Before we go any farther, I should tell you there is no meat in these “meatballs”. Yes, I know. Two vegetarian recipes in a row. No, I haven’t converted to a meat-free lifestyle. I’m still rocking the four veggie nights a week while hatching a Christmas plan that will likely include a porterhouse. I wrote extensively about my food philosophy in my last post, so I won’t get into it again today. But what I will do is tell you how freakin’ excellent this Spaghetti with Lentil Meatballs truly is. Yes, really. Yes, I know the name sounds like a sad vegan food joke from a 90s sitcom. But in spite of its descriptive name, this dish is not severely lacking in joy. Quite the opposite. I think it’s quite exuberant and I made a video to prove it to you.
Now, if you’re nursing a specific craving for spaghetti and meatballs, this is not the dish you’re looking for. But if you’re looking for a different kind of experience within the pasta oeuvre – welcome home. These Lentil Meatballs don’t taste like meatballs. They taste like what they’re made of – mushrooms, white beans, and lentils. They are however seasoned as I would any meatball, but this has more to do with my fennel seed dependency than any kind of culinary trickery.
Although, the orbs found in this Spaghetti with Lentil Meatballs are not exactly familiar, the rest of the dish is. Chewy strands of pasta dressed in a rich tomato sauce. The sauce is comprised of slow-roasted tomatoes and an entire head of roasted garlic. The result is a sauce so concentrated in flavor that a little goes a long way. In other words, there’s no need to drown your pasta in this sauce. The pasta is finished with predictable but beloved flourishes of shredded cheese and fresh basil leaves.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Spaghetti with Lentil Meatballs. Even if you don’t typically partake in meat-free meatballs, I am convinced you’ll like these ones. Beanballs are not just for vegetarians anymore.
Spaghetti with Lentil Meatballs and Roasted Tomato Sauce
Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 4 beefsteak tomatoes cut into wedges
- 1 head garlic top lobbed off
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves tightly packed
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion diced
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- 227g (8oz) cremini mushrooms sliced
- 2½ cups vegetable stock
- 1 (540ml, 18 fl oz.) can white beans drained and rinsed
- 1 cup dried green lentils
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 454g (1lb) dried spaghetti
- ½ cup Grana Padano shredded
- Fresh basil leaves for serving
For the Roasted Tomato Sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Place the cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, and head of garlic cut-side-up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt. Place the sheet in the oven and roast for two hours.
- Once the two hours are up, transfer the tomatoes to a large food processor. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their husks and place them in the food processor as well. Add the basil and blitz until smooth.
- With the food processor running on low, stream in the vegetable stock and white wine. Transfer the sauce to a large deep skillet and simmer for 15 minutes. This is a good time to cook your pasta according to the package's directions.
For the Meatballs
- While the tomatoes are roasting, you can work on the meatballs. Pour the olive oil in a large skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Saute over medium-low until just translucent. Stir in the basil, crushed red pepper flakes, and fennel seeds. Saute until fragrant.
- Add the mushrooms to the skillet and saute until browned. Remove the veg with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.
- Deglaze the skillet with the veggie stock and add the beans, lentils, thyme, bay leaves, and a generous sprinkling of salt. Bring the mixture up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let cook for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Remove a cup-worth of the beans and lentils and set aside. Place the onion and mushrooms mixture in a large food processor. Add the remaining beans and lentils and blitz until smooth.
- Place the puree in a large bowl and add the reserved beans and lentils back in. Add the breadcrumbs and the egg and, using a clean hand, mix until all the ingredients are well integrated. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the mixture out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refine the shape of each scoop, then refrigerate the meatballs until ready to bake.
- At this point, the tomatoes should be ready to come out of the oven. Once you remove the tomatoes, increase the oven's temperature to 375°F. Once the oven is up, place the meatballs in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Create a nest of pasta in four bowls. Place 2-3 meatballs on top and cover with the sauce. Finish each bowl with a sprinkling of cheese and a few fresh basil leaves.