This is my second post ever about meatballs. And like the first one, it really isn’t about meatballs. This time, it doesn’t even involve meat.
This post does include a delicious recipe that I have been meaning to share for a long time, but it’s more about friends and family and remembering and gathering. It is a loving shout-out to my Aunt Judith, who we honored last weekend. Judith was one of the most colorful people on the planet, quite literally. You’d be hard pressed to find any picture of her dressed in earth tones. It was her colorful personality, however, that shone through: the conspiratorial belly laugh that, together with the twinkling eyes, invited you into the underlying mischief of the moment. As my mother’s younger sister, she took it as her duty to show us that it was ok—even preferable—to color outside the lines.
Judith would have appreciated the happy gathering orchestrated by her daughter, the fabulous Pamina, resplendent in chartreuse and fire-engine red. The tribe came together, decked out in a full spectrum of colors on a brilliant November day, where the strangely persistent yellow foliage boldly defied the bleakness of stick season; and where Cousin Danielle’s Rolling Stones tribute cheerfully defied church convention. It was perfect.
In addition to the colors, laughter, music and stories, it also seems fitting to remember Judith with food, of which she was a fan. Some of her favorite dishes were comfort food classics, like Italian fare and meatloaf. She also strove towards healthy eating, though the striving and the reality didn’t always match. These meatless meatballs seem like a fitting compromise between her desires and her aspirations.
They are mushroom-based and, like Judith, can accommodate all guests. As written, they include eggs and a small amount of cheese, but for Vegans making the appropriate substitutions is child’s play. These also involve some planning to accommodate chill time, forming and baking, but once you’ve done the drill they are quite easy. Crank up “That’s Amore” and get into it. They are delicious, which is all that really matters.
The only real downside is that color—Judith’s hallmark—is not well-represented here. Aside from that, these have everything you need for a tasty meal, and with enough sauce you’ve got color too. So, here’s to you Aunt Judith. You got us all together once more, in full color, and we love you to la luna and back.
Chef John’s Meatless Meatballs (of Internet fame)
- 1 Tbs. Olive Oil
- 1 lb. fresh white mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 pinch, and 1 tsp. pink salt
- 1 Tbs. Butter
- ½ C. finely chopped onion
- 4 cloves, garlic, minced
- ½ C. quick-cooking oats
- 1 oz. very finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
- ½ C. Breadcrumbs
- ¼ C. Flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped, packed
- 2 Eggs, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 pinch dried oregano
- 3 C. Pasta Sauce
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped flat-leaf Italian Parsley
- 1 Tbs. very finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms to the hot oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook and stir until liquid from mushrooms has evaporated. Stir butter into mushrooms, reduce heat to medium, and cook and stir mushrooms until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Stir onion into mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir garlic into mushroom mixture until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl.
Mix oats into mushroom mixture until thoroughly combined. Gently stir 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into the mixture. Add breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup parsley, and 1 egg, season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and oregano. Mix with a fork until crumbly. Stir in the remaining 1 egg. The mixture should hold together when pressed.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. For best flavor and texture, refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Form mixture into small meatballs using a 2-tablespoon scoop. Roll meatballs lightly between your hands until smooth, if desired; arrange meatballs on a prepared baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven until meatballs are lightly golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
Bring pasta sauce to a boil in a large saucepan; reduce heat to low. Gently stir meatballs into sauce until coated. Simmer meatballs in the sauce until cooked through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with 1 tablespoon Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and 1 tablespoon parsley.