Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Food of Love: Spaghetti and Meat(less) Balls

Want to hear a romantic story?

Back when Mr. Wendy and I were simply living in sin, he went on tour with his band for three long, lonely weeks. The day he got back, I made a celebratory dinner of spaghetti and faux meatballs (we're both vegetarian, so the real deal is off the table). We spent the evening being our usual classy selves, eating spaghetti in bed with the TV on. Fully clothed. (Get your minds out of the gutter.)

With the dirty dishes piled on the rumpled bedclothes between us, and a commercial blaring in the background, he told me he had a present for me. But I could only have it if I agreed to marry him ... and he proceeded to pull a ring from his pocket.

Yep. That's how we got engaged. Forget the wine and roses ... we had garlic breath, sweatpants, and the Mattress Giant. But it was still unbearably romantic to me, because it was Mr. Wendy. And he asked me to marry him.


I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

I may never know whether Mr. Wendy married me for my tender heart, my sparkling wit, or my delectable meatballs, but I hedge my bets and make spaghetti often. And in honor of Valentine's Day, which is right around the corner, I'm sharing my recipe for the most romantic spaghetti and faux meatballs in the world. To make the recipe vegan, simply substitute a soy-based "parmesan" for the real deal; everything else is vegan.

Spaghetti and Meatless Balls

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
3 cloves crushed garlic
2 tsps. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
salt to taste


1 tube "Gimme Lean - Sausage Style"*
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
2/3 c. panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c. minced parsley
2 Tbs. ketchup

* Gimme Lean comes in a tube like real breakfast sausage. It is available in the produce, dairy, or "hippie chow" section of many national grocery stores

Preheat oven to 375. Mix all meatball ingredients together in a very large bowl (ideally, use your hands). Spray two mini-muffin pans (or a large cookie sheet) with nonstick spray. Using heaping tablespoons of the mixture, form mixture into 24 small balls (do not compress too much - roll gently). Place the balls in the muffin cups or on the cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

For the sauce, in a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until just fragrant, then add tomato paste. Stirring occasionally to incorporate the oil into the paste, brown the tomato paste for about 5 minutes. Add red wine to the pan and "deglaze" (I use quotes here because I use a nonstick pan, so there's really no deglazing to be done -- but you want the wine to hit the hot pan, sizzle, and be incorporated into the paste). Add remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes. Add salt and possibly a pinch of sugar if necessary to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.

Bring pasta water to boil. When you put the pasta in the water, put the balls in the sauce (to heat through). Serve with additional parmesan.

The sauce recipe makes plenty of sauce for a single box of pasta, with enough left over for a faux meatball sub or two.

Please share the menu for your most romantic meal ... What is your special "food of love"?

Wendy Lyn Watson writes the Mysteries a la Mode. The third in the series, A Parfait Murder, will be available in June, 2011.


  1. Aw, sweat pants and garlic and you said yes? You are a hopeless romantic! Love the vegan recipe. We have lots of readers/fans who are and this will be a delight for them! (For me, I like the real meatballs and of course I have to go with the gluten-free pasta. We all have to make concessions, no?) Enjoy your romance!


  2. Wendy, this post is adorable. I love your wedding pic and your picture of romance reality for most of us - dirty dishes, sweatpants, and all. Sister, can I can relate to that! Finally, I have to applaud your meatless sauce (very nice) and meat(less) balls, esp. getting them to stay together without using eggs as a binder. The muffin pan trick is brilliant. Have a great weekend and...

    Happy Valentine's Day!
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Oh - Avery raising an important point ... gluten-free folks should check the labels of faux meats very carefully, because gluten is a common ingredient.

    And Cleo, I haven't worked with real meat in a long time, but I think the gimme lean stuff is a lot stickier. No binder necessary!

    Wow - "sticky faux meat" doesn't sound appetizing. I swear these are yummy.

  4. What a sweet story, Wendy. Thanks for putting smile on my face this morning. I try to avoid soy (I know, we all have our quirks), but I heard about a meatball recipe that I'm eager to try with your sauce.

    ~ Krista

  5. Awww.... Wendy! I love your post! So romantic. My youngest daughter will be thrilled when I make these. We've all learned to appreciate more vegetarian options because of her and this is a great help! Our most romantic dinner was probably on our honeymoon. We'd gone to Hawaii, but on our way back, we stopped in LA to visit Disneyland. One night in CA, we went to Anthony's Pier ... something. Four, maybe? They found out it was our honeymoon and treated us like royalty. So many wonderful moments that night, but the most fun was at the end when we said we were too full for dessert, but they brought this giant silver bowl - like the kind you put Champagne in - full of ice cream and toppings and brownies and everything. Did we polish it off. Oh yeah!
    Not quite as romantic as your proposal story, but it's one of our favorite honeymoon memories. LOL I think I still carry the extra pounds I gained that night. But my husband still loves me, so it's all good.

  6. Who wouldn't marry you? You are so adorable and I love this recipe. Passing it on to vegan friends and my darling husband will love it. He's halfway to being vegetarian, while I remain a carnivore. This could fool me.


  7. Spaghetti is my go-to-quick meal and I love the use of the muffin-pan for meatballs.

  8. Wendy, I'm going to have to give this a go...I'm honestly wondering if the kids and my husband would even notice that it's vegetarian!

  9. Oh Wendy! This post made me laugh with tears in my eyes. Yep, this is where real romance lives - among the rumpled bedclothes (gutter or not) and dirty dishes. You painted it perfectly.

    These meatballs look good enough for even a confirmed omnivore to try, and I will. And I love the term "hippie chow"!

  10. This is exciting! My daughter went vegetarian 6+ months ago and she's going to LOVE trying these!