Spaghetti and {Vegan} Meatballs! | With Spicy Tomato Sauce

I’ve admitted here before that for most of my life I’ve had a rather self-righteous disdain for the suburbs. When I lived downtown, before I had a baby, an unflattering stereotype of the suburbs existed in my brain: subdivision upon sprawling subdivision, bumper to bumper mini vans, Lulu Lemon-clad soccer moms with the carefully cultivated Kate Gosselin hairdos. It was the Big Box stores that bothered me the most, you know the ones – the Home Depots, the Bed Bath and Beyonds, the Best Buys, the chain restaurants. All suburbs seem homogenous in this regard – compare one around where I live to one in Ontario or to one in the American Midwest and you’ll likely see a nearly identical cross section of venues to spend your money.

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Despite the anti-suburbanite rancour of my pre-baby self, I’m now a suburban dweller – albeit a reluctant one. Now that I live here, most like for the long run, I’m trying to adopt what could be described in a when in Rome attitude toward the Big Box attractions in my neighbourhood. I’m not going anywhere, and neither are they, so we might as well try to get along, right? To this end, we dined at Olive Garden – the only one in BC, quite the distinction – last weekend. It’s situated in a strip mall, of course!

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When you eat at Olive Garden you don’t just get a meal – you get an experience. I’m talking hovering hordes of psychotically charismatic servers, basketfuls of free bread sticks, free wine samples, and bottomless soup and salad. Crazy! There was so much food, drink and general mirth being thrust in our direction as soon that I could hardly focus on making a selection from the menu. And the place was fully bumping –  we had to wait 45 minutes for a table; every inch of the restaurant’s thousands of square feet was packed with diners munching their way to Tuscan-style chain restaurant heaven. I ended up ordering a porcini mushroom ravioli, which was surprisingly delicious and far from the bland, coagulated muck I expected it to be. For dessert, a large slab of Tiramisu – also tasty!

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The food did have a mass-produced air about it, but as far as chain restaurants go – and apart from the boring bottomless salad, which was 90% iceberg lettuce – it was decent. I never thought a place like the Olive Garden would prompt me to break out of my pasta comfort zone and start experimenting in the kitchen, but it did. Not that I went home and started churning out my own fresh pasta noodles like an Italian nona, but I did whip up these vegan meatballs in an attempt to jazz up my spaghetti. I started with mashed cannellini beans and multigrain bread crumbs, and added in sauteed leeks, garlic, mushrooms, green onions and a flax egg. I then rolled them into balls and browned them in a skillet, then tossed them with spaghetti and a spicy tomato sauce. They turned out great! I don’t think you’ll see anything like this on the menu at Olive Garden any time soon, but it did get an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the household omnivore :)

Hey, Virtual Vegan Potluck is coming up on May 11! Are any of you participating? If so, what type of dish are you bringing? I’m bringing a dessert and am VERY excited about my recipe!

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Recipe: Spaghetti and {Vegan} Meatballs | With Spicy Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • About 200g spaghetti pasta (use gluten free pasta if you’re gluten sensitive)

Meatballs

  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium leek (white and light green parts only), minced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 8 white or brown mushrooms, chopped into pea-sized pieces
  • 3 green onions (dark and light green parts only), minced
  • 2 pieces of whole grain bread, processed into crumbs (use gluten free bread if you’re gluten sensitive)
  • 398ml can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 flax egg (I used Bonzai Aphrodite’s flax egg recipe)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large gloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground dried oregano
  • 796ml can of good quality diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 tablespoon of good quality balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare vegan meatballs

Makes 25-30 meatballs

  1. Prepare flax egg according to this recipe – this needs to be done 1 hour in advance.
  2. Place drained cannellini beans in a large bowl and mash using a fork or potato masher. Set aside until needed.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add leeks and saute until tender.
  5. Add garlic and saute just until golden brown.
  6. Add red pepper flakes, paprika and coriander and stir until spices coat other ingredients.
  7. Add mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  8. Cover skillet and let mushrooms reduce, stirring periodically.
  9. Fold in green onions.
  10. Remove from heat and transfer contents of skillet to your bowl with mashed cannellini beans.
  11. Add flax egg and bread crumbs and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  12. Stir until everything is well combined. I started with a wooden spoon then used my hands once mixture was cool enough.
  13. Using a 1 tablespoon scoop, roll mixture into balls and place on a plate. Tip: Keep your hands damp to prevent mixture from sticking.
  14. Place in fridge for 45-60 minutes to chill.
  15. Next you’ll brown your meatballs (do this in two batches to make it more manageable). Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.
  16. Once oil is hot, add half of meatballs to skillet.
  17. Using a wooden spoon, keep meatballs moving until each side is golden brown.
  18. Repeat steps 13-15 with second half of meatballs.
  19. Keep meatballs warm in oven until ready to serve.

Prepare Spicy Tomato Sauce (this can be done while meatballs are firming in the fridge)

  1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic and saute just until golden brown.
  3. Add red pepper flakes, oregano and thyme and stir until spices coat garlic.
  4. Add diced tomatos and bring to a gentle boil.
  5. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Using an immersion blender, puree sauce until mostly smooth (I like to leave a few tomato chunks). You can also use a conventional blender, then return sauce to skillet.
  7. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Keep simmering sauce on low until ready to serve. Add a little water if sauce becomes too thick.

Prepare Pasta

  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions, or until al dente.
  2. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Finish

  1. Transfer cooked pasta to skillet containing tomato sauce and toss to combine.
  2. Serve, topping each portion with meatballs and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Eat!

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17 thoughts on “Spaghetti and {Vegan} Meatballs! | With Spicy Tomato Sauce

  1. I remember Olive Garden was always a really special occasions when I was growing up! Those bread sticks… definitely some of my favorites :) Sounds like you definitely had fun, I haven’t been in a long time but now you’ve got me wanting to go :)

  2. Hi Hannah!
    Your meal looks delicious! I’m keen to try the meatballs.
    I’m participating in my first VVP. Very exciting! I’m bringing a main dish. I’m looking forward to seeing your dessert. :)

  3. Olive Garden is worth it for the breadsticks – yummy! Funny how the strangest things can prompt us to be more creative in the kitchen. I ate at a chain healthy place this week, and the food was… okay, but I want to try my hand at my own version for lunch this week! I’m such a dork.

  4. LOL, I recently had an Olive Garden experience too. Ended up going with the diced tomato and pasta. Pretty good for a chain. I feel the same way about iceberg- tastes like water, but like you said, when in Rome… Your veggie meatballs sound awesome! :)

  5. Love the look of these hannah!!I tried a vegan version too but couldn’t get them to cook properly… In the oven.. Did the skillet roasting help cook these completely?? Thanks, charu

  6. A decade in NYC has made me a big-box snob too! Which is funny, since I’m from a little town in the Midwest. I’ve only been to Olive Garden once though, and I was unimpressed. Glad to see you had a better experience than I did, and that it was at least inspirational. xo

  7. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM: What appetizing vegan meatballs! They look like the real ones!! They look amazing & fantastic! I must make them & this lovely dinner tomorrow! Yummmm! :) x

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