spaghetti & meatballs with a vegan (and gluten free!) twist: zucchini spaghetti and beanballs with fresh marinara + vegan ‘parmesan’ cheese

zucchini spaghetti and vegan beanballs

I came home the other week with a book called “Raw Food Detox Diet,” and I’d be lying if I said that James didn’t look just a wee bit petrified.

No, I am not on some fad diet (nor do I think the raw ‘movement’ is a fad, but I digress), but you may have noticed I’ve again been slightly scarce around here lately, and that’s because now that we are settled in to our new-ish house and hometown, we’ve been up to our usual hijinx of visitors, entertaining, eating, and drinking. We had visitors staying with us for a solid 4 weeks straight (not all the same ones, mind you), and when people arrive to your new spot the last thing you want to do is go to bed early and eat salad.

No. You’ll want to go wine tasting, and while we’re at it — toss in a cheese plate. You’ll have a hankering to make baby back ribs (3 separate times!), throw marinated flank steak, spatchcocked chicken, and lamb burgers on the grill, and whip up a ‘vodka bolognese’ (with beef and pancetta) as a birthday dinner for a dear friend. There will also be cake at said birthday dinner, and a morning spent mixing up fresh bloodies to enjoy poolside. There will be a lot of indulgences, and not much restraint. The Diem will be Carpe’d, every single day, to the absolute very fullest extent.

So after lots of meat, cheese, wine, beer, and bread (because I failed to mention the brick oven pizza place down the road we’ve been hitting up on the reg), I was left feeling a bit bleh. I, by all natural inclination, am not a huge meat eater, and after feeling like I consumed more animal products in a month than I have in some entire seasons passed, I began to feel a bit queasy.


So lately, things here have been vegan. That’s right….vegan. For those of you aren’t exactly sure what that means, it means no animal products whatsoever. No meat, cheese, dairy, eggs, honey….you get the idea. Before you go running off into the depths of the internets never to come back here again….I promise it is not as spartan as it sounds. After a full week-plus I’ve got James enthusiastically on the band wagon, and I can tell you that I feel fantastic. The tide hasn’t turned over here permanently or anything – I by no means am making a statement that we are never eating brie or pork belly EVERY AGAIN….however right now, and perhaps for a little bit, it’s feeling really good to dial things back a little and get creative with grains, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and fresh fruits. (And I haven’t even gotten into how much cheaper your grocery bill will be.) Like this zucchini dish – the first (and ONLY!) ‘spaghetti’ dish that I have ever gone back for seconds and thirds of and not fallen into a carb coma, and ‘beanballs’ that are lighter, brighter, and a whole lot healthier than those made from beef.

Instead of noodles, we’ve got ‘zoodles’ – spiralized strands of zucchini which give the effect of an al dente pasta, but with zero carbs or gluten. A super simple fresh and light tomato sauce drapes over the top of it all, and vegan parmesan cheese – whizzed up walnuts with nutritional yeast flakes – might just be my new favorite condiment. Nutritional yeast, if you aren’t familiar with it, is somewhat of a 70’s hippie food – flakes of yeast that add a cheesy and nutty flavor to whatever you sprinkle them on. Mixing them up with walnuts gives an awesome texture reminiscent of hard parmesan cheese, and though this recipe makes more than you’ll need, I bet you find yourself putting it on everything.

So here we are. The start of a few vegan recipes that I promise do not scream ‘health food!‘ or ‘deprivation!’ and won’t leave you wanting for more. Mostly vegan.  Not forever, but for now.

Zucchini Spaghetti and Beanballs with Vegan “Parmesan”
Serves 2 – 3 with lots of leftovers

You’ll have a lot of extra ‘parm,’ but that’s OK – it is so SO good sprinkled on almost anything (steamed veggies, roasted potatoes, salad….errything.) You’ll also have a lot of beanballs leftover but they are great tucked into a sandwich the following day.

I highly recommend buying a spiralizer if you have the budget and room in your kitchen cabinets – they run about $40 and you can pick one up here.

This looks like a project but it is really simple. Honestly the entire thing comes together in about 45 minutes, and that’s more than I can say for a real Sunday sauce with heavy beef-meatballs.

