This recipe for Vegetarian Eggplant Parm Meatballs puts a veggie-forward spin on one of Italian cuisine’s most classic couplings. This irresistible version of spaghetti and meatballs pairs al dente spaghetti with “meat” balls made of eggplant, onion, pecorino cheese, and parsley. Tossed with marinara sauce and topped with basil and more pecorino cheese, this dinner is fragrant, comforting, and bound to make anyone an eggplant aficionado.
Keep a close eye on the onion and eggplant, as they can burn easily.
Starchy pasta cooking water will give your sauce a perfect consistency and help it to cling to the noodles. Keep adding it until the sauce is silky—you may need more than you think.
⅛ ounce parsley
¼ ounce basil
1 yellow onion
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons tomato paste
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ cup grated pecorino cheese, divided
⅓ cup flour
6 ounces spaghetti
1 14-oz jar marinara sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
10″ large pot
12″ large nonstick pan
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Rinse all produce. Finely chop parsley leaves, discarding stems. Roughly chop basil leaves, discarding stems. Cut eggplants into ¼-inch dice. Peel onion and mince. Mince garlic.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and eggplant and sauté, stirring frequently, until eggplant is soft and no longer spongy, about 15 minutes (see Recipe Tip). Add tomato paste and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper and transfer to a large bowl.
Add breadcrumbs, parsley, all but 1 tablespoon pecorino, and 1 egg to bowl with eggplant. Season with ⅛ teaspoon salt and pepper as desired. Using your hands, mix well and roll tightly into 10 equal balls about 1½-inches in diameter. Add flour to a small plate and season with ⅛ teaspoon salt and pepper as desired. Roll eggplant meatballs in flour to fully coat.
Wipe pan from eggplant and onion clean and add 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add eggplant meatballs, shaking off excess flour, and brown on all sides, flipping occasionally, 6-8 minutes total. Once browned, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
While eggplant meatballs brown, generously season boiling water with salt. Stir in spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve ½ cup pasta cooking water, then drain and set aside.
Wipe pan from eggplant clean and add marinara sauce over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then add cooked spaghetti. Stir in reserved pasta cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until sauce thickens (see Recipe Tip). Add eggplant meatballs to pan, turning to coat.
Divide spaghetti and eggplant meatballs between 2 plates. Garnish with basil and remaining pecorino.