Spaghetti and meatballs has to be one of the most well-known and esteemed dishes. Everyone loves a stack of pasta with fried meatballs smothered in tomato sauce. Everyone! Even Lady and the Tramp endorse it.
A great thing with this dish is that it works both as a date night dinner (it made Lady and the Trump fall in love and I bet many more have been spellbound while eating spaghetti and meatballs ever since) as well as a quick weekday savior depending on how much time and effort you want to spend on cooking. Of course the time spent will be reflected in the outcome; I mean store bought meatballs and ketchup won’t be as good as a homemade tomato sauce and home rolled meatballs even though the shortcut version is good enough and perfectly acceptable those Thursday evenings after almost a whole hectic week at work when you’re tired and the time is insufficient. At other times you want to take the longcut and make everything from scratch. Last weekend were such a go-the-whole-way-movement for me. So I made everything but the pasta from square one and the result turned out astonishing.
As usual I made my own twist on this classic dish, and as a matter of fact I changed it quite a bit – but not so much that you can’t see the similarities with the original. So to start with I switched the meatballs for a vegetarian alternative made with almonds, sunflower seeds and cheese. Both equally good but in two different ways. Not even meat lovers should be discouraged because the flavor and texture of this almond veggie balls are very convincing and easy to love. The balls have a slight spicy note from cumin, oregano, cayenne and garlic with a firm texture and nicely seared outside. The nuts and seeds give the balls that meaty consistency and a pleasant body and the fact that there’s cheese incorporated just makes it so good.
The sauce is made out of roasted Roma tomatoes, roasted garlic and roasted red onion. But why roast everything before making it into a sauce? Because it concentrates the pure tomato flavors, it enhances the natural sweetness and the searing gives the sauce that robust feeling and just a slight bitter tone that is so good in tomato sauces. When I roast or dry tomatoes in the oven I always keep the vine attached since I have this idea that there is a lot of fragrance in the stem that will be transferred to the finished sauce when cooked together. The choice of Roma was easy since these tomatoes have a high flavor profile with that typical tomato taste. Another reason for why I prefer these tomatoes are because of their relatively dry flesh which is well suited for tomato sauces. They often tend to be used in the making of canned tomatoes, ketchup and tomato paste – and if Heinz uses a variety of braids from Roma tomatoes it has to be good 😛
Spaghetti with Almond Veggie Balls and Roasted Tomato Sauce
This is a delightful twist on spaghetti and meatballs with spicy almond veggie balls and a creamy flavorful roasted tomato sauce. It’s just too divine and a great way to introduce (lure) kids and meat lovers to vegetarian food!
Almond Veggie Balls
75 g almonds
75 g sunflower seeds
75 g bread crumbs
125 g hard cheese, matured for 6-8 months (I used the Swedish variety Präst, but any cow milks cheese with some character and a slight sweet and savory tone will do the work)
125 g onion (one small)
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp whole cumin
2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp black pepper corns
1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 kg Roma tomatoes (Romantica tomater in Swedish)
300 g red onion (2 pieces)
1 whole garlic
50 g olive oil
20 g balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. dried oregano
15 g fresh basil (½ bunch)
4-6 portions of spaghetti/tagliatelle
Almond Veggie Balls. Roast almonds and sunflower seeds in a dry skillet on medium heat until golden brown. Transfer to a food processor and churn to a fine crumble. Peel and finely chop the onion and fry in some olive oil on low heat until soft and translucent. In the meantime crush the spices (cumin, coriander and black pepper) in a pestle of mortal till a fine powder. Add finely chopped garlic and the newly ground spices alongside with cayenne and dried oregano and fry for a few more minutes so that all the spices get a chance to bloom and burst out. Transfer the onion spice mixture to the food processor and mix until the onions are finely incorporated with the almond and sunflower seeds.
Crack the eggs into a bowl and combine with the almond mixture, bread crumbs, finely grated cheese and balsamic vinegar. Add salt to taste. Let the almond veggie ball batter sit in the fridge for at least half an hour to swell. You could even make the batter a day ahead if you want.
Roll the batter into equal sized balls. You decide how big or small you want to make them; the important thing is to stick to a size and make everyone the same. I made mine quite small so I got 44 balls out of this amount of mixture. But as mentioned it’s up to your own liking. Fry the balls on medium heat in some olive oil until golden brown.
Tomato Sauce. Turn on the oven to 200 °C. Cut the tomatoes in half and transfer to a dish or a deep tray covered in parchment paper. Place the vines on the tray as well and drizzle some olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lay a whole bulb of garlic, with the skin still on, in the middle of the tray and put everything into the oven. Peel and cut the red onion into wedges. Bake the tomatoes for 30-40 minutes before introducing the onion to the tray. Toss everything around and roast for an additional 30-40 minutes or until the tomatoes are semi dried and have a nicely browned surface. Remove the vines and put the rest of the ingredients in a container or bowl together with the basil (use the basil stalks as well, at least if they are somewhat fine). Don’t forget to remove the garlic from the skin (just squeeze the whole garlic with your hands and the softened cloves will come right out of the skin) before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. Mix with a hand blender or in a food processor until the consistency of you choice. I like when there are small chunks in the sauce, but if you like it completely smooth go ahead and mix a bit longer. Have a taste and add some extra salt and pepper and maybe a pinch of sugar if required. If you find the sauce too runny reduce it in a pan on the stove for a few minutes or add a splash of water if you want it more diluted.
To Serve. Cook the pasta in plenty of generously salted water until al dente. Mix the pasta with some of the sauce and a generous splash of cooking water. Serve the rest of the sauce on the side so that everyone can take as much as they want. Top the pasta with some almond veggie balls, a few basil leafs and shaved Parmesan.