before squeezing out the excess water and mixing it with the tofu ricotta.
How long do I boil jumbo shells?
This depends on the brand you purchased, but most typically take about 8-10 minutes. Keep in mind you’ll want to cook them al dente (1-2 minutes less than called for) to prevent them from overcooking in the oven.
Why are my stuffed shells watery?
This can happen for a number of reasons. First, make sure your cooked pasta shells are thoroughly drained. Second, make sure to squeeze all the excess moisture out of the thawed spinach. If the spinach isn’t drained properly, your ricotta mixture will be too runny and become watery once baked.
Time Saving Tips
Make these stuffed shells up to 24 hours in advance! To do so, follow steps 1-8, then tightly cover. Place the dish directly in the fridge until you are ready to bake. Then, allow the stuffed shells to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking and serving as usual.
Prep the ricotta cheese or sauce in advance. If you don’t need to prep the entire dish in advance, you can still save time by preparing the separate components in advance. If you opt for making homemade marinara, doing this in advance is very helpful.
More Italian-Inspired Vegan Recipes You May Enjoy:
Preheat oven to 400°F and have a large 9×13-inch baking dish ready.
Prepare the flax egg by mixing together the flaxseed meal and water in a small bowl and setting it aside for 10-15 minutes to thicken.
Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Once the pasta has cooked, strain and set aside.
In the meantime, thaw the frozen spinach by placing it into a mesh strainer and running it under very warm water. Mix it around with your hands and break apart any icy chunks as needed. Once it has thawed, turn off water and use your hands to gently squeeze the water out. Alternatively, you can place the spinach in a large bowl and microwave it on high for 3 minutes. Remove it and allow it to cool for 5 minutes before using.
Prepare the ricotta cheese if you have not already done so. To make the ricotta filling, add the ricotta to a large bowl along with the prepared flax egg, spinach, shredded vegan mozzarella, parsley, basil, onion powder, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Mix until uniform and set aside.
Prepare the baking dish by pouring half of the pasta sauce into the bottom of it, spreading it evenly to all edges. The remaining sauce will be poured on top of the shells. Alternatively, you can pour all of the pasta sauce into the dish and then fill it with stuffed shells.
To stuff the shells: there are two options. You can either fill it by hand with a spoon OR you can place the ricotta filling into a piping bag and pipe it into the shells, which is a bit easier and less messy. Either way works, your choice! Fill about 24 shells up with roughly 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling, or as needed. You can always go back and add more filling to the shells if you have extra. Evenly arrange the shells in the baking dish. We were able to get 6 rows of 4 shells, but your results may vary depending on the size of your dish.
If you did not use all of the sauce, evenly top the shells with the remaining sauce. Then, sprinkle the last 1/2 cup of vegan mozzarella cheese on top.
Cover the baking dish with foil and place it into the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the cover, reduce the heat to 375°F and place it back into the oven uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until it is nice and melty. If you would like, you can broil the stuffed shells as well to further melt the cheese. Just be careful, it can burn easily!
Remove the dish from the oven and top with freshly chopped parsley and/or basil. Serve warm.
The ricotta recipe calls for raw garlic which results in a very strong garlic flavor in the final dish. If you would like for the garlic to be a bit more mild, you can either mince and sauté the garlic prior to making the ricotta or you can just use 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder.
If you are using store bought vegan ricotta cheese and it does not contain garlic, we recommend adding some (see above note).
You can make these stuffed shells up to 24 hours in advance! Cover them and place into the refrigerator until ready to bake. Bake according to the directions in the recipe.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Reheat the stuffed shells in an oven safe dish in the oven at 350°F for 10-15 minutes.
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