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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Potato, Kale and Mushroom Hash | With a Poached Egg

Ever since Hunter was born last year I’ve morphed into quite the morning person. This is utterly shocking, because previously, regardless of what time I went to bed the night before, the act of waking up was always an excruciating one. I was practically homicidal until I’d showered, sat in solitary contemplation for 20 minutes, and imbibed a good half litre of strong black coffee. Despite this weird, albeit welcome, metamorphosis, breakfast has always been my favourite meal of the day. I figure that after going the entire night without eating, my empty stomach (and consequent heightened taste buds) make the act of eating all the more awesome.

Obviously then, I’m not one of those people who gets up and hurries out the door without eating breakfast. Unlike many, I’m never not hungry when I wake up. And the concept of ‘forgetting to eat’ breakfast (or any meal, let’s be serious) isn’t just foreign to me, but borderline offensive! On the contrary, I set aside time to eat every morning, even if it means getting up a little earlier.

But for such a breakfast aficionado, there is little variety in what I eat each morning. In a perfect world I’d pile my plate high with whipped-cream topped waffles one day, and syrupy pancakes the next (I have an obscene sweet tooth). But in that world the notions of ‘glycemic index’ and ‘adult-onset diabetes’ don’t exist, so I’d never have to worry about the fallout of my eating choices. In reality, my breakfasts typically take the form of oatmeal with dried fruit and flax meal, cereal with unsweetened almond milk, or whole grain toast topped with vegan margarine and a scrambled egg or two. Can’t get much more virtuous than that. Some weekends I might allow myself a ‘treat’ breakfast such as ones mentioned above, but those I usually end up regretting because they inevitably throw me into a listless, sugar-induced food coma. Although they do taste good.

While I enjoy my go-to breakfasts, lately I’ve been getting the urge to experiment a bit more. The Breakfast Lentil Bowl I posted a couple weeks ago was a good start. My Cottage Cheese Pancakes with Spiced Pear Compote also turned out well – possibly a little too well (yum!)- but fall more toward the ‘treat’ end of the breakfast spectrum. What I’m looking to come up with are breakfasts that incorporate a more interesting range of ingredients – more fresh vegetables and fruit, and different proteins and starches. That’s where the 10 lb. bag of Ashcroft potatoes (pictured above) comes in, which made its way from my mother-in-law in Ashcroft, to my sister-in-law in Langley, and then to me in the Okanagan. Talk about well-travelled taters!

When I think potatoes and breakfast, I think hash browns – pan-fried in a skillet until crispy and golden brown. I use sweet potatoes and yams so often in my cooking that it seems like a bit of a novelty to make something using plain old white potatoes! But when it comes to something like hash browns, they just work. Sure, the nutritional profile of white potatoes isn’t the greatest – at least compared to the aforementioned varieties – but this I’ve counterbalanced here with the addition of mushrooms – which, I’ve recently learned, are very good for you – and nutrient-packed kale. Finished with a bit of grated Parmesan, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and freshly ground black pepper, this is exactly the kind of savoury dish my breakfast repertoire has been lacking! Now about that poached egg…

Egg poaching is something I’ve made it this far in life without learning how to do, and it’s always struck me as a rather mystical process. I mean, how can it be possible to cook an egg outside of its shell and have it retain a somewhat egg-like shape – beyond cheating and using some sort of mold? Fortuitously, while going through our storage locker a few weeks back I came across a copy of the 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking, which must have belonged to my boyfriend’s mum or grandmother originally. Obviously I could have taken to the Internet for a tutorial on egg poaching, but thought it would be more interesting to do things the old school way and learn from a cookbook. Joy of Cooking is the perfect reference for this task because it covers a wide range of recipes and basic culinary skills: how to make Hollandaise sauce, how to fry calf liver and saute chitterlings (WTF are chitterlings?), how to stew prunes and pickle herring, even how to make jellied pigs’ feet! it’s all in here. Clearly, many of the cookbook’s recipes are outmoded – and decidedly un-vegetarian – but I got a kick out of thumbing through it regardless.

Joy of Cooking offers a number of techniques for poaching eggs – one of which uses wine (right up my alley) – and while not opposed to wine for breakfast, as a beginner I went with one of the more straightforward methods. This still involved a degree of ambidexterity, as I had to “swirl the water into a mad vortex with a wooden spoon” with one hand and “drop the egg into the well formed in the center of the pot” with the other. At first I thought I had messed the whole thing up, as some of the egg white pulled away from the yolk and made its way toward the edge of the pot. Then I read this is actually supposed to happen, at which point I breathed a sigh of relief. What do you think of the results? Not too shabby for a first attempt, IMO! And it tasted very delicious atop the hash. Although I ate the leftovers sans egg and they tasted great that way, too 🙂

Recipe: Potato, Kale and Mushroom Hash | With a Poached Egg

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium white potatoes (I left skin on but you don’t have to), scrubbed clean and cut into sixths
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 free-range eggs (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 bunch of kale, spines removed and torn into small pieces
  • 1 cup white or brown mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (or vegan Parmesan), grated, plus more for serving
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare potatoes: Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and allow to cook for 15 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork. Drain and return to saucepan. Using a potato masher, mash potatoes into small chunks. Set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mashed potatoes and stir until combined with oil. Stirring often, pan-fry potatoes until crispy and golden brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside. While potatoes are cooking, prepare kale and mushrooms.

Prepare kale and mushrooms: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until just golden brown. Add kale and mushrooms and saute just until wilted. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. If not using poached eggs, skip the next step.

Poach Eggs (method taken directly from the 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking – Volume 1, p. 185): “Poached eggs, unless made in individual molds, are apt to produce ‘streamers’ that you may trim off with scissors before serving. Grease the bottom of a 6 to 8-inch pot. Put in enough slightly salted water to fill to twice the depth of an egg. While the water comes to a boil, put in a small bowl: 1 egg. Swirl the water into a mad vortex with a wooden spoon. Drop the egg into the well formed in the center of the pot. The swirling water should round the egg. Reduce the heat. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes or let stand off the heat for 8 minutes […] Remove with a skimmer and drain well […] Repeat the process for each egg”.

Add kale and mushrooms to skillet containing potatoes and fold until combined. Fold in grated Parmesan. Serve, topping each portion with a poached egg (if using), a bit more Parmesan, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!