Spaghetti and meatballs fall into the category of “discomfort” cooking. This one-pot meal itself is comforting and everyone loves to eat it, but the cooking process involves extra steps like shaping meatballs into pleasing sphere shapes and then cooking them in the best way possible–bake, fry, cook them directly in the sauce–hoping that they maintain their spherical shape during the cooking process otherwise the dish will look ridiculous and all that hard work is for naught. Meanwhile, you still have to make a delicious sauce and cook spaghetti and then clean up your kitchen but you have to hurry because the dish still needs to be hot when you serve it–
And then you decide, screw it, I’ll just make goulash.
Here on AwK, we’re no strangers to meatballs (Barefoot Contessa & James Beard = Love 4 Ever, Mini Meatball Heroes, and that time Citizen Chef baked an entire lasagna made of meatballs and forgot to take pictures) so we understand the struggle. Though the end result is a one-pot meal, it takes a bit to get there.
Unless you’re a vegetarian and you can whip up your meatless meatballs in a mere five minutes via a food processor.
I love this dish because, for vegetarians, the ingredients are primarily pantry and freezer items, like veggie protein crumbles. The sauce is great with fresh herbs, but you can certainly use dried. Last weekend, I pulled this recipe out when we were hungry, but had no groceries. Now that I keep a small stockpile of canned tomatoes and beans in my pantry, and a bag of veggie crumbles in my freezer (though I’m sure a couple of veggie patties would work too), this dish was super easy to put together.
It took about 40 minutes to prepare–not too shabby for a delicious meal made from pantry items. By the time the meatballs were fully baked, the sauce was done, the spaghetti was cooked, and my kitchen was clean.
And that combo lands this dish solidly on my “Top 25 Vegetarian Weeknight Meals” list.
This recipe comes from a book that I can’t recommend highly enough (and yes, it’s another America’s Test Kitchen book): The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. It’s one of three vegetarian cooking sources that I’ve been pulling from on a regular basis, and I’m never disappointed in the dishes.
VEGETARIAN SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
Adapted from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook
1 TBSP unsalted butter
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces veggie protein crumbles (I like Boca crumbles)
2 slices hearty sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces (I like Dave’s Killer Bread)
2 TBSP milk
1 ounce Parmesan, grated (note: vegetarians should be sure to look for vegetarian brands)
Sauce and Pasta
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, or whatever you have in your pantry (a couple TBSP of dried herbs works too)
Salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti
To prepare the meatballs, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and rosemary–or any other herb that you prefer. Rosemary is nice in this because it gives the meatballs some brightness and the aroma is really lovely. Cooked until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Now dump it into your food processor, along with the veggie protein crumbles, eggs, bread, Parmesan, and 2 TBSP milk.
Regarding the milk: I used a soy/coconut blend and it worked well. I couldn’t taste the coconut because the milk is really there just to give the mixture some wetness and help bind everything together. Just don’t add too much milk. You don’t want a sloppy wet mess. If you add too much, the milk will seep out of the meatballs during the cooking process and form a weird gelatinous layer all around your meatballs. It’s weird and a little gross. Kind of like something an alien might goop out all over you before it sucks out your brain and takes control of your body.
But I digress. Put the lid on your food processor and give that concoction a whirl.
Now grab your 1 or 2 inch spring-loaded scoop and pump out your meatballs on a baking sheet. I line mine with foil or parchment paper. Whatever your potion, fellow Amateurs.
Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes. When they come out, you get…
Hey, at least they’re round… ish.
Wait, no. I mean, they’re meat-ish spheres. I mean, they’re circular. Okay, I probably could have made them round had I used less milk or used my hands, or if I were a more detail-oriented person. I’m bred for efficiency. Circle shapes are good enough for me.
I would like to take a minute to remind everyone that this is Amateurs with Knives, not Throwdown with Bobby Flay.
Anyway, you get tasty vegetarian meatballs. And, believe me, they are tasty. In fact, I find them even more flavorful than an actual meat ball. Probably because veggie crumbles have a lot of extra seasonings added to them.
While the meatballs are baking, you can throw together a very simple and fresh-tasting sauce. This sauce is just like the James Beard tomato sauce. Cook your garlic in a little bit of oil, add tomatoes and mash them up. Or go the lazy route: rinse out your food processor and give the sauce a whirl.
But I have no idea who would be that lazy.
Besides me, I mean. (I totally pulsed them in the processor for a few seconds.)
Put your sauce back into the pot, add salt, pepper, and your herbs.
Cook your spaghetti. Clean up your kitchen. Put your plates together.
For the daring, there’s one extra step to this dish that’s optional: Argue with your family over whether the serving size of meatballs is two, three, or ten. I say it’s two or three. The web admin insists it’s ten. I gave him five because I’m all about compromise.
Lately, I’ve been big into doubling recipes and preparing the leftovers for weekday lunches. This spaghetti and meatballs dish works really well in the microwave. So, if you’re into “leftovers as lunches” at work, this is a good one to try.
Thanks for reading!