Meatless Monday: Veggie Balls with Spinach-Basil Pesto

Italian, Main Courses, Meatless / Monday, November 19th, 2012

It’s a store policy that, if I fall in love with something at Costco, they pull it off the shelves by my next visit. That’s how it was with their roasted vegetable “meatballs.” One week, I was warming them up with pasta sauce or grabbing a couple as an afternoon snack. The next week, they were gone.

You guys, I would have held a boombox over my head and played “In Your Eyes” under the bedroom window of those veggie balls. I missed them.

Then I found this recipe for Veggie Balls with Spinach-Basil Pesto from “The Meatball Shop Cookbook.” They are delicious – light but filling, with a nice crusty outside and the perfect balance of earthy lentils and intense roasted vegetables, as well as Parmesan, parsley and finely chopped nuts. I won’t lie, making them takes some time, but at the end of the process, you have an abundance of veggie balls. About four dozen. That’s enough to freeze (after baking) or toss out the car window to strangers. 

One more thing, the pesto. After making the veggie balls, I was tempted to chuck the pesto. I really didn’t want to mess up one more pan. I’d hit a mental wall. But, it’s incredibly tasty (like, “I could just eat it with a spoon” tasty), whether you spoon it on top of the veggie balls or toss it with a plain bowl of pasta. Well worth the minimal effort, and that little bit of color does wonders for helping your veggie balls NOT look like horse apples.


Veggie Balls

Adapted from “The Meatball Shop Cookbook” by Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow 

Makes about 4 dozen 1 1/2-inch meatballs

  • 2 cups lentils
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons for greasing baking dishes
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, wiped clean and finely chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
  1. Combine the lentils and 2 quarts water in a medium stockpot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the lentils are soft but not falling apart, about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan, and sauté the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme and salt over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown.
  3. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 more minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. When cool, add the lentils to the vegetable mixture.
  6. Add the eggs, Parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley and walnuts to the cooled vegetables and lentils, and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Divide 4 tablespoons olive oil between two 9-by-13-inch baking dishes, and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface of each. Set aside.
  8. Roll the mixture into round golf ball-size meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches), making sure to pack the vegetable mixture firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dishes, in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. (It’s fine if they slightly touch, but there should be space for air to circulate around each one.)
  9. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving. Serve with Spinach-Basil Pesto (recipe below) and/or your favorite warmed spaghetti sauce.

Spinach-Basil Pesto

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves or arugula
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread out the walnuts on a small rimmed baking sheet, and roast in oven for about 12 minutes, giving them a shake after 6 minutes. Continue roasting until golden brown and toasted. Set aside and allow to cool thoroughly.
  2. Fill a large stockpot three-quarters full with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl halfway with ice and water and set close to the sink.
  3. Dump the spinach and basil into the boiling water and stir. After 1 minute, strain the greens, and plunge them into the bowl with ice water. Drain the greens again, and squeeze them tightly to get as much water out as possible. Chop the greens roughly.
  4. Combine the greens and walnuts with the salt, olive oil and Parmesan in a food processor, and process until a smooth consistency is reached. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired.

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