Do you need some classic comfort for your Sunday dinner? Are you worried that going vegan means no more Italian? (Insert scream face here.) This spaghetti with vegan mushroom pecan meatballs will be your new best friend.
I could write poetry about my love of Italian food. Growing up in Buffalo, NY in a half-Italian household (my mother’s side), pasta was one of the first foods I learned to cook. My mother would put on old Ella Fitzgerald records, and we would make marinara for the week, or make a quick vegetable pasta using whatever ingredients we had on hand. I think I could recognize pasta al dente by the time I was nine.
As I got a bit older, the Sopranos was on TV every Sunday night. We started a family tradition of having classic “Sunday gravy” with spaghetti, meatballs, sausage, sometimes some chicken marsala for good measure… you name it, we ate it. All of these classic Italian comfort foods were of course loaded up with plenty of cheese for good measure.
Then my twenties came… and I decided to go vegan. Like so many of us, one of the foods I panicked the most about “loosing” as a vegan was cheesy pasta. And meatballs. Essentially, my favorite childhood foods.
If you feel the same way, I can assure you that whatever your favorite nostalgia cuisine is… it can be veganized. And it can be done in such a way that your loved ones will enjoy it too.
Here, I’ve replaced the “meat” in these meatballs with a base of baby portobellos, brown rice, and dark red kidney beans. The balls are coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs for added texture and ease of forming, and then given a quick chill in the fridge to help them maintain their shape when baking.
This recipe is husband and kiddo friendly. It’s also classic and elegant enough to serve to company, and pairs great with a simple arugula salad and maybe some garlic bread. Is there anything more comforting than a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs (with a generously poured glass of Pinot Noir)? We’re talking ultimate cozy.
If you don’t feel like whipping up your own marinara, you can be lazy and use your favorite (quality) store-bought sauce. I swear by Rao’s brand; I am very picky and it is the only sauce I enjoy from the supermarket. Want your spaghetti to be extra indulgent? Try adding a few dollops of my Herbed Almond Tofu Ricotta.
I hope this recipe inspires a classic Italian feast in your homes! What are some of your favorite cuisines or childhood dishes you’d like to see veganized? Comment below and let me know!
Meatball recipe is adapted from Love and Lemons.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ white or yellow onion, chopped
- 8 oz. sliced baby portobello mushrooms
- 1 cup canned dark red kidney beans, rinsed
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon coconut aminos (or soy sauce or tamari)
- ½ cup pecans, toasted
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs (read package to ensure vegan)
- 1 and ½ cups cooked and cooled brown rice (I used brown basmati)
- 16 oz whole wheat spaghetti
- 3-4 cups (about 24 oz.) prepared or homemade marinara (I swear by Rao’s!)
- Vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast
- Cook rice according to package directions and set aside.
- Add olive oil to a large pan and bring to medium heat. Add onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for a minute more. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes.
- Add ½ of a cup of the beans plus the balsamic vinegar and coconut aminos to the pan. Sauté a minute or two more until everything is nice and brown. Remove pan from heat.
- In a blender or food processor, pulse the pecans until coarsely ground with some chunks remaining.
- Add the mushroom mixture and the remaining beans to the blender or food processor. Pulse sporadically until just combined, stopping to scrape down the sides from time to time.
- Place mixture into a large bowl. Add the onion powder and nutritional yeast and stir to combine.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit if preparing today (see below, you can also chill these overnight and bake the next day).
- Place breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Form the “meat” dough into approximately 18-20 balls. The mixture will be loose, so after initially forming each ball, roll the mixture in the panko breadcrumbs to coat. Then roll the ball again to help form it and give a nice crispy texture once baked.
- Place the balls on the baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes up to overnight to allow to firm.
- Spray meatballs generously with cooking spray (I used olive oil spray). Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Carefully flip each meatball, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- While the meatballs bake, prepare your pasta according to the package directions.
- Remove the meatballs from the oven.
- Prepare the pasta by adding about 1 and ½ cups of the marinara to the pasta and tossing to combine.
- Plate the pasta, top with meatballs and additional marinara. Add vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast if using.