Spinach “Chicotta” Stuffed Pasta Shells

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Stuffed Shells

CHICOTTA! You’ve heard of it, haven’t you? …no?

Considering that it was just invented last week, I really can’t blame you. “Chicotta” is a new creation that will change the way you look at plant-based cheeses. It’s a ricotta-like cheese made from… chickpeas! (hence the name, chickpea ricotta, or chicotta). With just some chickpeas and a few other simple ingredients, you can whip up the creamiest and most delicious non-dairy cheese you’ve ever tasted.

The invention of this craziness was a collaboration between my friend Kara (@karabshilling on Instagram) and I. She created a chickpea and spinach filling for pasta shells and was kind enough to share the idea with me. I started experimenting with a few additional flavor combos and was blown away by the idea of using chickpeas as cheese. At last, what we have here is the world’s most creamy non-dairy stuffed pasta with a gorgeous homemade marinara sauce. The flavors and textures in this dish are really beyond description.

This chicotta cheese works perfectly in the jumbo pasta shells we’re using here, but they can be hard to find (I had to try 5 grocery stores). Luckily, it works just as well in any other type of stuffed pasta dish; from cannelloni, to lasagna, to homemade ravioli, and more. You’ve got to try this one.

Stuffed Shells on Plate

Makes about 25 shells (4 servings)


  • 2 (15 oz) cans of chickpeas
  • 2/3 cup soaked cashews
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 lemon (juice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cooked spinach
  • 6 cups marinara sauce (recipe below)
  • 12 oz jumbo pasta shells
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 1/4 cup ground cashews

Step One: The Chicotta Cheese

Before getting started, soak the cashews for anywhere between 1-12 hours to soften them up. Then, combine the cashews, chickpeas (drained & rinsed), nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder, and lemon juice in a food processor and let it run until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If it happens to be so thick that it crumbles, feel free to add a few tablespoons of water. You want the consistency to somewhat firm, but still creamy.

Transfer this mixture to a bowl and use a spoon to gently fold in about 1 cup cooked spinach (freshly steamed or frozen/defrosted is fine). As with most plant-based cheeses, the flavors and textures of this chicotta improve after being refrigerated for several hours. So while preparing everything else, cover the lovely chicotta and stick it in the refrigerator.

Step Two: The Marinara Sauce

You’re welcome to use any type of marinara sauce you’d like. If you have an old family recipe, use that. If you’re in a pinch, you can even use sauce from a jar. For this, I actually modified a new recipe I found on Alllecipes.com which was perfect. It goes like this:

Marinara Sauce:

  • 1/3 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 (15 oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add in the diced yellow onion. Allow the onion to soften slightly over medium heat.
  • Meanwhile, in the food processor, pulse the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper until still a little chunky (or completely smooth if you prefer).
  • Pour the tomato mixture into the skillet with the onions, add two splashes of white wine, and allow to simmer for at least 25 minutes.

Step Three: The Pasta

Cook the jumbo shells according to the package instructions. You’ll need about 25 whole shells, and the average (12 oz) box has a bit more than that. Some shells will break or become deformed during cooking, however, so it’s better to make the whole batch and potentially have a few extras.

For best results, gently add the shells to boiling water and remove when just al dente. Gently scoop them out into a colander and transfer the best ones to a plate to prepare for stuffing.

Step Four: The Stuffed Shells

Carefully hold the shell open in one hand and gently spoon in about 2 tablespoons of the chicotta cheese and spinach mixture. This is a tedious process, but take your time and the final results will be completely worth the effort.

Add 2/3 of the marinara sauce (which should now be finished) to the bottom of a 9×13 pan and place each shell on top. Drizzle the remaining marinara over the top of the shells and finally add a layer of finely-ground cashews (a great substitute for parmesan cheese that can be made by simply blending the nuts into crumbs). Cover this pan with foil and bake at 400º F for about 20 minutes until everything is thoroughly heated.

To serve, spoon some of the marinara sauce onto the plate and rest several shells on the top. Optionally garnish with chopped basil and any extra nuts.

Try not to die from an overload of deliciousness as you take the first bite.

Stuffed Shells Baking

StuffedShells on Plate

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 Spinach “Chicotta” Stuffed Pasta Shells

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  1. This looks SO GOOD!! I’m totally going to have to try it soon :) I think you may have left the spinach out of the ingredient list though?

  2. How fun! I’ve done cashews and tofu ricotta but never chickpeas!

  3. Should the chickpeas be drained and rinsed?

    Sounds delicious!!

  4. These sound SOO yummy!! My husband has a major aversion the the taste of chick peas, does their flavor stand out when mixed with everything else?

    • Thanks, Ashley! In my opinion, the chickpea flavor stands out quite a bit when first pureed but they definitely soften into a more creamy, cheesy flavor/texture after sitting for an hour and then being baked. The two things I would do to hide their flavor are 1) add more garlic powder and salt, and 2) make the cheese a few hours in advance and let it chill for even longer.

