I don’t often use ‘fake meat’ on this blog – in fact, I can’t actually remember ever doing it before – but in my ‘real life’ I use it fairly often (don’t tell anyone but the recipes you see on this blog aren’t really that representative of what I actually eat. My everyday meals are far, far more boring – beans on toast anyone?). I love using unprocessed veggie ingredients like lentils or beans, but there is definitely a place in my life for ready-made, fake meat products too. They’re so convenient for sticking in the oven on an evening when I don’t want to cook (i.e.: most evenings), and they make it really easy to replicate standard ‘meaty’ meals. Such as: spaghetti and meatballs. Unlike the (inferior) normal version, this spaghetti and meatballs casserole has the added advantage that it’s baked, which means that along with the usual rich tomato sauce (which is actually made even more rich when baked), you get melty pockets of mozzarella, and as well as the usual soft and slurpy noodles, you get crispy bits on top. It’s like comfort food squared. And if there’s anything that I will happily take more of without question, it’s comfort food.
It’s really easy to hide vegetables inside this casserole, which is good for two reasons. Firstly, it makes you eat more vegetables, which is always a good thing. Secondly, you can completely clear out your fridge and even if you wouldn’t usually use a particular vegetable in a dish like this, it will work. I had a few mushrooms to use up (I know, more mushrooms, but you can skip them in this if your mushroom tolerance has been reached this week) and a carrot that was getting a bit limp, so I stuck them in this and barely even noticed that they were there. It makes me feel very virtuous to know that I’m eating about twelve servings of vegetables in each mouthful. It totally justifies having beans on toast for dinner.
Hiding the vegetables amongst piles of tomatoey spaghetti and pockets of melty mozzarella also means that this recipe would be great for kids – and since it only takes about 20 minutes of preparation, it makes a great weeknight dinner.
For the veggies among you: what’s your opinion on ‘fake meat’ products? Do they ever make an appearance at your dinner table?
- 200g spaghetti (I used wholewheat)
- 1tbsp oil
- 12 vegetarian meatballs
- 1 red onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 carrot, grated
- 100g mushrooms, diced quite small
- 40g black olives, chopped roughly
- 400g tomato sauce (shop-bought or homemade)
- 50ml water
- Black pepper
- 100g fresh mozzarella, diced
- 2tbsp fresh basil, chopped, to serve (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (Gas Mark 5 / 375°F).
- Boil the spaghetti until al dente (it will cook a little further in the oven).
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan, and begin to cook the meatballs - mine were being cooked from frozen, so I cooked them quite slowly over a fairly low heat, but if yours are not frozen, you can cook them a bit more quickly over a slightly higher heat. When the meatballs are browned, add the onion, garlic and grated carrot, and cook for several more minutes before adding the mushrooms. Let everything cook together, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables are soft and the meatballs are thawed (again, they'll cook further in the oven, but you want them to at least not be frozen any more).
- When the pasta is ready, drain it and combine it with the meatball mixture, the chopped olives, and the tomato sauce. If the mixture looks a bit thick, add a dash of water as well (if you used sauce from a jar, use the water to get the last bits from the jar). Season to taste.
- Transfer the mixture to a large baking dish - I placed the meatballs in first to ensure that they were fairly evenly spaced out, then topped them with the remaining pasta and sauce. Dot with the diced mozzarella cheese, and press it in a little (alternatively you could grate the cheese and scatter it over the pasta, but I like the cheese to stay in little melty pockets).
- Bake for around 25 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the edges of the spaghetti are a little crispy. Serve with fresh basil.
Remember, if you don’t like using sauce from a jar, you can always make your own tomato sauce in the slow cooker!