Spaghetti and My Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls

Ingredients (12)

  • 1 cup almonds* or *walnuts, toasted
2 cloves garlic

  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

  • Black pepper

  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs

  • 2 large eggs

  • 28 ounces (about 3 cups) marinara sauce of your choice
Flavorless oil, for frying
8 ounces spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley* or *basil, for serving

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Spaghetti and My Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls

This cheeky take on vegetarian spaghetti is from Molly Yeh’s cookbook, Molly on the Range:

During my second year of college, I dated a vaguely macho Philly-based vegetarian who survived almost entirely on cheese and beer and Rita’s “wuhter ice”. We had met at a summer orchestra festival at the University of Maryland and bonded over spiking our slushies before rehearsals and eating cheese sandwiches from the hippie food co-op in the basement of the student union. When we returned to our respective cities at the end of the summer we did the duty of schlepping back and forth via BoltBus in the name of Young Love. (Which is a terrible idea because Philadelphia and New York are jusssst close enough that you think you can get away with a quick 12-hour round trip, but in practice that requires more sleep deprivation than is acceptable for a day of long rehearsals.) On my weekends in Philadelphia we’d usually play xylophone excerpts for each other, as he was always preparing for the next big orchestra audition, and I was still dabbling with the idea of taking some auditions. Then we’d venture off to Monk’s for a beer bought with Stoopie’s old ID, and a bucket of Belgian french fries. They were nice little adventures away from the City, because compared to New York, even just going to Philly felt rejuvenating and relaxing. But the best weekends were when we’d unwind at his parents’ house in the suburbs, which brought about the two main components of his legacy that remain in my life today: his dad’s wondrous latkes (see page 204) and his mom’s meatless meatballs.

This guy was a real curious type of vegetarian in that you’d rarely catch him eating fake meat or beans or vegetables, but his mom’s fake meatballs were the absolute 
tits and everyone knew it. They were dense and flavorful and so perfect that if they 
had been invented before actual meatballs, you’d think that actual meatballs were trying to impersonate them. Typically they were served at parties in red sauce with toothpicks as an appetizer, but I probably made a meal out of them on more than 
one occasion.
In the years after our breakup, my desire to relive these balls eventually transcended any negative ex-y feelings and made the awkward Facebook conversation to acquire the recipe 100 percent worth it. There was no beating around the bush with formalities, I just dove into the trenches of ex-boyfriend territory, went for the meat, so to speak, and came back with this here recipe for you.

This version has been tweaked slightly from the original and includes my favorite way to turn the balls into a meal (with soft white spaghetti). But try stuffing them into a hoagie or putting them out in a slow cooker for a party, and see how many people can catch that they’re meatless.

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Molly on the Range

by Molly Yeh

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  • What to buy

    Bialetti Pasta Pot with Strainer Lid, $34.99 on Amazon

    No matter what kind of pasta you make, a pot with a built-in strainer makes draining it easy. It's handy for boiling potatoes and other veggies too.

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Tips for Eggs and Meatballs


  1. 1In a food processor, combine the nuts and garlic and pulse to a coarse crumb. Add the parsley, salt, a few turns of pepper, Parmesan, and breadcrumbs and pulse to combine. Add the eggs and process until the mixture holds together in a ball. It may still look crumbly, but it should hold together when you squeeze it.
  2. 2Roll 1½ tablespoon-size balls, packing them just firmly enough so that they hold together but not too firmly because otherwise they’ll be tough. Place them on a plate or sheet of parchment paper.

  3. 3Warm the marinara sauce in a large saucepan over medium heat.

  4. 4In a skillet, heat ¼ inch of oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the balls, turning them, until they’re golden brown on all sides. (Alternatively, you can deep-fry the suckers if that’s what you’re into.)

  5. 5Transfer the balls to the tomato sauce and enjoy over spaghetti, topped with additional cheese and chopped fresh parsley or basil.
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