Portobello Stuffed Manicotti with Creamy Sundried Tomato Sauce

My Aunt and Uncle took me to this great restaurant, where they served a very delicious, but very un-vegan pasta that was stuffed and topped with animal based products. Although, truth be told, I enjoyed dipping into my husband's, I couldn't help but think that this recipe could not only be mocked (vegan-wise), but also be made much healthier. I had not enjoyed cream/ butter in a very long time, and unfortunately I paid the price, spending what seemed several hours on the toilet (...lovely). So, I come to this version, which holds all of the same flavor notes, but none of the same fat/ animal content. The cashew/ mushroom filling would also go great in large shells, or in cannelloni. You decide.

Ingredients (serves 6):
12 pasta shells (any large pasta shell that you like)
Salted water

Mushroom Filling:
1 tbsp oil
4 Portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, chopped

2 cups cashews (soaked in water for at least 1 hour, drained)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes, drained
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 3/4 cups milk alternative

1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Sundried-Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes, drained
1/4 cup margarine, or vegan butter (my favorite is Earth Balance
1 tsp dried Italian herbs
2 1/2 cups milk alternative
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp sea salt
pepper, to taste

1/2 cup reserved tomato soak water
1 tbsp arrowroot powder (or thickener)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Vegan Cheese, grated, optional

1) Boil the pasta shells until al dente. Set aside.
2) For the filling, saute the mushrooms and onion in oil until they soften (about 5 minutes). Blend all of the remaining ingredients in a blender until smooth, but thick. In a bowl, fold the mushrooms/ onions with the cashew blend. Place a generous amount in each pasta shell (I like to place the filling in a ziplock bag, cut off one of the corners, and squeeze it into the individual shells). Place the shells in a lightly greased 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Set aside.
3) For the sauce, saute the soaked tomatoes in the margarine (if they are too big, slice them finely; saute for about 3 minutes). Add herbs and saute for an additional minute. Add all other ingredients (except for the thickener, reserved tomato water, and vinegar) and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes (or until it condenses slightly). Whisk together the reserved water, and arrowroot powder, and add to the simmering sauce. Allow to simmer for an additional minute, or until thickened. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Pour over top of the manicotti. Sprinkle with vegan cheese, if desired. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve, and enjoy!

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