When I saw gluten free manicotti shells at my co-op, I knew I had to take them home with me! The ones I used are these ones by Jovial Foods. The box is recyclable and the plastic looking window is certified home compostable wood pulp! Plus, they taste amazing- they’re my hands down favorite brand of gluten free pasta- they cook al dente without gummy texture or off flavors.
To fill them, I knew I wanted something creamy (which is where I usually turn to cashews) but I needed to cut it with something to make it less heavy and more nutritionally dense. I remembered a lasagna recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegan For Everybody, which uses cooked cauliflower blended with the cashews to add bulk and creaminess without getting too heavy. I wasn’t sure if it would taste just right stuffed in the manicotti- I haven’t had these since going vegan- and sometimes Italian recipes which rely heavily on gluten and animal products can be hard to replicate well. To my delight, the texture and taste was perfect, gluten free, vegan and all.
So many of you asked for an exact recipe after I showed them in my Instagram story (I saved it to my highlights so you can still watch it!) that I thought I’d write it up here for you to reference back to if desired. My marinara is super basic and relies heavily on good ingredients, so search out good canned tomatoes and good olive oil. I can my own tomatoes every summer with my mom (ever since I can remember) and it’s so worth it for the rich flavor all winter long- it’s not hard but does take a full day of work. We use a pressure canner and go off the instructions in the booklet it comes with- it’s not scary or complicated at all. Often farmers will sell their “seconds”- bruised or oddly shaped tomatoes- but the case at the market to you. San Marzano store bought canned Italian tomatoes are the closest thing to the flavor of home canned.
plant based manicotti
for the marinara:
2 x 28 oz cans whole tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
a palm of fresh oregano (about 2 tsp chopped)
chile flakes (optional)
salt to taste
whiz the tomatoes and their juice for a few seconds in a blender or crush with your hands well to break them down into small pieces.
Add the olive oil and garlic to a pan and start the heat on medium high. When the garlic starts to sizzle and become fragrant- about 30 seconds, pour in the tomatoes (don’t let the garlic burn or color, stir around if necessary) and the oregano and chile if using. Reduce to medium low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, while you make the filling.
for the ricotta filling:
8 ounces (approx 2.5 cups) cauliflower, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1.5 cups raw cashews, chopped if whole
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley or basil
Boil cauliflower and cashews in a large pot with 3 quarts of water and 2 teaspoons kosher salt until cauliflower is very soft and falls apart easily when poked with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain mixture in colander and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
Process cauliflower mixture, 3 tablespoons oil, and 1/4 cup water in processor until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, about 2 minutes. Season with plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Pulse in basil or parsley for just a few seconds to combine. Mixture can be made up to 3 days ahead.
1 box manicotti noodles or other stuffable pasta (12-15 pieces), cooked according to package directions
Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.
In a baking dish, spoon some sauce to cover the bottom of the dish. Working with one manicotti at a time, use a butter knife or a pastry bag to fill each shell. I used a butter knife and packed it in half from each end. Don’t worry if theres a few blank spots. I wasn’t perfect about it but they all turned out fine after cooking. Layer the filled ones in the dish. Spread the remaining sauce over the top.
Cover dish with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and plate. I sprinkled extra chopped parsley and spooned leftover cashew ricotta that I had in the fridge over the top in little dollops (this recipe) but it would be delicious on its own too; or hold back some of the filling and dollop on top.
We served it with a simple fennel citrus salad- just toss together:
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/2 a small red onion or fresh spring onion, thinly sliced
1 orange, cara cara, or grapefruit, pith removed and fruit sliced
1/2 cup fresh whole parsley leaves
a few handfuls mixed lettuces
juice of 1/2 a lemon
generous drizzle good extra virgin olive oil
salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
chili flakes to taste