I accidentally invented the world’s best vegetarian meatballs! Or meatless balls. Or veggie balls. I can’t keep trying to think of alternative names for ‘meatballs’ because eventually anything plus ‘balls’ starts sounding really funny to me, so… whatever you want to call these things, be my guest, so long as you know that they are good. Great. They are great. I invented these while staring at some leftover farro risotto. The risotto is just the right amount of chewy (unlike a bean version which would be tasty but mushy or a soft, crumbly falafel-like version) and it already has the flavor from the wine, stock, onions, celery, cheese (and a bit of pesto).
I don’t recommend making them right off—meaning, cooking the risotto just to make the meatballs—as that will be too much effort for a home-cooked dinner. Wait until you have some leftover farro risotto lying around and then pounce. Or plan two meals ahead of time: farro risotto with pesto one night and spaghetti with vegetarian meatballs the next night.
Ingredients for the veggie meatballs
3 cups farro risotto, cooled*
ground cashew nuts or cashew meal
salt and pepper
flour for rolling
olive oil for frying
For the sauce
a large can of unsalted stewed tomatoes
(or a jar of simple pasta sauce)
1-2 cloves garlic
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper, as needed
*For the risotto
Trader Joes quick cook risotto
big chunk of butter
2 cloves garlic, sliced
splash white wine
vegetable bouillon mixed with water (or veggie stock)
grated cheese (parmesan, romano, cheddar, jack, or a mix of all)
fresh black pepper
splash of cream
1-2 tsp homemade fresh pesto
1) Farro risotto
The night before I invented these amazing veggie balls of deliciousness, I had made the farro risotto for dinner and still had plenty leftover. I don’t have measurements as I didn’t measure anything. If you are used to making risotto, this should be no problem.
Sautee the onion, celery and garlic in plenty of butter until soft and translucent, then add in the farro and stir to coat. Add a good glug of wine and turn up the heat, stirring till the liquid has evaporated. Add a bouillon cube and water (or stock), cover with a lid and cook on medium heat till done. Check and stir frequently, adding more water as needed, until the farro is cooked but still chewy. Then add in grated cheese, black pepper and a splash of cream. Cover and let sit till ready to serve. Just before serving, add a dollop of fresh homemade pesto and mix in thoroughly. The kids ate this very well with their fish sticks and edamame, and my husband and I had our risotto topped with sautéed mushrooms (in butter, garlic, wine and cream) and extra pesto.
2) THE NEXT DAY, in a large bowl, combine 3 cups of leftover farro risotto with 2 eggs, plenty of ground cashew meal (start with 1/3-1/2 a cup and go from there), some panko flakes and fresh black pepper. I didn’t measure the proportion of ground nuts or panko flakes so you will have to go with your gut. You want the veggie balls to hold together very well and still be quite sticky. Keep your hands floured as you work to cope with the stickiness.
3) In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat up enough olive oil for shallow frying and gently lay the veggie balls into the oil. Fry on medium or med-low heat and turn so that each side is golden brown.
4) Drain on paper towel.
5) In another pot, heat up some olive oil and fry 1 or 2 cloves of garlic gently to flavor the oil. Add in the large can of stewed tomatoes or the jar of pasta sauce. Break up the tomatoes if need be. Simmer for 20 minutes or so. Taste the sauce and add seasoning if needed: salt and pepper, basil and a tsp of sugar, or nothing if you are using a prepared pasta sauce already.
8) Add in the veggie balls and simmer gently until the sauce is ready and the veggie balls are tender, about another 10-15 minutes. Be gentle with them! It’s ok if they start to break up a little in the sauce, this makes the sauce and the farro even tastier. It is ready when it has turned a rich, deep red and tastes delicious.
Serve with al dente pasta and grated cheese on top.