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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Roasted Acorn Squash in Mediterranean Tomato Sauce

Greetings from the glorious suburbs of Vancouver! If you missed my last post, I mentioned that our foray to the Okanagan has been cut unexpectedly short (due to circumstances at my SO’s work) and we’ve had to return to the Lower Mainland indefinitely. It’s too bad, as we were keen to stay in the Okanagan long term and eventually buy a house there, but I suppose it just wasn’t in the cards for us yet. In some ways I’m actually glad to be back: there’s a greater variety of vegetarian-friendly restaurants here (yep, always thinking about food!); I can visit regularly with my friends again; and with more stuff around to do maybe I’ll feel inspired to change out of my pajamas on a more regular basis!

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Yesterday afternoon I got some welcome news: we’re going to be able to move out of the RV and into an actual house in less than one month’s time! We’ve been living in the RV for over 6 months now, so hearing we only have to persevere at the trailer park for another few weeks is music to my ears. I’m being dramatic of course; it’s not THAT bad here. Really I have all I could ever need – except space (and my shoe collection). But I can’t say I’ll miss it that much, either.

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I’ve stated repeatedly in previous posts how relieved I was to be away from the gloomy, wet drizzle that keeps Vancouver captive in the Winter – and now I’m right back in the thick of it! Figures! But rather than dwell on this unsavoury fact, I cooked myself something warm and spicy to ease the pain. For weeks I’d had a hankering for Mediterranean flavours – capers, olives, tomatoes, artichokes – and on that front this recipe fully delivers! Simmered gently in a spicy tomato sauce, the roasted acorn squash provides a subtly-sweet counterpoint to the salty pungency of the other ingredients. After a few mouthfuls I didn’t give the dampness outside a second thought.

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It’s up to you how you serve this dish. My initial plan was to spoon it over grilled polenta – but clearly my polenta-grilling skills need some serious honing, as what I produced weren’t the tidy, firm wedges of polenta I’d envisioned, but rather a mushy and amorphous mess! The end result tasted good – but looks-wise it was fit for the dog bowl; I didn’t even consider taking pictures of it to post here. Maybe you have more polenta know-how than me and can successfully grill yourself a few pretty wedges of the stuff; if not, you could opt to serve this dish alone as a side, on top of crusty bread as an appetizer, or do as I did with the leftovers, which was toss it with pasta and a drizzle of olive oil. Yum!

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Recipe: Roasted Acorn Squash in Mediterranean Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon capers, chopped
  • 5 marinated sun dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 398ml can diced tomatoes, preferably organic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 400F. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place squash halves skin-side down on baking sheet and drizzle each half with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with freshly ground black pepper and a bit of salt. Roast squash in oven for 50 minutes or until flesh is tender and caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside to cool (or put in fridge to speed up the process). Once cool enough to handle, scoop flesh from skin and chop into 1 inch cubes.

Finish sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute just until garlic is fragrant and golden brown. Fold in capers, sun dried tomatoes, olives and artichoke hearts. Add diced tomatoes, cubed squash and thyme and stir until everything is combined. Let sauce simmer, partially covered, for at least 20 minutes. If sauce becomes too thick, add a bit of water. Taste and correct with salt and if necessary. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

Serving ideas: Spoon over grilled polenta wedges; toss with pasta and a bit of olive oil; serve alone as a side dish; serve on crusty bread as an appetizer.

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