I promised earlier this week to provide some recipes to go with my marinara sauce. Of course, the obvious choice would be any kind of pasta, but I like to be a little more creative than that. Also, I have a hard time eating pasta anymore. I find if I eat it for lunch I'm asleep at my desk within an hour, whereas if I eat it for dinner I'm awake all night, presumably on a sugar high. Yeah, doesn't make any sense to me either, but regardless of your relationship with pasta, I think this recipe will come in handy. These "meatballs" are great on their own, served aside a big plate of pasta, on a sandwich, on top of a big mound of garlicky broccoli rabe...you get the idea. A versatile vegetarian side or main dish. Whatever you fancy.
I have my grandpop to thank for this one. Yes, that's right (thanks Grandpop). As I've mentioned before, my grandfather is a fantastic Italian cook. At some point during my teens he invited the whole family over for a big pasta dinner. This wasn't an issue for me. I was happy eating pasta, salad, bread, or whatever other non-meat items came along with the dinner. When I arrived he was cooking up a version of these eggplant meatballs. He'd seen them prepared on a cooking show and thought he'd give them a shot for me. He looked a little downcast and informed me that he didn't think they turned out right. I tried one and informed him that he was sorely mistaken. See, I think he expected them to be meatier, as they were intended to be a vegetarian version of meatballs. What actually came out, to my tastebuds at least, was more like an eggplant parm flavored ball of vegetarian goodness! I happily enjoyed my eggplant meatballs alongside my pasta that night, and took the leftovers home to make an amazing eggplant meatball parm grinder.
I don't have the exact recipe my grandfather used. In fact, I don't think he ever really had a recipe, but rather simply tried to replicate a technique demonstrated on television. I've borrowed that technique several times since that initial taste. For this version, I decided to go vegan, whereas the original eggplant meatballs created by my grandfather contained some parmesan cheese. I've added some nutritional yeast to get a cheesy flavor, and don't miss the dairy at all. I also initially pan fried these, which didn't work out as well as my second attempt in which I baked them. A cast iron skillet is your friend here, as it will give them a perfectly crisp exterior to encase the delicious melt-in-your mouth eggplant.
1 large eggplant, peeled and finely diced (1/2 inch or smaller)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp ground flax seeds + 1/4 cup water, whisked together and allowed to sit for 10 minutes or more
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 cup bread crumbs
marinara sauce, for serving
marinara sauce, for serving
Salt eggplant and allow to sit for a half hour or more. Rinse and pat dry. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sautee about five minutes. Add garlic and sautee an additional minute. Add eggplant and continue to cook for about an additional fifteen minutes, or until eggplant is soft. Allow to cool. Preheat oven to 375. Add eggplant and remaining ingredients to mixing bowl. Mix well and shape into balls. Coat baking sheet or cast iron skillet with remaining oil, then arrange meatballs and bake for 30-40 minutes, turning several times during baking in order to brown all sides.