The original title for this recipe was Vegan Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Creamy Garlic Alfredo Sauce. Once I said it aloud, I heard how ridiculous it sounded and realized I needed to work harder on coming up with succinct recipe titles.
In my defense, the original title is an incredibly accurate description of the recipe and it does sound incredibly delicious, which it is.
Regardless of the recipe name, let’s talk deets of what’s inside this recipe. This recipe is the ULTIMATE comfort food: it is cheesy, creamy, chewy, and garlicky. I made these stuffed shells in anticipation of Thanksgiving, but honestly, they’d be delicious any time this winter/holiday season when you’re in need of some cheesy, carbalicious food.
For the filling, I’m starting off with a homemade “ricotta” cheese. I use a combination of tofu, nutritional yeast, and herbs to achieve the savory taste of traditional ricotta. You just need a food processor to blend up the ingredients until they are slightly smooth but still a little chunky. And to give the ricotta filling a slightly sweet and slightly earthy flair, I use canned pumpkin purèe. If you don’t have access to canned pumpkin (my European friends tell me it’s not a thing), not to worry! You can use homemade pumpkin purée or butternut squash purée. Just roast or steam the pumpkin/squash until tender, and once cool, scoop out the flesh and purée it in a food processor.
And for extra cheeziness in the filling, I add some store-bought vegan parmesan cheese (totally optional but also really good). Finally, for a slightly spicy yet sweet aroma that will surprise and delight your tastebuds, I add freshly grated nutmeg to the filling. I know I sound like a food snob channeling her inner Ina Garten when I say this, but freshly grated nutmeg really does make a world of a difference and adds so much more depth and intensity of flavor compared to pre-ground nutmeg.
The next major component of this delicious dish is the creamy garlic Alfredo sauce. I’ve made my fair share of plant-based Alfredo-esque sauces, and this recipe is by far my favorite.
The most accurate description of this sauce would be to say it “bursting with incredible flavor” and “tastes like real Alfredo but better.” The key is to allowing the onions to cook down until softened and browned, which adds so much rich flavor and notes of umami. The other key is using copious amounts of garlic. Lots of garlic is crucial in a flavorful sauce.
And to make this garlic Alfredo sauce super creamy, I use canned lite coconut milk. It’s creamy enough to make this sauce luxurious and decadent, but light enough that the sauce won’t turn out too heavy or thick.
The final component of the dish is the pasta (yay)! You’re looking for jumbos pasta shells. The large shell size, in combination with the decadent filling and Alfredo sauce, mean that just a few shells will satisfy your cravings.
For serving options, since this dish is so creamy and indulgent, I prefer to serve it as a side dish as opposed to a main course. And perhaps alongside a leafy green salad because, hey, #balance. However you serve it, I guarantee that your holiday guests will never know it’s vegan and/or will be very pleased.
Vegan Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
Tofu Ricotta (recipe below)
1/2 cup vegan parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
15 fresh sage leaves
Garlic Alfredo Sauce (recipe below)
Fresh herbs for serving (basil, thyme, sage)
1 14-ounce container of extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup of nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Garlic Alfredo Sauce
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can “lite” coconut milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F (or 175°C). Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and generously salt the water. Add the jumbo pasta shells and cook according to the box instructions until al dente, then drain well.
Transfer the cooked pasta shells to a baking sheet and drizzle with the 1 tablespoon olive oil to prevent sticking and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the Tofu Ricotta. Drain the block of tofu and dab away the excess water with some paper towels. Place the tofu and remaining ingredients in a food processor and pulse repeatedly until the texture is chunky but a little smooth, similar to ricotta cheese.
Make the pumpkin ricotta filling. In a large bowl, combine the Tofu Ricotta, pumpkin purée, vegan parmesan cheese (if using), and nutmeg. Season with the 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Taste the filling and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Stuff each jumbo shell with 1-2 tablespoons of the filling and set aside.
To make the Garlic Alfredo Sauce, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, add the extra virgin olive oil, followed by the diced onion. Cook for 6-7 minutes until the onion is softened and lightly browned. Then add the garlic and stir frequently for 2 minutes to prevent burning. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the flour, whisking constantly for a minute until well incorporated. Gradually pour in the lite coconut milk in stages, whisking after each addition to prevent clumps, and then cook for 2 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Transfer the sauce to a high-speed blender and add the 1 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Blend until the sauce smooth and creamy. Taste the sauce for seasonings, adding more salt or pepper as desired.
Pour 1/2 cup of the Garlic Alfredo Sauce in the prepared baking dish. Arrange the jumbo shells on top of the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce on top of the shells. Scatter the fresh sage leaves on top of the sauce. Bake the stuffed shells for 25 minutes until the pasta shells are lightly golden. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve warm.