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.
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:
- 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.