Vegan Mofo 2017 – Day 5: A persuasion meal


Spinach Cannelloni with Homemade Tomato Sauce

The gang at Vegan Mofo HQ had suggested that today’s theme be “What would you make to convince an omni to convert [to veganism]?” While we like the thought, using a vegan meal to accomplish that might be difficult when encountering arguments like ‘but, bacon’ and ‘I could never give up cheese.’  Remembering back to the time when we were considering veganism, 13 years ago now, I remember being so torn between what I knew to be something I had to do, and what I would be giving up, both as a “foodie” and as a chef. What I needed at the time was food that showed me I wouldn’t be missing out; that dishes that made me happy and would still be accessible. So, we’ve tweaked the theme a bit to be about persuasion –  how can we help persuade someone adapting to veganism that they will still be able to enjoy many of the same foods they did before. This dish is a take of one of Cally’s pre-vegan favourites – stuffed, baked pasta with homemade tomato sauce.

This stuffed cannelloni was one of the first dishes we worked to veganize.  It’s filled with tofu ricotta with spinach and garlic, baked in a béchamel sauce and topped with a simple, but amazing homemade tomato sauce.   It’s creamy, flavorful and rich, without being heavy and hits the spot whenever we get the craving for a cheesy Italian favourite.


Vegan Mofo 2017 – Day 5: A persuasion meal
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4 or more servings
Rich Cashew Cream
  • 1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked in water to cover for at least 8 hours. Drained and rinsed.
  • 3 cups water
Tofu Ricotta
  • 1 1lb/454g block extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed to extract any excess water
  • 8-12 tablespoons (4-6 fl/oz) Rich Cashew Cream, amount will depend on the moisture of the tofu. I used 10 tablespoons for mine.
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
Cannelloni Filling
  • 1 recipe Tofu Ricotta
  • 1 ½ lbs/680g baby spinach
  • ½ small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup bread crumbs, I used fresh, untoasted crumbs made from a few slices of sourdough bread. Don’t use anything ‘seasoned’
Cashew White Sauce (Béchamel)
  • 2 cups Rich Cashew Cream
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • Pinch white pepper
  • Salt to taste
Classic Red Sauce (Tomato Sauce) – this recipe makes more than you need)
  • 1 28oz/796ml can whole plum tomatoes in juice, preferably good quality Italian tomatoes
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2oz/60g finely diced onion, about ½ cup
  • 1oz/30g finely diced green bell pepper, about ¼ cup
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 14oz/398ml can crushed tomatoes, preferably good quality Italian tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 5 basil leaves, chopped
  • Oven ready Cannelloni noodles. The recipe should make about 24 pieces.
Make the Rich Cashew Cream
  1. Puree the soaked cashews and water in a blender until smooth. No need to strain it.
Make the Tofu Ricotta
  1. Using a fork or potato masher, crush the tofu well.
  2. Stir in the olive oil, nutritional yeast and lemon juice.
  3. Add the Rich Cashew Cream. Start with 8 tablespoons/ ¼ cup. You are looking for the tofu mix to be moist, but not wet. Just like Ricotta! I found that mine needed more, another 2 tablespoons. You may not need that much, or even more.
Make the Spinach Ricotta Filling
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per quart/liter of water. It should taste like the sea.
  2. Drop the spinach in and cook it just long enough to brighten the colour. 10-15 seconds, tops. Drain the spinach right away and cool in icy cold water. Once chilled, drain well and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Marvel at how so much spinach becomes something so small when cooked!
  3. Finely chop the drained spinach. Add it to a mixing bowl
  4. In a small pan, sweat off the onion and garlic until tender. Add it to the spinach.
  5. Stir in the Tofu Ricotta and bread crumbs. Set aside until ready to fill the noodles.
Make the White Sauce
  1. Combine the Rich Cashew Cream and cornstarch in a small pot. Whisking almost constantly, bring it to a simmer. It will thicken considerably. Simmer for about a minute to cook the cornstarch fully, then remove from the heat.
  2. Stir in the nutmeg, white pepper and some salt to taste
Stuff the Cannelloni
  1. The fastest way is to use a piping bag with a wide plain tip, or no tip at all. Fill it with the spinach ricotta. Stand an oven ready noodle on its side and pipe it full of filling. Repeat with the remaining noodles. My little 8x8 pan only held 14, so I froze the leftover ricotta for another time. There should be enough to fill 24 shells, depending on their size.
  2. If you don’t have a piping bag, the next fastest way is to use your fingers and press bits of the filling into the noodles until full.
Pan and Bake (almost there now!)
  1. I used an 8x8 baking dish. Pour around half of the White Sauce into the pan. It will thicken as it cools, so you may need to warm it up a bit.
  2. Lay the noodles 2 wide, side by side until the pan is full.
  3. Top with the rest of the White Sauce. Smooth it out a bit so all of the noodles are covered.
  4. Preheat your oven to 350F
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10-15 minutes to cool slightly
Make the Tomato Sauce (you can do this while the cannelloni bake, or up to several days ahead)
  1. Using a blender or a food mill, turn the whole plum tomatoes with juice into a coarse puree. Try not to make it smooth. Using my Vitamix, I let it run for about 10 seconds on the lowest speed setting.
  2. In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic and bell pepper. Sweat until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute, or until the oil turns a lovely red.
  4. Stir in the blended tomatoes, crushed tomatoes (why use both when they have almost the same texture? Give them a taste, each adds its own character to the final sauce) and lemon juice.
  5. Keep at a very gentle simmer as it cooks, just barely bubbling. Simmer for about an hour. It will thicken considerably in the last 15 minutes. Try to taste it every 15 minutes or so, you’ll be amazed by how much it changes near the end.
  6. Season with salt. It will need more than you think, start with ¾ - 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  7. Stir in the chopped basil
Finish and serve (finally!)
  1. Carefully remove a portion of cannelloni to a plate
  2. Top each serving with a generous amount of hot tomato sauce.

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  • Reply
    October 5, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Stuffed cannelloni is is so elegant! Or at least it is when other people make it – I can make a mess out of anything!

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    […] Day 5: A persuasion meal […]

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