  5. OMG I can’t wait to try this! You’re my new BFF!

  6. Hi, this sounds like a great filling for my son’s sandwiches for his school lunch as I usually use hummus instead of butter.
    Isn’t Marinara a tomato sauce with seafood? So the shells are the seafood stand-ins? Genius!

    • Hey Hanka! I could imagine this working great as a sandwich spread! Marinara is typically just a plain tomato sauce but it does kind of sound like ‘marina’ where you would find fish, so it is a little confusing! ;)

  7. Amber McKinley says:

    Thank you for solving my dilemma: what to cook for my (hungry) family who will be visiting this weekend! I’m tempted to try this as lasagna…….

    • Hi Amber! I think this would work amazingly well as lasagna. If you try it, let me know! :) I’m actually making it again for dinner tonight in round cannelloni pasta :p

  8. LOL BFF Andrew! Really I am very excited to try this – I’ m Italian ( vegan – no oil) since 4/13 I need options for my pasta, I hate tofu so this is awesome – thank you

  9. whats with the cashews? I am vegan however, the nuts add extra fats and what of the persons who cannot have nuts? What is the alternative?
    A post of options would be fab..

    • Hi Caren, like I mentioned in the comment below, sunflower seeds may be an alternative. Or you could try simply omitting the nuts with a little extra nutritional yeast.

  10. Any recommendations for replacing the cashews in this one? Sounds delicious, but I have a family member with life threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts…so none of us eat them.

    • Hey Kate, the only thing I can imagine working well would be something like sunflower seeds, soaked and processed in the same manner. Also the original recipe I was playing with didn’t have any nuts, just the chickpeas. It worked fine, but didn’t taste quite as rich or cheese-like. You could try that as well, maybe with a little extra nutritional yeast?

      • Awesome! Thanks (and as ridiculous as it sounds…we eat a lot of sunflower seed and pine nut in place of peanuts or tree nuts….you’d think I would’ve thought of that!)!

  11. This looks really amazing. As a life long vegetarian that is looking to turn vegan I am having a big problem with cheese and this looks like it could really work, can’t wait to try it

    • Very cool, Mercedes! Honestly, I’ve never missed cheese in 5+ years of being vegan. It’s harder in the first few weeks, but the cravings fade away and there’s so many great substitutes… like chicotta! :D

  12. What do you think “alas” means? Why are you so unhappy about your delicious recipe?

  13. Looks so delicious!! I love that you used chickpeas instead of tofu. I don’t eat tofu, but I could totally eat this…what a fantastic idea! :)

  14. Andi Crater says:

    So, your website has recently become a favorite of mine, and I was ecstatic when I came across this recipe. I will be making this VERY soon!

  15. You are genius! This was a hit at our house…..and that’s saying a lot! We have 4 picky little eaters and they all devoured it. THANK YOU for your creativity. We LOVE your site.

  16. This looks awesome! Do you think it would be as good using white kidney beans? (either as a combo, or in place of the chickpeas)

  17. Made it for dinner last night. My husband who is not a fan of ricotta cheese loved it and I kept the ingredients a secret. Thank you for sharing.


  18. Mary Marshall says:

    I made this last night (chicotta and the homemade marinara) but in lasagna form, and put it in the fridge overnight…I can’t wait to actually try it tonight!

    I did have a question about the cashews though, I had a hard time getting them all mixed in because the whole thing was so thick (even after adding lots of water). Would it be better to blend cashews and lemon juice and a bit of water first- then add chickpeas and continue on?

    Do you use a power blender or good processor? I ended up scooping It out of my power blender and into my food processor because the goop just wasn’t mixing! It worked a lot better then.

    I also ended up freezing half of the chicotta. We’ll see if it holds up. I had WAY too much for lasagna :)

    • Awesome, Mary! I hope you like it! :)

      Well, the post does say to use a food processor. I’ve made this chicotta in a Vitamix and that works well, but I know not everyone has one of those, so I recommended using a food processor in the post.

  19. When do you use the basil?

    • Hi Michele, the basil is mentioned towards the end: “To serve, spoon some of the marinara sauce onto the plate and rest several shells on the top. Optionally garnish with chopped basil and any extra nuts.” It’s primarily a garnish.

  20. This is genius! I’m going to make it this week! :)

  21. Danielle says:

    I enjoyed this! Do you think the filling would freeze well? My husband and I are experimenting with eating vegan and I am really enjoying your blog, which I find very down to earth. Thank you for the great recipes!

    • So glad to hear it, Danielle! Hmm, I can’t say for sure as I haven’t tried it myself, but I imagine the filling (though not the stuffed shells) would freeze quite well.

      • Danielle says:

        Just FYI, I did freeze the extra filling and it thawed just fine. I used it on lasagna the second time around. It worked great! Thanks again.

  22. Hi, can you recommend a vegan brand of cheese? My husband would like some the next time I make this yummy recipe.

    • Hi Michele, hmm, I don’t often use vegan cheeses because they’re so heavily processed. That’s why I make things from scratch like this chicotta! :) However, the Daiya brand is probably the best, it melts well and tastes like cheese.

  23. This turned out well with my skeptical family for Easter dinner. Thanks! I loved it.


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