Meatballs come in myriad sizes and styles, being significant staples in many a culture’s cuisine. But when most of us in the States think of meatballs, we go straight to the prototypical example of Italian spaghetti + meatballs, which, I think it’s fair to say, is commonly and easily vegan-ized, as it were.
The giant meatball + spaghetti, however, not so much.
When we heard that Beyond Meat had created Beyond Beef—a soy-free, gluten-free vegan ground beef with 20 grams of protein per serving and pea protein as its base—our minds went straight to polpettone (Italian for large meatballs, as opposed to the regular polpette). For anyone already familiar with the Beyond Burger, the Beef is basically a more neutral version of that that’s bought in a block, allowing for more versatility in cooking + recipes.
We gave a recipe a try and it turned out great paired with a good quality spaghetti and Katie’s father’s family marinara recipe (their last name’s Frichtel, but the family’s very much Italian-American), so we thought we’d share it here.
Here’s what you need for the meatball(s):
• 1 lb/package Beyond Beef
• 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
• 1 Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg (betting a flax egg would work too)
• 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (we used rye, for extra flavor)
• olive oil for sautéing
For the Frichtel Marinara:
• 1 large yellow onion, peeled + finely chopped
• 4 large carrots, left un-peeled + finely chopped
• 3 celery stalks with leaves, all finely chopped
• 9 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled + finely chopped
• 1 large green bell pepper, cored + finely chopped
• 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (we like fire-roasted)
• 2 6 oz. cans of tomato paste
• 2 tsp. of crushed pepper
• large handful of fresh Italian basil, finely sliced (or 2 tbsp. dried Basil)
• small handful of fresh parsley, finely sliced (or 1 tbsp. dried parsley)
• a few leaves of fresh sage, finely sliced (.5 tbsp. dried sage)
• 1.5 tbsp. dried oregano (or equivalent fresh if you’ve got it)
• .5 tbsp. dried thyme (or equivalent fresh if you’ve got it)
• pinch of ground cinnamon
• pinch of ground or shaved nutmeg
• 3 bay leaves
• good quality olive oil
• salt, to taste
• red wine (optional, I guess)
For garnish, we used some sliced fresh basil and thinly sliced Violife Just Like Parmesan (it’s essentially a block of flavored potato starch, so not much nutritional value, but the taste is pretty accurate and it slices and grates really well).
For the pasta, we wanted that classic spaghetti, so we went with a nice Italian one we found at our local grocery store which just listed semolina as the only ingredient. If you want to make fresh pasta, though, it’s really not hard and super-good (also super-impressive if you’re looking to wow someone)—we wrote up a recipe for fresh vegan pasta a few years back. But if you’re going with packaged, you’ve most likely made pasta before; if not…that’s super-exciting! Good luck! Follow the package instructions either way, but that’s pretty much your last step; let’s rewind:
First, the sauce.
The aforementioned Frichtel marinara is a cherished staple in our house and marinara day, when you need fresh sauce for a meal or you’re replenishing your frozen supply, is a lovely, fragrant, homey day we always enjoy. Yes, you can totally use store-bought sauce, and, yes, I’m sure there a lot of great ones out there these days, but I’m betting this one’s better, so give it a go.
The recipe itself isn’t complicated or tough, it’s just time-consuming. Actively, your time up front is a ton of chopping—again, not difficult, just a bit arduous. Then it’s a lot of waiting around, occasional stirring, and doing whatever you want while you allow flavors to combine and liquid to reduce off.
Basically, though, once you’re done with all that dicing and finely chopping, add all of your vegetables to a large pot with 2 tablespoons or so of warmed olive oil, tossing to coat. Then throw in your crushed pepper and about a half-teaspoon of salt and simmer covered for about five minutes. Now add your crushed tomatoes and your tomato paste. Fill the tomato paste cans with water or broth, adding a total of 6 of those cans worth of liquid to the pot (we like broth—more flavor; interested in making your own, more nutritious + less sodium-heavy broth— give this a look). Whatever liquid you add to the cans, the idea is both giving more room for boiling off in the spot and getting every little bit of that concentrated, flavorful paste out of the can, so scrape, shake covered, whatever it takes. Then bring the heat up to medium, add all of the spices + herbs, and stir. If you want, here’s where you’d add a cup or half-cup of red wine to mix at this point, to give the sauce more depth of flavor (pretty sure the alcohol would cook off with this much heat and time, for anyone concerned). Cook everything covered on medium-low to low heat, avoiding too much bubbling as it thickens. Stir and check the taste after an hour, at which point you can add more spices or herbs as needed. Cook for another three or so hours covered, stirring from time to time to make sure the bottom’s not sticking too much. Store whatever you don’t use frozen.
Now the meatball(s). Pre-heat your oven to 350°F. Then, essentially, put all your meatball the ingredients in a big bowl, mix with a spoon or fork. Then, once it’s well mixed, get your hands in there and really integrate things into a cohesive mass that should want to stick together pretty well—too crumbly, add some liquid; too runny, get some more breadcrumbs in there. Once it feels good and stable, form your meatballs. For us, this made four, very large meatballs, but you do you—maybe you want some smaller ones; maybe you want one gigantic one, Regarding Henry style (anyone?). Coat an already warm skillet with olive oil, allow that to warm, and add meatballs, not crowding too much and allowing room to turn each to brown all sides (does a ball have sides?). Once thoroughly browned, set the meatballs on a baking tray or dish and place uncovered in the oven for 30 or so minutes too cook through (if you’re going the single monster meatball route, likely a little longer…but also, whatever—this isn’t dead animal, so sanitarily, you’re good, you just don’t want a cold-middle meatball, ammiright).
Now cook your pasta, plate, and Mangia! Mangia!