An Accidental Homage to Nonna
My family has lots of favorite foods and beloved dishes, but there are only a few on this earth that will cause some of my family members (well…basically all of them) to get a little crazy and start hoarding them. Grammie’s meatballs? Probably # 1 or #2 on the list of “eat as many as you can and then hoard the rest!” We have beach vacations where my grandmother (Grammie) will make about 75 meatballs or so that last about 1/2 a week…maybe.
But seeing as I can’t have Grammie’s meatballs on a regular basis and that they are actually made out of meat, I wanted to come up with a nice meat-free substitute. Something quick, easy and that’s not going to taste like a “fake meatball.” I began thinking about the many routes to making these veggie meatballs – lentils, grains, beans, soy crumbles – all good options. But none of those really interested me. They just didn’t sound very Italian and I wanted something slightly more authentic.
Instead of beans or lentils, I came up with a recipe (see below) using eggplant as the main ingredient. It required a little tinkering, but in the end I came up with a wonderful recipe and it was definitely blog worthy! Of course I had to call my mom and tell her all about my recipe success. I always have to share my little wins with her as she is really the “master” that taught me all that I know (and she’s probably smiling after reading that). But when I explained to her what was in my “meatballs” she told me that her grandmother used to make the SAME meatballs but called them “polpetti.” Nonna (my great-grandmother) made them out of eggplant, onions, garlic and bread crumbs when money was a little tight and meat was too expensive. Polpetti…who knew?
Somehow knowing that my great-grandmother made these same meatballs, albeit most likely better than mine, made me feel incredibly happy. I also now knew there was no way I could call these eggplant meatballs. I just felt like some of the credit should go to Nonna, so eggplant polpetti it is! I really hope you try these deliciously little eggplant balls. They’re super easy and taste great served with a little tomato sauce and pasta. Buon appetito!
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant, finely diced
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt and pepper
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/4 chopped fresh parsley
- lemon zest, from 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
- 1 cup almond flour
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- In a large saute pan, heat olive over medium heat. Add eggplant, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes if using and saute until beginning to break down, about 7 minutes. Add onion and garlic and continue to cook another 5-7 minutes or until onions are translucent.
- Add in oregano, rosemary, parsley and lemon zest. Stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl beat eggs and parmesan cheese together.
- In a food processor add 1/2 of the eggplant mixture and pulse until is finely chopped – almost into a paste.
- Add the processed eggplant into the egg and cheese mixture. Finally add in the rest of the un-processed eggplant mixture stirring to combine completely.
- Add in the bread crumbs slowly – you may not need all of them. Add the almond flour and stir to combine well. The mixture should be moist but not super wet.
- Form into golf-ball sized portions and roll into meatballs. Place on a greased baking sheet about 1″ apart. This makes about 18-20 meatballs.
- Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes or until tops are golden brown. Serve warm with tomato sauce and a side of whole wheat pasta!