Spaghetti and Meatballs is an all-time favourite in our house, I’m sure the family won’t mind eating this Italian favourite at least once a week. However, as we’re working to reduce the amount of meat we eat every week as part of a sustainable diet, it’s no longer a weekly option.
This means we had to find a suitable vegetarian version of this recipe that even the meat-eaters in the family will enjoy.
Getting the texture and flavour just right is tricky as most bean options can be dry and bland. But adding yeast extract to the recipe gives it a more full-bodied taste. Don’t worry for those who hate Marmite and Vegemite as you won’t taste these prominently in the recipe, it just supports the original flavour of the dish. I’d recommend using a reduced salt yeast extra or using slightly less as too much can make the “meatballs” taste a little bitter.
This recipe includes all the ingredients found in authentic Italian meatballs, minus the meat of course, plus a few extras to give it a bit of variety.
Using Italian Hard Cheese
When buying Italian hard cheese for your vegetarian meatballs, make sure to look for a vegetarian version as you may be aware Parmesan cheese, for example, contains animal rennet so it’s best avoided if your aim is fully vegetarian. The cheese helps to add moisture to the inside of the meatballs, so if you’re making a vegan variation we’d recommend using vegan cheese and not leaving this out completely as it might be on the dry side in that case.
Onions and Vegetables
For the onions and vegetables make sure you chop these finely as pictured, this can be done with a knife or a food processor, whichever option you find easiest. You can substitute the mushrooms for aubergine or courgette/zucchini if you don’t like those, using a vegetable that retains moisture well will help reduce possible dryness in your “veggie meatballs”.
Authentic Italian Tomato Sauce for the Vegetable Meatballs
For the tomato sauce, I’ve used a recipe that can be batched cooked and frozen, see my original post about the homemade pasta sauce for more info and tips. This is a great timesaver for a mid-week dinner, I’d definitely recommend pre-prepping the tomato sauce if you can.
Cooking the “Meatballs”
Always cook the meatballs separately from the sauce as this will make sure they are nice and firm as cooking them with the sauce will likely break them apart so you’ll end up with bean mash rather than “meatballs”.
Vegetarian “Meatballs” and Spaghetti
For the Tomato Sauce
- 1 400g can organic chopped tomato or 500 ml organic passata
- 2 tbsp organic tomato puree
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 organic onion finely chopped
- 1 clove organic garlic finely chopped or crushed
- 10 g freshly chopped organic or homegrown basil
- 1 pinch sugar
- salt to taste
For the Beanballs
- 1 400g can organic black beans roughly mashed
- 1 organic onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves of chopped garlic
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp Marmite or another yeast extract such as Vegemite
- 20 g vegetarian Italian hard cheese or vegan cheese
- 1 organic pasture-raised egg or egg replacement
- 1 a handful of chopped parsley
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 150g chopped mushrooms
Make the Sauce
- Over medium heat, add the olive oil and garlic to a medium-sized saucepan until it softens. Be careful and stir regularly so that the onions don't brown, they should just soften.
- Add the tomato puree, canned tomatoes or passata, a pinch of sugar (or balsamic if you're swapping the sugar out) and salt to taste. Once the sauce starts to bubble, lower the heat and simmer with the lid on for 25-30 mins until the sauce thickens.
- If you've used coarsely chopped onion or chopped tomatoes instead of passata, use a stick blender to smooth out the sauce. If your pan is small enough for the liquid to cover the blender, this can be done straight in the saucepan, just be careful not to burn yourself with splashing hot sauce.
Make the Beanballs
- While the sauce is cooking start the beanballs. Turn the oven on 200C/ 180C fan assisted or gas mark 6.
- Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a saucepan. Over medium heat att the onions and mushrooms and cook 5 mins. Remove from the heat.
- Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl by adding the mashed black beans, cooked onions & mushroom, garlic, breadcrumbs, yeast extract, cheese, egg and parsley. This should form a slightly wet mixture, that's perfectly normal.
- Roll the mixture into small balls using your hands. The mixture should comfortably make 20 beanballs, smaller bite-sized balls are better as it creates little bursts of flavour within the dish. Use a tbsp of oil to grease a medium-sized oven tin, then place the beanballs in the tin and drizzle with a tbsp of oil.
- Bake in the oven for 30 mins until golden, remember to turn them half-way through.
Combine the Ingredients
- Once both the sauce and the "meatballs" are cooked, add the "meatballs" to the tomato sauce and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Serve with Spaghetti and a sprinkle of Italian hard cheese.