Spinach “Chicotta” Stuffed Pasta 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

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 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


Leave a Reply
  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?

    • Thanks, Emma! I’ve made it with tofu as well, but never thought try chickpeas until recently. I think they work even better. Tofu ricotta is SO 2013, haha 🙂

    • Yes, Cindy. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve updated the recipe to clarify that the chickpeas should be drained and rinsed.

  2. 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.

  3. 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! 😉

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!)!

  8. 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! 😀

  9. 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! 🙂

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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)

  13. 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.


  14. 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.

    • 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.

  15. 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.

      • 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Hi Andrew
    Do you think this could be used as a sauce in warm pasta. I can’t find any whole wheat pasta shells and I refuse to use the white stuff. But I love the idea of pasta and greens together. I have some beautiful rainbow chard that I could steam. If so, would I need to thin it, do you think? Thanks for all your hard work. BTW, I love your new web format.

    • Hey Vicki, I’m glad you like the new site! No, you won’t be finding any whole wheat shells – I’ve never seen them. I assume you mean the chicotta part as a sauce, and in that case, I don’t see why not. Never tried it myself, but you can give it a shot!

  18. Andrew…I found you on Instagram this past week and had to come check out your official website! I am in love with your recipes! I’m not a vegan…I’m a mom trying to make the best food for my family. I had gastric sleeve surgery last August (2013) and have lost 115 pounds so far…I contribute that to exercise, clean eating, and my tiny tummy (of course). I am a lover of the chickpea! You can eat it a million different ways:) Thanks for all the cool recipe ideas and keep up the great work!

  19. Oh my, I can’t recommend this one enough! I made it today when my parents came over for dinner. Absolutely wonderful. The filling alone is sooooo tasty that you can put it on toast or sandwiches. But together with the tomato sauce it was absolute heaven. I couldn’t find those shells in time, though, so I used Manicotti instead. Thanks for this recipe! Will be making this again!

    • Ohh, it makes my day to hear that you guys enjoyed my recipe so much. Thanks for reporting back, Hens! I’ve actually used manicotti for this as well, and had such a hard time stuffing them – they all fell apart. Still tasty though 🙂

  20. Hi just found this fabulous recipe and would love to try. But I’m in UK and nutritional yeast is hard to come by plus a little out of my price range atm. Could you recommend a UK substitute? If you know of one please. Or explain what it contributes so then I can work out what to sub in. Thank you. Fabulous blog by the way

    • Hi Natalie, hmm, that’s really a tough one. I love nutritional yeast because it adds a great cheesy flavor. You might try a plant-based cheese substitute? However, since nutritional yeast is dry flakes, it also thickens mixtures so your “chicotta” might be a different consistency and you might need to manage that.

  21. In the ingredients for the Chicotta you have basil and chopped cashews but I don’t see it in the list of steps for the Chicotta. I do see these ingredients mentioned in the fourth step and just want to make sure I am not misunderstanding the directions by not putting these ingredients in the Chicotta.

    • Yes, as you mentioned, the very last sentence of this recipe mentions the ground cashews and the basil – they do not go into the chicotta itself but are used as garnishes.

    • Thanks, Chloe! Well, there are a lot more worse foods than white pasta. You could go with whole wheat noodles of some kind, but they don’t make shells to my knowledge. You’ll likely need to go with a lasagna type of dish.

      • There are brown rice shells. The store was out, so I bought brown rice manicotti. Just now (past midnight, LOL) made the sauce and chicotta–will assemble and eat the dish tomorrow. Can’t wait.

  22. Hi! Thanks so much for this recipe 🙂 Been soaking my cashews since last night! I have a quick question though lol… 2/3 cup soaked cashews AND 1/4 cup ground cashews…
    This means an additional 1/4 cup of cashews that were not soaked, right?
    Also, ground like in a coffee grinder or food processor, right? Not just chopped?

    Just making sure. I’m getting pretty good at vegan cooking but I am still, admittedly, a novice 🙂

    • Right, the ground cashews should be dry and finely ground. They are designed as like a dried parmesan cheese substitute, so they should have that kind of consistency. These are just a garnish, so they’re not completely essential to the dish either. Hope that helps! 🙂

  23. Loved these! We are recently starting the vegan thing and cheese is the hardest to say good bye to. My husband and I are gluten free so I actually stuffed ours into mini bell peppers and the kids got the shells. My daughter got seconds which is HUGE! I added some chopped fresh basil to the chicotta mixture and used my own marinara recipe. I think I like these better than when I’ve made them with actual cheese. Thank you!!!

    • Fantastic! I love the idea of stuffing bell peppers with this mixture (brilliant!). I’m so glad your family liked, Tiffani! 🙂

  24. Hi Andrew, looks super yummy! 😀
    As I’m searching for what yummy dish I could make from the soon-will-expired unopened pack of Hummus I’ve got in my fridge and my very first purchased shell-pasta, I found this recipe! Voila! 😀
    But.. yours is using canned chickpeas. Can I substitute it with Hummus?

