Spaghetti & No-Meatballs it is. Rolling, round, plump, tender balls piled high on a steamy swirl of spaghetti, bright marinara sauce spooned on top. A pinch of basil or parsley, and dusting of vegan Parmesan. A thick, sweet aroma of garlic and tomato wafting through the warm kitchen air. Dive into this Italian bowl, fit for a vegan pasta-night feast! Try this classic-inspired dish..
Craving. I was browsing the web and saw the prettiest photo of a big bowl of Spaghetti and Meatballs, so like usual, I hopped in the kitchen to veganize the image in my head.
I was really “winging it” with this recipe, hoping that my no-meat balls would stay together. And though they were very tender and easily breakable with my fork, they held quite well and tasted amazing. The ball texture and prep process is reminiscent of my bean fritter and veggie burger patty recipes.
I didn’t want to use soy for this one, and wanted as many whole foods in my no-meatballs as possible. You can actually make vegan meatballs out of a variety of ingredients: lentils, beans, mushrooms, TVP, rice (other grains) or easy faux ground “beef” products too.
Meatless Balls. For this recipe, I decided on a combination of beans and mushrooms, simple seasonings and a splash of red wine really boosted the flavor too. Plenty of garlic, some onion, Italian-seasoned Panko (gluten-free) bread crumbs, other spices and some parsley. I chose pinto beans simply because A. I had them on hand and B. I know their brownish color would look “faux meatball” like.
..that being said you could easily use any soft bean like cannellini or even black beans. You just need to be able to mash the cooked bean with a fork. Garbanzo beans are probably a bit too firm and flaky for this recipe. The mashed beans really help to bind the rest of the ingredients with their natural stickiness.
You can also change up the variety of mushrooms you use. I used oyster mushroom, but shiitake or portobella would work too. Even plain old white mushrooms (which are a bit firm and crumbly when raw) would work since you are sauteing them first to make them tender.
Method. Yes the instructions are long, but the technique is very similar to making veggie burgers. Mash and saute. And yes you could totally form your balls and just BAKE them to perfection. (I know many of you prefer not to fry.) I did a simple saute + braised them in my sauce until warm and tender.
Spaghetti & No-Meatballs
vegan, makes about 8-12 no-meatballs (depending on size)
1 ½ cups (1 – 15 ounce can) beans, drained/rinsed in hot water
*I used pinto beans
¾ cup white onion, diced
⅓ cup parsley, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
*try soft oyster or shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoon red wine
½ cup Italian-seasoned Panko breadcrumbs (fine)
2 teaspoon chopped garlic(roasted or raw)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fine black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder (or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
¼ cup nutritional yeast (or more bread crumbs)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, for saute
spaghetti pasta (any variety)
marinara sauce (bottled or make your own, my marinara recipe)
chopped basil or parsley garnish
vegan Parmesan on top (optional)
1. Start by opening your can of beans and rinsing the beans very well in hot water. This will help soften the beans for easy mashing.
2. Add the rinsed beans to a large mixing bowl and mash with a fork, very well.
3. Prep your ingredients by chopping the parsley, onion and mushrooms.
4. In a large saute pan, over high heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When oil is hot add in the onions, mushrooms, parsley and garlic. Saute for about 4-5 minutes, reducing heat to medium about a minute after cooking.
5. When the saute mixture has reduced in volume quite a bit and onions caramelizing, turn off heat and add in your splash of red wine. Turn heat back on to high for one more minute.
6. Just before you turn off the heat you can add in the salt, chili powder, pepper and any additional spices you may like to add. You can taste the mixture and it should be slightly “over-seasoned” since the beans have not been seasoned yet.
7. Fold the saute mixture into the beans. Then fold in the bread crumbs and the nutritional yeast. Your mixture should be quite sticky and thick now. Add more yeast or bread crumbs if your mixture needs thickening.
8. You can either place your mixture in the fridge to chill for a half hour (to help with handling, or just go right into the saute process.
9. Pause a moment and heat up your pasta water pot and also pour your pasta sauce into a large oven-friendly dish. Place the pasta sauce dish in a 375 degree oven to heat.
10. Saute your balls: Heat a splash of olive oil in your saute pan and add your formed balls. I like to roll my formed balls in a bit of the bread crumbs before placing on the pan. Cook over medium-high heat for about one minute on each side. You really just want to cook and caramelize that outside edge of the balls. The remaining “cooking” will be done in the oven. *you could also just keep it a bit lighter and simple and bake your balls. However you will be missing out on those caramelized edges from the saute step, and tender sauce spots from the braising step.*
11. Drop your pasta into the pot when the water is boiling. Cook until tender. Drain and toss warm pasta with some red pepper flakes (optional) and EVOO. Spoon about 1 cup of the pasta sauce over top the pasta and toss well. Set aside, covered for now.
12. Take your sauteed balls and carefully place them in the now-hot pasta sauce dish. Then place the pasta dish back in the oven to braise the balls for at least 20 minutes. Oven heat can be 375-400 degrees. Do not cover the dish.
13. Now for assembly! Carefully remove the braised balls from the sauce and set aside. Then in a large bowl or your serving bowl, toss the hot pasta sauce with the warm pasta. Or you can just pour sauce over top pasta and not toss. Add balls over top to serve.
Freshly chopped parsley or basil on top is very nice.