Vegetarian Baked Stuffed Shells

Gluten Free Goddess Italian Baked Stuffed Shells

Italian dreams.

There isn't a shred of Italian blood in me. Presumably. No bloodline (even a weak one) that can trace back to the Italian boot rich in flavors and culture. I make no claim to any Italian grandmother with deft, gnarled hands who could roll out ravioli dough in her sleep. No gardening grandfather who offered me my first taste of a sun-warmed tomato straight from the string-tied vine. We didn't have lasagna on our Thanksgiving table. Or baked ziti. My mother never made me an Italian almond soda after a hard day at school.

So why is Italian food forever, for me, the last comfort food? Hungry, angry, lonely, tired: what do I want?

Spaghetti with garlic olive oil and chili flakes. Hot lasagna. Freshly baked focaccia. Bruschetta. Risotto with pumpkin. Baked stuffed pasta conchiglioni.

All heaven.

The tricky part is that living gluten-free AND dairy-free can seriously dash your dreams of golden Italian comfort food.

In the past, there were no gluten-free lasagna or gluten-free pasta shells (not in my area, anyway). Although times have changed, as far as pasta is concerned, thank the goddess. Most supermarkets now offer gluten-free pasta in all shapes and sizes. And if you cook it right (in salted water, up to al dente) and immediately drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil – most taste really good (especially pasta made by Italian companies). And if you're among the agriculturally evolved ones who can digest milk, your cheese world still shines in buttery glory (cream, butter, and cheese go a long way in improving the flavor of gluten-free recipes, let's be honest). But.

If you have to live without the salty flavor of parmesan or the creamy flavor of fresh goat cheese, comfort food can turn into a big yawn. Vegan cheese is not a real substitute (yes, I've tried them all). Unless your concept of cheese involves a spray can, shrink-wrapped shiny plastic slices, or orange powder added to warm milk (no offense to fake foods produced by corporate giants or otherwise). In that case, oil processed with pea protein vegan cheese might remind you of something apparently related to the cheese family. Myself? I can't get over the weird texture of the polyvinyl.

Maybe because I was lucky. I took a two-year home economics course. I learned to cook my own whole milk and cheddar sauce for baked macaroni and cheese (the first thing I learned to cook, at 13, by mixing a white roux with flour and unsalted butter). After the honeymoon I shaved velvety shavings of golden parmesan from precious wedges of Italian Reggiano, thanks to two weeks in Italy. And I filled the pasta shells with a classic blend of ricotta and shredded mozzarella thanks to a handful of hippie-vegetarian cookbooks.

So yes, there are days when I miss dairy. Especially in winter.

And so, I started experimenting, inventing ways to make up for the loss of the cheese's unadulterated goodness. The first part was easy. I turned to organic soft tofu as a substitute for cottage cheese (my mainstay for years as a vegetarian goddess). I can also admit that not only do I tolerate tofu, but… Love tofu. And luckily for me, I love this fermented bean curd stuff too (I know that's not the case for everyone and for those of you with milk allergy AND soy allergy, I really feel your pain).

For the topping, I use a blend of seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (I use Udi's gluten-free white sandwich bread crumbled with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and herbs) and almond flour (almond flour has a soft, smooth mouthfeel). powdery slightly reminiscent of grated cheese) with sea salt for a more salty-cheesy taste.

The last version (created in West Hollywood) was a winner and we haven't stopped making it since. The family loves it. Even gluten eaters. All I know is that there's never a scrap left.

Which, as any chef knows, says a lot.

Note that I use an egg in the filling mixture (I'm mostly vegetarian/flexitarian, not vegan). You can just leave it out if you want. Add an extra spoonful of vegan mayonnaise instead.

Happy dreaming, Italian style.

Karina xox

Karina's creamy, dairy-free filling for Italian shells

Gluten Free Goddess Italian Baked Stuffed Shells

Gluten Free Baked Stuffed Shells Recipe

Recipe published in January 2013 by Karina Allrich.

These gluten-free, dairy-free Italian stuffed shells are lighter than traditional cheese-filled shells and taste so fresh. Chopped herbs, garlic and crunchy breadcrumbs really work magic. This recipe is our favorite comfort food at the moment. We do it once a week. Perfect for a cold winter night.


1 8-ounce box of gluten-free pasta
4 vegan sweet Italian sausages or breakfast-sized Impossible Burgers, chopped
2 cups baby spinach leaves, stemmed
1 14-ounce tub organic soft tofu, drainedpressed to release the water
1 large organic free-range egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Vegetarian (trust me)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon gluten-free mild curry powder
Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste
16 ounces good marinara sauce (Italian red pasta sauce)

For coverage:

2 slices gluten-free sandwich bread, broken into several pieces
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons of almond flour
Sea salt, to taste
Chopped fresh parsley


Bring a large pot of salted water to a medium boil, add the gluten-free shells, reduce the heat to medium-high, and simmer for 6 minutes, stirring gently occasionally, until softened but still firm. Drain well, separate the shells and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350º.

In a skillet, brown the vegan sausage briefly, until browned and starting to brown slightly.

Rinse the spinach leaves and drain them well. Add them to the sausages and mix until wilted; remove from heat.

Place the drained tofu in a bowl and use a potato masher to break the tofu into “curds.” Add the egg, veggie, parsley, nutmeg and curry powder. Stir briefly to combine. Season with sea salt and ground pepper, to taste.

Add the sausage-spinach mixture and mix lightly.

Pour 3/4 cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of a medium-sized baking dish and spread it evenly.

Pour the tofu mixture into the pre-cooked shells and place them in the baking dish with the filling facing up. Cover with the remaining marinara sauce. (The sauce will help cook partially cooked pasta shells.)

In a food processor, prepare the dressing by crushing the gluten-free bread into crumbs. Add the garlic, dried basil and thyme. Pour a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the crumbs and blend until the crumbs are moist and come away from the sides of the food processor.

Sprinkle the tops of the sauced shells with the breadcrumb mixture.

Sprinkle with almond flour; season the dressing with sea salt.

Sprinkle with extra chopped parsley.

That's a lot of splash. Welcome to my world.

Cover with a piece of foil and bake in the center of the oven until the shells are tender, the filling hot and the sauce bubbling.

Makes 4 generous servings.

Recipe source:

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GFG Notes:

Yes, you can use cow's milk cheese instead; mix 14 ounces of ricotta with a cup of shredded mozzarella and use grated parmesan on top.

And yes, traditional sausage, if you prefer.

If you have to run out of eggs, omit the egg from the filling.

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