What is it about a plate of plump vegan meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, nestled comfortably on a soft pillow of spaghetti that is so satisfying even before a single mouthful is taken? It is a dish where even the sight and smell of it has its own umami. It creates thrilling anticipation from the moment the aromas start to sizzle in the oil, right until it sits in front of you, begging to be devoured.
Vegan meatballs are readily available to buy in most supermarkets these days, so there is no need to make them at all if you don’t want to, but I’m certainly not going to try to talk you into that. As with all things, they are much nicer when homemade, where you can create them exactly to your liking, using the ingredients you want to use. This alone is enough reason to forgo the packet variety.
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I’m using vegan mince and vegan chorizo sausages to make mine, both from the fridge section of the supermarket, which gives them a good, solid texture and makes them easy to shape. They are also packed with flavour and can (as long as you use fresh ingredients, as I have) be frozen for use at a later time. The other main ingredients in these vegan meatballs are onion and day-old bread (much better for making into breadcrumbs), flavoured with a little salt and pepper and some fresh parsley, all no different than you would find in any standard meatball recipe except, of course, vegan.
You can follow my recipe to the letter if you wish, or you can use it for inspiration and embellish to suit your taste. Add some garlic and a little chilli oil to the meatballs to deepen the flavour and infuse a little heat (there is always a jar of Chinese chilli oil on my cupboard shelf, ready to use at a moment’s notice).
I have shallow fried my vegan meatballs and then finished them off in the oven, but you can go straight to the oven if you prefer. Just spray them with a little oil and cook then on Gas 6 (200C) for about 30-40 minutes, making sure to turn them halfway through.
You can easily make these gluten-free as both meat substitute products are available in gluten-free varieties (Meatless Farm and Shroomdogs are used here). All you need to do is switch the bread for your favourite gf version and, of course, use gluten-free spaghetti. The recipe serves 4 people to full bellies. If you’re making for your family, you might want to consider doubling it up and storing the leftover meatballs and sauce separately in the freezer for another meal down the line. Future you will be grateful for the effort made.
Vegan Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Easy to make gluten-free.
For the Vegan Meatballs:
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 350 g fresh vegan mince
- 6-8 vegan chorizo sausages fresh if possible
- 150 g day-old bread blitzed into breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp salt
- A generous dash of ground black pepper
- A small handful of fresh parsley chopped
- Flour for dusting
- Enough oil for shallow frying
For the Tomato Sauce:
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion thinly sliced
- 6-8 mushrooms sliced
- 1 courgette diced
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 100 g tomato puree
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cans chopped tomatoes
- 1 can water
- 30 g about a large handful of fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced. Reserve some for garnish if required.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- You will also need 500g of your favourite spaghetti.
- Begin by making the meatballs. Put all of the vegan meatball ingredients, apart from the dusting flour and cooking oil, into a large mixing bowl and fully combine. It is better to use your hands for this, so that you can break up the sausage and mince with your fingers and allow everything to fully incorporate.
- Once this is done set out 2 plates, one with the dusting flour on and one clean. Take a small amount of the meatball mix in your hands and roll into a ball about the size of a ping pong ball. Roll or toss the ball in the dusting flour, until coated, shake off the excess and then transfer it to the clean plate. Repeat this process until you have used up all the mixture and you have a large pile of vegan meatballs on the clean plate. I was able to make 21 balls with my mixture.
- Set the uncooked balls aside for now, so that you can get on with making the tomato sauce.
- To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan and gently fry the onions, mushrooms and courgettes for 10-15 minutes, until they are browned and softened. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring throughout.
- Now put in the tomato puree, smoked paprika and salt, stir through and cook for another couple of minutes to ignite the paprika flavour. Pour in the canned tomatoes, water and add the basil. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 35-40 minutes, stirring from time to time, until you have a thick and slightly reduced tomato sauce. Season with the salt and pepper if required.
- Once the sauce has been simmering for about 10 minutes, you can start to cook the vegan meatballs. Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F and pour enough oil for shallow frying into a large frying pan or wok. Allow it to get hot enough to fry, then test the oil by adding one of the meat balls. If it sizzles straight away, you are ready for cooking. Put in as many balls as you can comfortably fit into your pan, with enough room for them to move around. Fry the balls for 15-20 minutes, turning often, until they are browned all over. If you are cooking them in batches, lay the cooked balls onto a rimmed baking tray while you cook the second batch.
- Once they are all done, lay all the balls out onto the baking tray and place in the middle of the oven. Cook the balls for 10 minutes to finish them off and make sure they are cooked through. As stated in the notes you can, if you prefer, skip the frying and put the balls straight I the oven. Just spray them with oil first. They will take about 30-40 minutes in the oven.
- Cook your spaghetti, according to the packet instructions (usually boiling for 10-12 minutes), during the last 10 minutes of cooking the rest of the food. Once cooked, strain and rinse the pasta, reserving some of the water, then mix the meatballs with the tomato sauce. You can put in a bit of the pasta water in with the sauce if it looks a little dry after adding the balls.
- Serve into individual bowls with the spaghetti, then top with a little of the reserved basil (and perhaps a little grated vegan cheese). Serve immediately.
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