About 1 hour, largely unattended
The more I play around with vegetable-based meatballs, the more I like them; certainly they’re not the same as meat meatballs, but the different textures and flavors are terrific. To round out the meal, serve these over pasta, rice, salad, or steamed greens with a squeeze of lemon.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound eggplant, unpeeled, cut into cubes no larger than 1 inch
1 teaspoon salt
1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup cooked or canned white beans
1 ⁄ 4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup breadcrumbs
Pinch red chile flakes (optional)
2 cups any tomato sauce (like this one)
1. Heat the oven to 375°F. use 1 tablespoon olive oil to grease a large rimmed baking sheet. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. when it’s hot, add the eggplant and 1 ⁄ 4 cup water. sprinkle with the salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pieces shrivel a bit and are tender and beginning to color, 10 to 15 minutes. transfer the eggplant to the bowl of a food processor.
2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan along with the onion and garlic and return to the heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until they’re soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the beans; if using canned, rinse them before draining. add the beans and parsley to the work bowl with the eggplant and pulse until well combined and chopped, but not pureed.
3. Toss the eggplant mixture with the onion and garlic, then add the breadcrumbs and red chile flakes if you’re using them. taste and adjust the seasoning. roll the mixture into 12 balls about 2 inches in diameter; transfer them to the prepared pan. bake, undisturbed, until they’re firm and well browned, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, warm the tomato sauce. serve the meatballs hot or at room temperature along with the tomato sauce.
For those who don’t fancy eggplant, or just as a change, substitute 1 pound chopped mushrooms of any kind for the eggplant. in step 1, cook them until the pan is dry and they start to stick a bit, 5 to 10 minutes. then mix, form, and bake as in the original recipe.
Substitute 1 pound chopped cauliflower for the eggplant; core and roughly chop it. in step 1, cook the pieces until the pan is dry and they start to brown a bit, 10 to 15 minutes. then mix, form, and bake as in the original recipe.