Basil Pesto Stuffed Shells in Tomato Sauce
Looking for some vegan comfort food? How about warming up on a chilly fall evening with this vegan pasta recipe? My basil pesto stuffed shells are every bit as creamy and delicious as their dairy counterpart.
Cashew Cream Sauce: Cheesy & Delicious and Completely Non-Dairy
Think you can’t achieve creamy cheesiness without dairy? Think again. This vegan recipe for cashew cream sauce is quick (well, except for the soaking the nuts part, but that’s totally passive) and easy. Aside from the cashews, the only other ingredients you’ll need to make this sauce are: water, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice & nutritional yeast.
Cooking Lesson: What is Nutritional Yeast?
I’m guessing that you mostly have those ingredients at home already, but if you’re new to plant-based cooking, you might not be familiar with nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a popular ingredient in vegan recipes. It’s often cited for its cheesy, nutty flavor, but it’s more than just a flavor substitute. Oh, and if you’re going to be cooking with it, you need to know its common nickname “nooch.”
Here’s the skinny on nutritional yeast; it’s:
- A good source of Vitamin B12
- A source of a complete protein (containing all nine essential amino acids)
Nutritional Yeast: A Good Source of Vitamin B12
Fortified nutritional yeast can be a good source of Vitamin B12 for vegans and plant-based eaters. One-quarter cup of nutritional yeast contains 17.60 mcg of Vitamin B12, with the recommended daily requirement being about 2.4 mcg/day. (1) Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin needed for cell division and blood formation. (2) However, humans largely meet their need for Vitamin B12 through animal-products, so vegans need to be especially diligent in making sure that they are also getting it. Not getting enough Vitamin B12 in your diet can have severe consequences. (3) I personally take a Vitamin B12 supplement each day, so I would encourage you to talk to your doctor or nutritionist about it if you’re considering taking on a vegan or plant-based diet.
Nutritional Yeast: A Good Source of a Complete Protein
Nutritional yeast is also a good source of a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. (4) One ¼ cup of nutritional yeast has 8 grams of protein. Not bad for a flavor-enhancer, eh?
Nutritional Yeast: Friend to the Elite (Athlete, That Is)?
In my trip down the rabbit hole researching nutritional yeast, I also came across some research about the effect of nutritional yeast on energy levels, particularly in elite athletes. The research indicated that a small amount of nutritional yeast following intense training or exercise could improve energy levels and decrease susceptibility to upper respiratory infections. Check it out for yourself at NutritionFacts.org.
Some Caution Around Nutritional Yeast…
Some time ago, I had a follower on Instagram express concern over my use of nutritional yeast. It alarmed me a little, so I did a little research on it. With respect to bad press, nutritional yeast does get some of it because of its chemical similarities to MSG. If you’re not familiar with MSG, it’s a long-vilified (but long-pardoned) flavor-enhancer that speaks directly to our tastebuds and screams the word “Umami!” Not up to speed on MSG’s current status, you can learn more about it here. If you’re short on time though, my research shows that the MSG-correlation shouldn’t be of concern. (5)
However, if you have certain autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, consuming nutritional yeast is not a good decision. You can learn more about that here and other rare, but possible, concerns with consuming too much nutritional yeast are covered here (including niacin, tryamine and fiber sensitivities). I use it in my vegan cheeses and occasional sauces without issue, but I would be remiss not to mention these concerns.
Tomato Sauce: Such a Simple Vegan Recipe
I used to think that making my own tomato sauce was long, drawn out process that could simply be avoided by buying a jar of the same at the store. And while I’ll never say never (I do, in a pinch reach for a jar when I am totally out of gas), I found that making your own is very easy and very satisfying. It’s a one-pot wonder and the best part is, you know exactly what’s going into it.
The best trick I ever learned in making my own tomato sauce was to caramelize the tomato paste early on in the cooking process. I went on and on about this in my Creamy Tomato Sauce vegan recipe, so if you’d like to learn more about it, check that out. Otherwise, just follow the directions for making tomato sauce below and prepare to be wowed!
Stuffed Shells: The Way to Really Make Your Vegan Pasta Recipes Sing!
This stuffed shells recipe was inspired by an omnivorous version of the same presented by Halfbaked Harvest. I saw the image of it on her Instagram account and my mouth has been watering ever since. She uses spicy sausage and several different cheeses in her stuffed shells version though, so I set out to create a vegan version of the same.
I was a little concerned that stuffing the shells with just cashew cream would be a bit of cashew cream overload. I also didn’t want to over-complicate the recipe by trying to come up with a meat substitute. Instead, I made my version of basil pesto (I use a lot less oil than a lot of recipes you’ll find) and sautéed some spinach to accompany the cashew cream. The combination was perfect, especially with the rich, made from scratch tomato sauce.
It’s All in the Timing! Bringing This Stuffed Shells Vegan Pasta Recipe to Your Table
I’m not going to lie. As I’ve described it above, you’re not going to have this stuffed shells vegan pasta recipe on the table in 30 minutes. This is a weekend dinner at heart. That is, of course, if you want to make everything yourself. Each component here is pretty quick and easy, but the combination of them all in one recipe takes about 1 ½ hours to complete.
Don’t be dismayed though, because you’re fully entitled to take shortcuts. For example, buy a jar of tomato sauce if that will help you give this one a try. (I do it too sometimes. I admitted to it a few paragraphs ago). And, things like the cashew cream sauce and basil pesto can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated until you’re ready for them. Just don’t add the spinach to the cashew cream sauce until you’re preparing the final dish. I’ve also seen some vegan basil pesto sauce options in grocery store, so feel free to sub in those instead of making your own.
However, if you do want to dig in and do it all, I can assure you it will be worth it. Here’s how:
The Best Vegan Pesto Recipe
Looking for a good vegan pesto recipe? This basil pesto recipe is easy and super flavorful. Using nutritional yeast instead of parmesan cheese and less olive oil than traditional pesto recipes, this vegan pesto sauce bends toward healthy and works wonderfully on pasta dishes and sandwiches.
Basil Pesto Sauce
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 c. fresh basil
- 1/4 c. pine nuts
- 1/2 c. olive oil
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- pepper to taste
Prepare your basil by washing and drying the leaves.
Combine the fresh basil, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, crushed red pepper and garlic into your mini food processor. Blend until all ingredients have been reduced to small pieces.
Remove the ingredients from the food processor. Stir in the olive oil and lemon juice.
Add the salt & pepper, to taste. Start by adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Taste and add more salt as necessary.
About Herbivore’s Kitchen
Herbivore’s Kitchen is a blog run by me, a plant-based home chef and aspiring food photographer. I switched my and my family’s diet to a plant-based diet after learning about the health benefits of going vegan. Making this change has prompted a variety of food and holistic-lifestyle related questions that I explore through this blog. I talk about how to pick and prepare the most nutritious foods, to how to reduce waste at home, to how to live a more sustainable lifestyle while on the road.