A Twist on Spaghetti and "Meatballs"

For date night the other week, we decided to venture out and try a little joint we hadn’t been to yet in the neighborhood, Fern. We aren't strictly vegetarian, but in the warm months I tend to eat more that way because meat just doesn't appeal to me as much - I want cold salads, fruit and lite dishes. I had heard this vegetarian restaurant uses local produce, has a menu that changes seasonally, and some of the ingredients on their menu come straight from their own garden. Ah, yes please.

The menu is one that leaves you scratching your head with indecision about what to choose, although I did quickly identify a great organic cabernet. Thank goodness, because I was able to sip it while studying the entree selection, which all sounded so delicious.  

We both glanced at each other a few times while reviewing the menu, hoping the other would guide us in the decision making process. I was torn between a few entrees and finally settled on a hearty bowl of goodness - rice, beans, fresh veggies and lovely spices. But, the Eggplant & White Bean Meatball had my eye which of course left me wondering how the dish would have tasted. 

Not to worry, because the next day I headed to the grocery store and added eggplant to the list so I could experiment in the kitchen. I like eggplant but I love white beans, so the balance of the two had me intrigued and I was anxious to get to playing in the kitchen.

Preparing a batch of meatballs gives me enough to use as leftovers throughout the week, which is my kind of meal. I make turkey meatballs with pesto often just because of that. You can’t argue with cooking something that has a high return on your investment and something the kids can enjoy easily. Plus, making meatballs is pretty easy - you just blend a bunch of stuff together. 

Once I got into the kitchen, I played around with a recipe and made a few modifications with the amount of rolled oats to use. You can play with the quantities based on your desired texture and firmness, but these ended up being a good balance.

1-2 tbsp organic olive oil
1 eggplant, chopped
1 cup white beans (preferred brand)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt, to taste
1/4-1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2-2 cups gluten free rolled oats
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 tsp oregano

Tomato Sauce
1-2 tbsp organic olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Strained tomatoes (my preferred brand)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp sage
1/4 tsp ground pepper
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 and pull out a baking sheet.

For the meatballs, first warm up olive oil in your saucepan and sauté the garlic and yellow onion for about a minute and then add in the chopped eggplant. Cook down the mixture until the onion is translucent and the eggplant is soft (but not too soft) - around 12 minutes. Then add in the salt and pepper for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a blender, grind up your rolled oats (in a spice grinder if you have one or I used a Vitamix) to the desired consistency - I landed between sand and flour. If you don’t have rolled oats, use a cup of breadcrumbs in place of them. 

If you don’t have multiple blenders you may need to do some transferring for the next step. Blend the eggplant mixture with the white beans and parsley into a puree (with small chunks). 

Combine the rolled oats (or bread crumbs) and sprinkle in red pepper flakes and oregano for taste. 

Then roll into 12 medium sized meatballs, place on your baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until brown.

While your meatballs are cooking, you can prepare the tomato sauce. Pour olive oil into your pot or deep saucepan and let heat. Then add in garlic and let cook for one minute. Next, add in the yellow onion and cook down until translucent. Finally, pour in the strained tomatoes and the spices. Heat up until the sauce is boiling and then bring down to simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

We enjoyed our meatballs and sauce with spiralized zucchini and yellow squash one night and brown rice pasta another night. You can also use spaghetti squash or place them in between a whole wheat bun or some sprouted grain bread.