Put a Plant-Based Spin on Traditional Italian-Style Meatballs

I’ve always been a pasta lover. And when said pasta is smothered with a tangy marinara sauce and meatballs, it’s that much better. Since the switch to vegan living, however, finding just the right combination is challenging. So I set out to create my best plant-based substitute and came away with this recipe for Vegan Italian Meatballs.

Healthy All the Way

As I was planning out the ingredients for this recipe and assembling the shopping list, I decided to go all-in on the healthy aspect by using spaghetti squash as the foundation for my meatballs. Mild in flavor, this roasted winter squash separates in strands that resemble spaghetti noodles and provides just over 40 calories and 10 grams of healthy, complex carbs in a cup.

Tips & Tricks

vegan Italian meatballs

Perfectly roasted spaghetti squash is a great healthy alternative to pasta.

Here’s a trick to make splitting a spaghetti squash in half a tad easier. Begin by poking holes with a long fork or the end of a knife blade in a pattern around the squash where you intend to cut it. Pop that bad boy whole into the microwave for 5 minutes and remove. Let it cool for 15-20 minutes and then proceed to slice it in half. This makes the gourd separate a lot easier than the wrestling match that could ensue otherwise.

Once halved, brush the tops with a tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with garlic seasoning, salt and pepper. Place the halves cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees F for about 45 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly and then use a fork to gently scrape out the stringy flesh. Set this aside (or refrigerate if you’re making this dish as a meal-prep option).

Plant-Based Knockoffs Pass the Test

vegan Italian meatballs

Perfectly paired plant-based Italian meatballs.

For me, the most important guests at this table are the meatballs. They MUST be flavorful, moist and hold together like a real meatball. We can’t have our vegan meatballs falling apart under the weight of the marinara sauce! So I built from a base of chickpeas and selected my favorite Italian-inspired herbs and spices, including fresh basil, oregano, sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper flakes and roasted garlic.

Breadcrumbs are essential, and I chose a gluten-free variety for my needs. Panko breadcrumbs will work well, too, if you don’t have a gluten issue. To hold it all together nicely, I started with a tablespoon of flax seed meal blended with two tablespoons of water – this is a standard substitute for eggs in vegan baking and helps to bind everything together.

Blend, Roll, Sautee and Bake

vegan Italian meatballs

Simple ingredients pulsed together in food processor or blender makes this dish fast and easy.

The rest of the process is as simple as it gets. Add all ingredients except the chickpeas and blend. Next, add one can of chickpeas to the mix and pulse down to a rough texture. At this point, the doughy mixture is ready to be rolled into tablespoon-size balls. Sautee the meatballs in 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to crisp the outer layer. Then bake. That’s it.

Because I’m more food assembly expert than chef, my go-to organic Marinara sauce comes in a jar from Sprouts. If homemade marinara sauce is your jam, then go for it. With a warm pasta bowl filled with spaghetti squash at the ready, I topped it with sautéed chunks of Portobello mushrooms, meatballs, a store-bought organic marinara sauce and fresh basil to finish.

Vegan Italian Meatballs

Vegan Italian meatballs are a great way to lighten the nutritional load of a traditional Italian meal, especially when paired with roasted spaghetti squash.  It’s even an excellent choice for omnivores looking for a Meatless Monday dish that the entire family will enjoy. Pair with a tossed salad and your crusty Italian bread, and mangia.

Vegan Italian Meatballs
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
35 mins

Vegan Italian meatballs are a great way to lighten the nutritional load of a traditional Italian meal.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 12
Calories: 45 kcal
  • 1 tbsp. Flax meal
  • 2 tbsp. Water
  • 4 cloves Roasted garlic
  • 1/3 cup Gluten-free or traditional breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup Vegan parmesan cheese (see below)
  • 1/2 cup Fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup Sun-dried tomatoes (chopped; not packed in oil)
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes (each)
  • 1/2 tsp. Dried oregano
  • 1 15-oz. can Organic chickpeas (drained & rinsed)
Vegan Parmesan Cheese (pulse in blender or food processor until fine)
  • 2 tbsp. Nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup Raw cashews
  • 1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

  2. In a food processor or blender, add flax meal and water. Blend.

  3. Next, add roasted garlic, breadcrumbs, vegan parmesan cheese, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Pulse into rough mixture.

  4. Add chickpeas and pulse until mixture becomes doughy, scraping the down the sides as you go. Be careful not to over-blend, or you’ll have hummus on your hands instead of meatballs.

  5. Use a tablespoon to scoop out mixture and roll into balls. This recipe should yield 12-15 meatballs.

  6. Heat a thin coating of olive oil in frying pan and sauté meatballs until outside is browned. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

  7. Serve with prepared spaghetti squash or conventional pasta – your choice – marinara sauce, sautéed veggies of choice and fresh basil. Enjoy!


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