The original title for this recipe was Vegan Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Creamy Garlic Béchamel 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, and is a must make during the fall/winter/holiday season!
Fall comfort food: Giant pasta shells get stuffed in a cheesy pumpkin filling, topped with a creamy white sauce, and then baked in the oven. It’s the epitome of comfort food for cold weather and pumpkin season!
Texture, texture, texture! The contrast of the chewy baked shells with the creamy filling and sauce is so good you won’t be able to put your fork down!
Crowd pleasing holiday dish. I have made this for two Thanksgiving dinners, one Christmas dinner, and one fall dinner party, and this dish is always a hit. It usually gets the “I can’t believe this is vegan” line, and according to many of you, the results are the exact same in your homes :)
Surprisingly easy. Despite this being a crowd pleasing and impressive dish fancy enough for the holidays, it’s actually quite easy to assemble and make. If you watch the video down below or on Youtube, you’ll be able to see that it’s really easy and doesn’t require any special cooking skills.
Watch! How to make Vegan Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells.
Ingredients + Methods for this Recipe
Jumbo Pasta Shells
You can find jumbo pasta shells at many grocery stores (though not all). I’ve found them at Whole Foods, Vons, and Ralphs, as well as stores like Target and Walmart. The large shell size, in combination with the decadent filling and sauce, mean that just a few shells will satisfy your cravings!
Cook the shells in a large pot of salted boiling water until just al dente. When the shells are done cooking, drain them and toss them with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking and drying out.
Pumpkin Ricotta Filling
This filling is so tasty yet so easy to make and comes together in less than 10 minutes. It starts with my homemade vegan tofu ricotta cheese. I use a variation of this cheeze in a number of my recipes, from lasagna to savory tarts.
The tofu ricotta requires extra firm tofu, nutritional yeast, and a few dried herbs and seasonings to achieve the traditional texture of traditional ricotta. The nice thing about it is you don’t have to press the tofu – you just need to pat dry excess water before crumbling it up. The other nice thing is that the food processor does all the work for you. All you do is add the ingredients to a food processor and pulse repeatedly until slightly smooth but still a little chunky.
Traditional ricotta is fairly bland in taste, but my vegan version is so flavorful that you’ll want to eat it on its own! (many readers do just this).
Then, the tofu ricotta gets folded into a pumpkin filling, which features canned pumpkin purée, freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper, and vegan parmesan cheese for that extra cheesy goodness. The pumpkin and nutmeg bring a slightly sweet and slightly earthy flair that is irresistible! The slightly sweet yet spicy aroma of freshly grated nutmeg will truly delight your taste buds, so please don’t skip this step!
Garlic Béchamel Sauce
The final component of this delicious dish is the creamy garlic white sauce. I’ve made my fair share of plant-based white sauces, and this recipe is by far my favorite. It’s so creamy and flavorful that you can eat it by the spoon. You know a dish is going to be amazing when you can eat two of the components by the spoon.
Start off by cooking some onions in extra virgin olive oil until nicely softened and lightly browned, then add the garlic until very fragrant. The cooked onions and garlic are what take this sauce from an ordinary Béchamel sauce to an extremely flavorful, garlicky Béchamel sauce. After they are done cooking, you’ll add all-purpose flour and stir to incorporate, similar to making a roux.
And then to make this white sauce super creamy without using dairy-based milk or cream, 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 flour will help thicken the sauce very quickly, and it should take just 2 minutes.
Transfer the sauce to a blender, add salt and pepper, and blend until smooth and creamy! Keep in mind that if you taste this sauce before blending, it will taste quite coconutty. But, once you add the salt and pepper and blend it up in a blender until creamy, I promise it loses that coconut taste!
To assemble the dish, pour about 1/2 cup of the Béchamel sauce onto the bottom of a 13×9-inch (33×23 cm) rectangular pan (a 3 liter pan).
Stuff 1 to 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin ricotta filling into each jumbo shell. Arrange the stuffed shells on top of the sauce. Then drizzle the remaining sauce on top of the shells. Finally, scatter some chopped sage leaves on top for that earthy, woodsy perfect-for-fall flavor!
Bake in the oven at 350°F (or 175°C) for 25 minutes until the shells are lightly golden!
Tips for Making Vegan Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Cook the pasta in well-salted boiling water until just al dente. I always recommend cooking pasta in well-salted water because that’s what will bring some flavor to the pasta. Obviously, the filling and sauce will have lots of flavor, but you want every little bite to be well seasoned, even the parts of the pasta that don’t have filling.
