Recipe: Spaghetti with Lentil "Meatballs" & Fra Diavolo Sauce
I’ve wanted to try making vegetarian meatballs for a long time now, but on the flip side it seemed like one of those “ugh, why bother” things. I’m perfectly satisfied with veggie-loaded pasta and don’t require a couple of savory balls to top it off (that’s what she said).
Finally, I broke down. I wouldn't let the threat of potentially unsavory balls defeat me! I’m a huge fan of lentils, so I thought this recipe would be a great gateway option—and mission accomplished. They were super easy to make, had strong Italian herb flavors and were a really great addition to the typical pasta we do for dinner (for example, this Red Lentil Pasta + Homemade Arrabbiata). Will them make again, for sure. Might even go crazy and do a vegetarian meatball sandwich!
While I love the arrabbiata sauce we’ve made in the past, I decided to mix things up this time and go for a fra diavolo sauce. Honestly, these two sauces are quite similar. According to a blog post via The Enlightened Chef:
"Arrabiata means angry in Italian. The name of the sauce is due to the heat of the chili peppers and is a sauce for pasta made from garlic, ( sometimes onions), tomatoes, and red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. Some versions from the south of Italy contain capers and basil as well. The dish is usually served with penne, or other short pasta, and may have chopped fresh parsley and/or Parmesan Reggiano sprinkled on top."
"Fra Diavolo means Brother Devil in Italian. The name given to a spicy sauce for pasta or seafood. Most versions are tomato-based and use chili peppers for spice, but the term is also used for sauces that include no tomato, or that use cayenne or other forms of pepper. According to some American chefs the spicy sauce is an Italian-American creation and is rarely served in Italy, but having never been to Italy I cannot say for sure."
Either way you shake it, I think the sauces are sort of interchangeable (Ed preferred the arrabbiata we made with the lentil pasta, FYI).
INGREDIENTS - LENTIL BALLS
2 c. cooked lentils
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. fat-free Greek yogurt
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves
2 T. finely chopped parsley
1 T. finely chopped fresh thyme
1 T. dried Italian seasoning
1 c. panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
INGREDIENTS - SAUCE
1/2 c. olive oil
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. crushed red pepper flakes
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 t.s salt
1/2 t. black pepper
4 c. vegetable stock
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsley, roughly chopped
And don't forget your pasta of choice! We went with Ancient Harvest Corn & Quinoa Spaghetti.
STEPS - LENTIL BALLS
1) Cook the lentils and add to a food processor with the garlic when they're done. Pulse until the mixture turns into a paste (you might have to add a splash of olive oil if it's too dry).
2) Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the eggs, Greek yogurt, Parmesan cheese, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir and mix well.
3) Stir in the breadcrumbs and let the mix sit at least for 15 to 20 minutes.
4) Scoop the mixture into balls using a tablespoon. Lightly grease a nonstick skillet and heat over medium flame. Add shaped “meatballs” and cook until lightly brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
STEPS - PASTA & SAUCE
1) Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for about two minutes. Add tomato puree and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Allow this mixture to cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon and breaking up the tomato paste.
2) Add the pasta into the pot, then pour in the vegetable broth. Increase the heat to high and allow the mixture to come to a rapid boil.
3) Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently, until pasta is cooked and the sauce has reduced to just a generous coating; about 14 minutes (you may need to add water if the sauce is too thick).
4) Remove pan from heat and stir in the basil, mint, and parsley. Serve with the lentil balls and top with additional cheese if desired!