When updating our go-to recipe for dairy-free ricotta, I was reminded of my favorite dairy-free stuffed shells recipe. I initially made it over fifteen years ago, but we still love it as a base recipe. It’s delicious as is, but is also easy to modify, based on your taste or your pantry. Plus, it’s really quite simple. The steps might look daunting, but the spinach-ricotta style filling takes just minutes to blend up, and can easily be made ahead. From there, just stuff the shells, cover in sauce, and bake! It’s a comforting, yet nutritious Italian-American meal.
These Dairy-Free Stuffed Shells are a Versatile Dinner
Don’t be afraid to toss other flavorful add-ins into these dairy-free stuffed shells. We like sun-dried tomatoes or fresh basil in the filling, and olives, diced carrots, or mushrooms cooked with the sauce. Below are some more modification options in the form of FAQs.
Can I Use Fresh Spinach?
You certainly can, but I recommend chopping it first. You can chop them as is if using baby spinach leaves, or remove the thick stems if using larger leaves.
Can I Add Meat to this Recipe?
These dairy-free stuffed shells are fairly high protein as is, thanks to the tofu. But you can definitely add meat for flavor and more protein. We really like dairy-free Italian sausage with this recipe. Both mild and spicy varieties are great, it just depends on your taste. I like to cook about 1/2 pound up and add it to the filling, but you can also simply add it to the sauce. Ground beef will also work well, but I would add some more salt and seasonings, to taste.
Will the Filling Work in Manicotti Tubes?
Definitely. Simply stuff the cooked pasta tubes just as you would with the shells. For ease, you might want to put the filling in a pastry bag, and use a wide hole to pipe it into the pasta.
What Dairy-Free Marinara Do You Recommend?
You are right to pay attention to the pasta sauce! Many brands of pasta sauce, even marinara, contain milk. Sometimes I make the Pantry Marinara or Roasted Tomato Sauce recipes from Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook. But when shopping for brands, we’ve been leaning on store brands. 365 Organic (at Whole Foods), Signature Select (at Albertsons/Safeway stores), and Good & Gather (at Target) are the ones we are liking most right now for taste, ingredients, and price.
Special Diet Notes: Stuffed Shells
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, optionally gluten-free, nut-free, peanut-free, added sugar-free, vegan, plant-based, and vegetarian.
- 1 (12- to 14-ounce) package extra-firm or firm tofu (not silken), drained
- 5 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ¼ teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 1½ teaspoons basil
- Black pepper, to taste
- 1 (24- to 28-ounce) jar dairy-free marinara
- 1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells (gluten-free, if needed)
- Place about ¾ of the tofu in your food processor or blender. Add the nutritional yeast, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and nutmeg and process until smooth.
- Remove the tofu mixture to a large bowl. Add the remaining tofu and mash until it resembles ricotta.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
- Squeeze excess liquid from the spinach. Add the spinach, cooked onions and garlic, oregano, and basil to the filling and gently stir to combine.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
- Cook the shells according to the package directions. Drain and rinse them under cold water.
- Pour enough marinara in a 9x9-inch or 9x13-inch baking dish to just cover the bottom.
- Stuff the shells with the ricotta mixture, and place them in the baking dish.
- Pour the remaining marinara over the shells.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Took a while to make, but the effort was worth it! My daughter who is allergic to dairy had never had stuffed shells before. We thought these were delicious!!! Thank you for the recipe!
That’s wonderful! So glad you both enjoyed them and that she got to try something new!
I found adding 2-3 tbsp of lemon juice, and a half a block of smoked tofu (put through the blender) really kicked the flavour up a tick. I also added more nutritional yeast and a bit more than a pinch of nutmeg. I had a hard time keeping a spoon out of the mix I made for tonight’s supper! Even my dairy eating husband and daughter enjoyed it, and not just in a good “for dairy free” way.
That’s wonderful Julie! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and thank you for sharing your successful modifications.
Hi! Just curious if you have ever froze the leftovers? I plan to use gf noodles. Always a little worried how they will freeze. Thank you for your advice!
Hi Leah, I’m not a big fan of frozen tofu, but it might work okay in this recipe. I’d be a little more concerned about the gluten-free noodles though. Gluten-free pasta just doesn’t seem to store as well as wheat pasta – it dries our and/or breaks easily.
This recipe is one of my families favorite, it is just awesome!! Add some vegan mozzarella on top towards the end to get a bit more of a cheesy Italian dish. They are also awesome the next day if you can keep everyone from eating them all.
Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this great feedback Susan!
I loved the recipe! Thank you so much for creating it. It was delicious!
Glad you enjoyed it Maureen!
I can’t tell you how long its been since I’ve devoured (yes, I mean DEVOUR) some stuffed shells. Probably since going vegan (like 8 years ago). I’ve got to change that and going to start with this recipe.
Yes, you do 🙂 I hope you get the chance to enjoy this dish Nicole!
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Having some vegan dishes is super healthy and necessary!! I always have vegan meals at least twice a week.
These vegan stuffed shells are truly a good choice for the week ?
These seriously look heavenly! Oh my goodness. My family would really love these for dinner!
I do love a good stuffed shell recipe! These look like a great dinner option that the whole family will enjoy!
Definitely a family-friendly one.
This looks so indulgent but it’s quite deceiving! All the ingredients are so good and make it super healthy! I can’t wait to try and sub with tofu!
I hope you get the chance to enjoy it Rachel!