Also, don’t cook the shells past the al dente stage – they should still have a bit of bite to them. Since the stuffed shells will get baked in the oven for a bit, you definitely don’t want them to be too soft, or else the end dish could be a bit mushy.
Use freshly grated nutmeg. I know I sound like a bougie food snob channeling her inner Ina Garten when I say this, but freshly grated nutmeg really does make a big difference and adds so much more depth and intensity of flavor compared to pre-ground nutmeg. Plus, fresh nutmeg pods have an excellent shelf life when stored properly, about 3-4 years, so it’s an inexpensive purchase compared to ground nutmeg, which will lose its potency much quicker.
The key to the Garlic Béchamel sauce is allowing the onions to cook down in the olive oil until softened and lightly browned. It adds so much rich flavor and notes of umami.
Don’t overbake the stuffed shells. The shells will start to dry out if they’re baked too long, so keep an eye on them and use an oven thermometer if you have one!
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. But, it’s also so delicious that many people prefer it as a main dish. However you serve it, I guarantee that your guests will never know it’s vegan and/or will be very pleased.
How to make this recipe ahead of time
You can make the tofu ricotta several days in advance, and the pumpkin ricotta filling 1-2 days in advance. You can also make the garlic Béchamel sauce several days in advance.
Then, on the day of serving, you can (1) cook the shells, (2) stuff the shells with the pumpkin ricotta filling, and (3) bake the dish.
To reduce cooking time on the day of, you can even stuff the shells, arrange them in the baking pan, and store covered in the fridge for up to one day. Then, bring to room temperature before baking in the oven for 25 minutes.
How to make homemade pumpkin puree
If you can’t find canned pumpkin puree, you can make your own pumpkin puree using fresh pumpkin!
Preheat the oven to 400°F/205°C.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the pumpkin in half, from stem to end, using a rocking motion as you rotate the pumpkin. You’ll need a very sharp large knife. If it’s still too difficult to cut, pop the whole pumpkin in the microwave for 1 minute. Try again, and if you’re still not able to cut it, microwave for another 30 to 60 seconds.
When you’ve sliced the pumpkin, pull the halves apart – they should separate at the stem. Use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds and as much of the stringy bits you can.
Lightly sprinkle the flesh with kosher salt. Place the pumpkin halves, cut side down, on the lined baking sheet.
Bake pumpkin until the flesh is tender and the skin is pulling away from the flesh, 40-45 minutes (dependent on size).
Once the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a food processor and blend until very smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Store in the fridge in an airtight container for 5 to 7 days, or you can freeze it for several months.
- 26 to 30 jumbo pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Tofu Ricotta (recipe below)
- 1 cup (240-250g) canned pumpkin purée*
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup (50-60g) vegan parmesan cheese* (optional but recommended)
- Garlic Béchamel Sauce (recipe below)
- 15 fresh sage leaves, sliced or torn up
- 1 (14-ounce/400g) block of extra-firm tofu
- 1/4 cup (20g) nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium lemon, (zested and 1 tablespoon juice)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Garlic Béchamel Sauce
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 (13.5 ounce/400 mL) can “lite” coconut milk**, can shaken or stirred well
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta shells. 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 just al dente (do not overcook!), 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.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (or 175°C).
- 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, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and crushed red pepper flakes in a food processor and pulse repeatedly until the texture is relatively smooth but still a little chunky, similar to the texture of ricotta cheese.
- Make the pumpkin ricotta filling. In a large bowl, combine the Tofu Ricotta, pumpkin purée, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, black pepper to taste, and vegan parmesan cheese (if using). Fold the ingredients together using a silicone spatula. Taste the filling and adjust the seasonings accordingly, adding more salt, pepper, or nutmeg as needed. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the filling into each jumbo pasta shell, and set aside.
- Make the Garlic Béchamel Sauce. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add the 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add onion and season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 6-7 minutes, or until the onion is softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently 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.
- Blend the sauce. Transfer the sauce to a blender and add the 1 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Blend until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Taste the sauce for seasonings, adding more salt or pepper as desired.
- Assemble the dish. Pour 1/2 cup of the Garlic Béchamel Sauce in the prepared baking dish (enough for a thin layer on the bottom of the pan). Arrange the stuffed jumbo shells on top of the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce on top of the shells. Scatter the chopped fresh sage leaves on top of the sauce. Bake the stuffed shells for 22-25 minutes, or until the pasta shells are lightly golden. Serve warm.