Submitted by Andrea Procopio
About the cook: My name is Andrea and I’m a 33 year bartender, master home cook, and mom to a senior rescue Chiweenie dog who is my biggest joy. Ive spent 1/3 of my life living currently in Los Angeles, CA and the prior living in Chicago, IL where my entire Italian family still resides. I was raised a Chicago-style food lover & hold the Midwest very close to my heart. After living in CA, I’m now vegan and take great pride in cooking plant based family style and recreating old recipes my mother made me as a child into “veganized” delicious copycat dishes without sacrificing flavor or heart, and most importantly: Nonna approved!
About the dish: Just like my Nonna made it, but completely dairy-free! A healthier, harmless way to enjoy this Italian Classic with a delicious almond based ricotta filling and homemade Chicago-style sweet basil gravy. Nobody will know it’s vegan.. that’s the best part!
National Origin: Italian
Estimated Time: 30 to 60 Minutes
For Sweet Basil Gravy:
1 can CrushedTomatoes
2 cans Tomato paste
1 shallot, minced
Fresh garlic cloves minced, fresh basil leaves, salt/pepper/Italian seasonings
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OPTIONAL: FOR SHORTER COOK TIME: Use 2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce, sweet basil flavor recommended.
Shells and Filling:
1 box Extra Large Shell pasta
Dried fennel seeds
1 package vegan mozzarella
1 bunch fresh Italian Flatleaf Parsley
1 cup chopped spinach, fresh
1 cup Vegan Parmesan Shreds
Two 8oz containers Almond Ricotta
Plant based Butter
Garlic powder, salt, and fresh cracked black pepper
To make “Nonna’s sweet basil gravy”: Coat bottom of large sauce pot with EVOO, add 4-5 cloves smashed and peeled fresh garlic.
Brown, steep in olive oil, then take out.
Add minced shallots and cook till translucent.
Add 1 can tomato paste & fill empty can with water, then add to pot. Stir, and repeat.
Add can of crushed tomatoes, and fill that empty can with water & add to pot twice.
Season aggressively and add 5 large leaves of fresh basil. Cover and cook sauce, stirring, until reduced and thickened into a nice gravy, approximately 3 hours for best flavor.
STUFFED SHELLS PROCEDURE:
In a large bowl, combine 1/2 mozzarella package, almond ricotta, chopped parsley, salt/pepper, fennel seeds, garlic powder, and 3/4 cup of Vegan Parmesan.
-Mix until combined well, should be chunky/grainy texture. Set aside.
-Boil Shells half-way in salted water, they should be slightly hard still… they’ll cook in the oven. Drain.
-In a greased (vegan butter-rubbed) 9×13 baking dish, ladle a 1/2 cup of gravy evenly covering the bottom of dish.
-Spoon the filling into the shells, stuffing it to the top, so the sides of shells curl. Place each shell in the pan with the open-side facing up.
-Spoon more sauce over the shells once all in pan, top w/ more mozzarella and fresh basil on top and cover dish wish aluminum foil.
-Bake in oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
-Remove foil, return dish back to oven at 425 degrees and cook an additional 10 more minutes to get some crusty crunchy edges on shells.
Serve with extra gravy side and grated vegan parm.