    • Hi Moniq! Unfortunately, NO WAY. 🙂 That would be like trying to substitute ice cream when a recipe calls for butter. It kind of has a similar ingredient, but not nearly the same thing. Find a can of chickpeas 😉

  25. Oops.. I thought since Hummus is just blended chickpeas, it would work too.
    OK then, I’ll continue my search for what to do with my 2 packs of Hummus. Or, any ideas? 🙂

    • Hummus is *mostly* chickpeas but it also has tahini and oil and garlic and other things as well – but too much hummus is never a bad thing! 🙂 It works great on sandwiches with sliced veggies, chips, and lots of other things.

  26. I made this for my omni family tonight and it was a big hit. Brilliant! For me, this is heaven sent. Thank you so very much for sharing. This post also inspired me to look at your other recipes. You’ll be feeding my family for quite some time.

    • Hi Kate! That’s awesome, I’m glad you guys liked it and thanks so much for reporting back to let me know 🙂

  27. Andrew! Stumbled upon your site when I saw this gorgeous post in a Buzzfeed round up! This is gorgeous!!! Cannot wait to try Chicotta! LOVE LOVE your site 🙂 So many exciting options 🙂 Glad I found you!

  28. This is amazing! The shells were divine! Next try around I will use in a layered zucchini “lasagna”!

    • I’m glad you liked them! Ooh, I like the idea of layered zucchini lasagna – I might have to try that… 🙂

  29. Andrew, I LOVE this recipe!!!!! I have made it more times than I can count. ” Chicotta ” has become a normal word in my household. The Marinara Sauce for this recipe has become my sisters favorite sauce. My extremely picky eater son eats these. YAY!
    Anyone reading this, make this recipe!!! It is amazing! You will not be disappointed.
    In my opinion it also freezes well, so I always make a double batch and freeze some for a quick lunch or dinner.

  30. That’s tonight’s supper sorted. Thank you. Making my own ravioli and wanted a ricotta sub so this looks perfect.

  31. Can I forgo the cashews? I’m slightly allergic to them and I’d like to try and steer clear if possible. Will zucchini work in place of the cashews?

    • I definitely don’t think zucchini would be a good replacement for cashews… but maybe just use extra chickpeas and/or a bit of tahini to get in the right ballpark for the flavor/texture.

  32. Can’t wait to try this! Looking to cook everything in my cabinet and came across a box of jumbo shells. Didn’t want to use tofu ’cause of the soy- can’t wait to try chickpeas instead.. Yay!

  33. Just made the filling, but it tastes so yeasty it’s not really edible. Does it improve with baking or are the different types of nutritional yeast?

    • Nutritional yeast doesn’t taste like yeast at all in my experience, just a mild salty cheesy flavor… are you sure it was nutritional yeast and not real, activated yeast (like brewers yeast)?

      • \yes, I am, just checked the package. They do however taste very activated. The next time I try I will use less and another brand, see how that goes.

  34. I stumbled across this recipe while planning to make a vegan lasagna but I didn’t have tofu to make the ricotta. I made your chickpea ricotta and it turned out so good in the lasagna! I always have chickpeas on hand but don’t usually have tofu so this will become a new staple!

    I was wondering though, since I have leftovers of the ricotta, do you ever use it for anything else? Would it freeze well for future use?

    • Hi Brittany, I’m glad the chickpea ricotta worked well! I haven’t tried freezing it… I assume it would be okay but you’d have to experiment with it to be sure.

  35. Omg! My husband is on a 30 day cleanse and he HAS to have meat, red meat, at every day or he’ll die! He now can’t have dairy and I’m a vegetarian so I thought… if this works we have a winning solution to a meal. He devoured it! I used another recipe to make a lentil bolognese (adapted) :
    instead of marinara because he needs a certain level of protein but it came out perfectly! Thank you so much!

  36. This recipe is absolutely outstanding. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this impressed with a new dish. I’ve already given it a slot in my permanent recipe collection. Thank you so much for sharing!

  37. the stuffed shells look yummy but I need a jumbo shell made from chickpea flour and can’t find one. My daughter is GF but also has a rice allergy ! All GF flour products seem to have a rice base. Can you suggest any pasta shells that fit this category? Thank you.

    • Hi Carol, ah I’m sorry but I had a really hard time just finding regular white pasta shells. I don’t even think I’ve seen whole wheat shells, but the Internet does seem to have everything 🙂 so maybe see if you can find them online?

  38. Hi Andrew. Thanks for responding. She can’t have anything wheat and the gf flours are a rice base. She’s allergic to rice. There are smaller noodles that are made with chickpea flour. I’ll just have to use some of that.

  39. Love this recipe. I use the “Chicotta” when I make my vegan lasagna. Even my meat eater friends and family enjoy it!

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