Spaghetti and Eggplant "Meatballs"

Spaghetti and Eggplant "Meatballs" recipe
Photo: Chris Simpson
Prep Time:
40 mins
Total Time:
55 mins

Spaghetti and meatballs has multigenerational appeal, even when it goes vegetarian. A blend of eggplant and white beans provides the protein. Cheese, garlic, and oregano are the familiar-flavor agents; breadcrumbs and egg bind them together. A quick trip under the broiler browns the tops and sides, then plunk!—into the gravy they go.


  • 1 large eggplant (1 pound), cut into ½-inch-thick rounds

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  • 1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh oregano

  • 1 cup white beans, such as cannellini (from a 15.5-ounce can), drained and rinsed

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs

  • 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (¼ cup), plus more for serving

  • ¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving

  • Kosher salt

  • 3 ½ cups All-Purpose Tomato Sauce

  • 12 ounces spaghetti


  1. Preheat broiler with a rack about 6 inches from heating element. Arrange eggplant in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until blackened on top, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip and continue broiling until blackened on second side, 3 to 4 minutes more.

  2. Immediately transfer to a bowl with oil, garlic, and oregano, tossing to combine. Cover bowl with a plate or plastic wrap; let steam until eggplant softens and cools slightly, about 5 minutes.

  3. Transfer eggplant mixture to a food processor. Add beans, egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, red-pepper flakes, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Pulse just to a chunky paste, 10 to 12 times (do not overmix). Form mixture into 16 meatballs, each approximately 1 1/4 inches in diameter; transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lightly drizzled with oil.

  4. Drizzle with more oil, shaking sheet until meatballs are lightly and evenly coated. Broil, undisturbed, until browned on top and firm, 5 to 7 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups tomato sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat in a large straight-sided skillet. Gently transfer broiled meatballs to sauce, turning to coat (meatballs are delicate and can fall apart if handled aggressively). Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 10 minutes.

  6. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of generously salted boiling water until al dente, about 2 minutes less than package instructions. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water. Return pasta to pot; stir in remaining 1/2 cup tomato sauce and 1/2 cup pasta water.

  7. Toss in more pasta water as necessary, a little at a time, until sauce evenly clings to noodles. Serve meatballs with sauce over pasta, topped with more cheese and red-pepper flakes, and a drizzle of oil.

Cook's Notes

Bucatini, a spaghetti-like pasta that's thicker and has a hollow core, is also excellent in this recipe.

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