Monday, January 16, 2012

The BEST Veggie "Meatballs" Ever!

Who doesn't love spaghetti and meatballs? I remember my mom making her sauce every Sunday and making her famous meatballs. I loved to help her. She would dump raw chop meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, herbs and spices into a big bowl and I would mix it all up with my bare hands. Then came the fun part: rolling the mixture into little balls for frying. I shudder now at the thought of  handling raw meat and actually loving it, but that was then. Now I make my own delicious meatballs - without the raw meat!

You can just buy frozen veggie meatballs and plop them into your sauce but where's the fun in that? I think shaping the meatballs is the best part. It's very therapeutic and a good project for the kids. Let them stick their little hands right into the meatball mixture and roll away. No worries about  e coli or any other diseases from handling (or tasting) raw meat. 

Note: I very rarely measure anything when I cook. I use the palm of my hand as a guide and just toss things in until it looks right.  These measurements are as close as I can get them so feel free to add more or less if you prefer.

Here's my recipe:

1/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
2 -3 Tablespoons vegan "Parmesan" cheese
2- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup finely minced onion
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon dried Italian Seasoning
1 -2 Tablespoons of chopped pine nuts (optional)
small handful of golden raisins (optional)
olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with your hands until blended well.  It will take a little while for you to adjust to cooking without meat. Usually meatball mixture made with real meat is moist because of the added eggs. THIS MIXTURE should be dry. If it appears too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water.  OR, while mixing, add a drop or two of olive oil.

Take 2 tablespoons ( or more) of the mixture (depended on how large you want your meatballs) and roll them with your hands into round ball shapes. Just don't make them too big. You want be sure they cook all the way through.

Heat about 1/4 cup olive oil in large skillet.

Brown the meatballs evenly on each side.

Drop the cooked meatballs into your sauce for about 15 minutes to cook thoroughly.

Serve hot with your choice of pasta and extra marinara sauce.

You won't believe how good these are! Serve them to your carnivorous, full-blooded Italian family and friends. I promise, they'll love 'em!

Special note: I use Gimme Lean because I cook for a carnivore. I could make these out of beans (my preference) but he won't eat them. These, he loves and asks for seconds. And they are great the next day to make"meatball" heros. I am happy because he's not eating meat and he's happy because, well, these are really, really good.

If you can't find Gimme Lean at your local grocery or health food store, or if you are a purist, you can substitute about 2 cups of cooked, cooled, very well drained lentils. Just mash up the cooked lentils with a fork. You might want to add more breadcrumbs to the mixture to get the consistency you want. Then just drop them right into the pot with the sauce but take extra care when doing so and when stirring your sauce as they cook. They might not be quite as sturdy as the Gimme Lean "meatballs"  so they could fall apart if you are not gentle with them.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Quick and Easy Homemade Tomato Sauce

It's Sunday! Most people become Italian on Sunday and eat pasta.  I do.

I remember my mom starting her sauce (some call it gravy) early on Sunday mornings. Into her big sauce pot she would toss lots and lots of minced garlic,  onions, oregano, parsley, basil, a few cans of whole tomatoes, tomato puree and some lamb shanks for flavor. She would fry up homemade balls (made from a mixture of beef, pork, eggs and breadcrumbs) and add those to sauce about halfway through cooking. Her sauce was an all day affair. The house smelled amazing.

Honestly, who has time for all that now? I know, I don't. My mom doesn't even do it that way anymore. Most of the time, she opens a few jars of sauce and just pours it over ziti.  My Italian grandmother is certainly rolling over in her grave over it.  When mom does make a homemade sauce, it's usually marinara sauce. Without meat. On special occasions, she might make meatballs to go along with it. And she always sets aside a cup or two of plain sauce before she tosses the meatballs into the pot. For me. The only vegetarian in the family.

If you come to my house for Sunday dinner, don't expect meat in my sauce. Or real meatballs. Sometimes, I will toss in veggie meatballs. Once they're covered in sauce, you can't really tell they are not made from meat. What you will get is a hearty marinara sauce laced with lots of garlic (cut with a razor blade) and plenty of fresh herbs and spices. Never, ever sauce from a jar. 

It's more ecomonical to make your own sauce. For the cost of one or two jars, you can make a huge pot of homemade tomato sauce. Freeze the rest to use through the week. Or for the following Sunday pasta dinner. You never have to worry about running out to the store to buy sauce. Just reach into the freezer. Gotta love that.

My usual homemade tomato sauce takes awhile to cook. I let it simmer on the stove for hours. I realize most people just don't have time for that. So I would like to share with you a very quick, very easy, homemade tomato sauce. It's delicious.

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic- mashed, minced or sliced very thin.
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 14-oz cans of Muir Glenn Fire Roasted tomatoes
 sea salt to taste (about a teaspoon)
freshly ground pepper
a small handful of raisins- optional. I usually toss a few raisins in my sauce for natural sweetness and to balance the acidity of the tomatoes- especially if I am using tomatoes from a can.

1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan. In it, stir-fry the garlic and oregano until the garlic is turning golden. Stir constantly so it doesn't stick.

2.  Pour the tomatoes into the saucepan and mash them up with a wooden spoon to mix them with the garlic and oil, and to break them up a bit. Don't mash them too much, since lumps of tomatoes are good in this sauce.

3.  Grind in lots of fresh black pepper and mix in the salt. You can add the raisins, if desired.

4.  Heat the sauce, stirring constantly until it's hot.  This will only take about 5 minutes.  If it's too juicy, cook a bit longer to evaporate some of the sauce.  Never put a lid on this sauce.

Pour over pasta and enjoy! Freeze the rest for another day!