I love Sundays in the fall. I generally spend more time in the kitchen baking or cooking up something than I normally would when the weather is warmer. The sounds and smells of a Sunday afternoon are sort of calming to me…football games, fireplace crackling and the aroma of a delicious meal cooking on the stove. Those are the things that remind of me of my childhood. I remember coming back inside the house after raking and jumping in piles of leaves with my brothers and sister, to the amazing smells of my mom making meatballs and tomato sauce and my dad watching the football game on TV. We always ate dinner together and often times my grandparents were there to join us. I love the fact that certain foods can trigger such powerful memories. It was a much simpler time when I was a child, but my hope is that my children will also have fond memories of Sunday meals and special traditions when they look back.
This eggplant meatball recipe is one of those special meals I love to cook on a Sunday. While my husband and I choose to eat vegetarian, I still cook meat occasionally for my kids. They love traditional meatballs, but this vegetarian version is really quite incredible as well. They are so good, I’m not sure why I waited so long to share them with you!
I’m all about making a recipe as simple as possible, while at the same time getting the most flavor out of it. Similar recipes involve roasting the eggplant in the oven and scooping out the flesh, but I find chopping and sautéing it to be much easier and quicker. And although meat lovers may turn up their noses, I can tell you that the addition of the mushrooms to this recipe delivers a light earthy, umami flavor that won’t leave you missing meat!
I thought using dried porcini mushrooms would be the perfect match for this recipe because a small amount provides a lot of flavor, without too much moisture. Dried mushrooms can be found in any local Italian market, and some supermarkets carry them as well. If you’re not familiar with using dried mushrooms, it’s really quite simple. They just need to be soaked in a bit of hot water to reconstitute them. The broth that is created when soaking is very flavorful and so I used some of it to cook the eggplant.
Once the eggplant is cooked, I add it to a food processor along with the mushrooms, some white beans, parsley and some chopped garlic. The mixture is tossed in a large bowl with breadcrumbs, an egg and some pecorino romano cheese. If you can’t find dried mushrooms, you can substitute any type of mushroom really, but you may have to play around with the amounts you use and therefore the breadcrumb mixture so that you get the correct consistency for forming a meatball.
The meatballs come together nicely and are put onto a baking sheet to bake for about 25 minutes until they are golden and slightly crisped.
You can add the cooked meatballs to your favorite tomato sauce and cover them with some fresh basil and cheese. I serve them along side pasta of course, but they’d be amazing on some Italian style bread or eaten alone. Either way, your next Sunday meal is sure to be a hit with these meatballs!
What Sunday meals were special to you as a child and what type of memories do they bring back? I’d love to know!
- 1 lb (500 g) eggplant (about 1 medium size) skin on chopped into 1 in. pieces
- 1 cup white beans
- 1 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
- 1 clove garlic chopped
- 1 egg beaten
- 10g (.35 oz) dried porcini mushrooms + ½ cup warm water to reconstitute
- reserve ¼ cup porcini mushroom water once reconstituted
- ¼ cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese + more for topping
- cooking spray
- handful fresh parsley and basil
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Place mushrooms in a small bowl with the warm water for about 15 minutes and set aside.
- Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray.
- Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan and sauté the mushrooms with ¼ of the mushroom water.
- Add a dash of salt, pepper and and sauté until golden and tender about 8-10 min.
- Once the eggplant/mushrooms are cooked, transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor along with beans, parsley, garlic and the reconstituted mushrooms.
- Pulse a few times just until ingredients are blended and pieces are very small. *do not over blend.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add egg, breadcrumbs and pecorino romano cheese.
- With your hands or a soft spatula, gently mix all ingredients together.
- Form the mixture into balls slightly smaller than the size of the palm of your hand (yields about 10-12).
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.
- Remove from oven and serve with your favorite tomato sauce or pasta.
- Garnish with basil, extra parsley and cheese.