'Meatballs' in Tomato Sauce

'Meatballs' in Tomato Sauce

Here's a vegetarian adaptation of my Italian mother-in-law's recipe for meatballs in tomato sauce. Meaty mushrooms replace the ground beef and sausages, and a creamy risotto helps hold the nuggets together. To achieve a crisp crust without deep-frying, I brown the nuggets on one side in a skillet, turn them over onto a baking sheet and finish cooking in a hot oven. Serve over pasta, such as long fusilli.

  • 8Servings


  • 4 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled Italian-style tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 8 medium cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 3/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 2/3 cups vegetable broth
  • 3/4 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 lb. cremini or baby bella mushrooms, quartered if large
  • 4 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (slightly more than 1 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper


Make tomato sauce: Pass tomatoes through a food mill into large bowl. (Alternatively, place tomatoes in large bowl; mash with a potato masher.)

In Dutch oven or large pot, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add oregano and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Stir in crushed tomatoes and sugar and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in large saucepan, bring broth to a simmer over high heat. Add rice, reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir almost constantly during last 5 minutes of cooking. Transfer to large bowl.

In food processor, pulse mushrooms in batches until finely chopped.

In large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until tender and most of liquid has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Add to bowl with rice; let cool.

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.

Add egg, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper to cooled rice mixture and mix well. Form mixture into about 24 oval-shaped nuggets, each about 2 by 1 1/2 inches.

In clean large nonstick skillet, heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat; tilt to coat bottom. Add half the nuggets and cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn nuggets over onto prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining nuggets. Bake until nuggets are browned and firm, 15 to 20 minutes. Put 3 nuggets on each plate, spoon sauce on top and serve hot.

Nutrition Information

  • Calories: 342
  • Carbohydrate Content: 55 g
  • Cholesterol Content: 30 mg
  • Fat Content: 7 g
  • Fiber Content: 5 g
  • Protein Content: 12 g
  • Saturated Fat Content: 1 g
  • Sodium Content: 980 mg