You can find nutritional yeast in a well stocked grocery store (Whole foods and Fresh Market both carry it) as well as at heath stores and on Amazon.

vegan parm
1 cup raw walnuts
1/3 cup nutritional yeast

zucchini spaghetti
4 fresh zucchini
coconut oil

3/4 cup raw walnuts
3/4 cup rolled oats
2 carrots, peeled
handful of fresh parsley, stems and leaves chopped
small handful fresh oregano leaves (the leaves off of 3-4 stems of oregano)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 15oz can kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons ground flax + 3 tbsp water, mixed (this is your egg substitute)
2 tsp kosher salt + more to taste
fresh ground pepper
olive oil

fresh marinara
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes (I like San Marzano)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
coconut oil
fresh basil, for serving

First, start your sauce. Put a bit of coconut oil in a saucepan and heat over medium heat till melted and the pot is hot, then add your minced onion. Fry the onion till it is just translucent, 3-4 minutes, but is not browned. Add your tomato paste, and cook, stirring frequently, for another minute. Add in your tomatoes and their juices, a good pinch of salt and black pepper, and give the sauce a good stir. Let the sauce just come to a boil, and then turn it down and let it simmer and become flavorful while you make the rest of the meal. Taste and adjust salt levels if necessary.

Next, make your beanballs. Preheat your oven to 350, and cover a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly grease the tinfoil with the olive oil. In the bowl of a food processor, whiz the walnuts till they are finely chopped, and add them to a large bowl. Add the oats to the processor, and grind them into a flour like consistency. Add the ground oats to the bowl with the walnuts. Shred the carrots using your food processors shredding attachment, or use a box grater, and toss them into that same large bowl along with the chopped parsley, fresh oregano leaves, minced garlic, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add your kidney beans to the food processor, and pulse them until they are a coarse paste, but not completely pureed smooth (you should still see some red skins and pieces of bean). Add the processed beans to the bowl with your other ingredients. Stir the ground flax in a mug with the water, and let it sit for 30 seconds or so, just to thicken up. This is your ‘flax egg’ and is a staple in vegan cooking – it acts as an egg and will help your balls bind up and stick. Add the flax egg into the bowl, and stir the beanball mixture together really well, until it is evenly mixed. Taste a tiny bit, and add more salt and fresh ground pepper as you see fit.

Portion the beanballs out into balls the size of golf balls (you should get 14-18 balls depending on your size), and put them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake them in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes.

While the balls cook, make your “parm.’ Rinse out your processor bowl, and add the raw walnuts and nutritional yeast, along with a pinch of salt. Pulse the mixture until it looks like grated parmesan cheese. That’s it! Keep it in a bowl to the side.

After 20 minutes, gently turn your balls over and put them back in the oven (don’t forget to set your timer!) for another 15-20 minutes. While they finish cooking, it’s time to make the ‘zoodles.’ Using a spiralizer (or even using a vegetable peeler by hand), spiralize your zucchini into noodles.

When the beanballs are done (they should hold together well and be firm), remove them from the oven and hold to the side. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil. When the oil is melted, add the zucchini noodles and a pinch of salt, and toss. Cook the noodles, tossing gently, just till they lose their raw bite but are still ‘al dente’ (do NOT let them get mushy….gross!).

To serve, mound a pile of zoodles on your plate, and top with 4 or so beanballs. Ladle the sauce over the top, and dust generously with your ‘parm’ and lots of fresh basil. Dig in (guilt free!) and enjoy!!!


21 responses to “spaghetti & meatballs with a vegan (and gluten free!) twist: zucchini spaghetti and beanballs with fresh marinara + vegan ‘parmesan’ cheese

  1. Love your story! Your recipe sounds great and looks delicious! One thing I have tried and loved is taco “meat” made from ground walnuts and seasoning!

  2. I often make burgers with beans but beanballs sounds like a delicious idea….

  3. great recipe! I love a good Italian spaghetti

  4. I just got a spiralizer so I will certainly be trying this soon!

  5. Love using my spiral slicer for zucchini noodles! One of my fave dinners!

  6. Pingback: spaghetti & meatballs with a vegan (and gluten free!) twist: zucchini spaghetti and beanballs with fresh marinara + vegan 'parmesan' cheese

  7. That looks amazing, well done trying out vegan life! I’m a meat/fish lover til the end I’m afraid. As soon as I tell myself I can’t have it I start craving steak…

  8. It’s great you’ve become mostly vegan! (for now) This is something I’m looking forward to making! I love vegan cooking!

  9. Thank you for the inspiration. I love when a recipe post gives me the inspiration for more recipe posts. I’m feeling a pesto and bean ball extravaganza. I’ll be sure to link back to you. Having to cook for visitors is always stressful for me because not everyone eats like I do and then I wonder why I would feed my guests the average American diet (high fat, high carb, high meat) when I preach against it. It’s a conundrum.

  10. your recipe looks amazing and I plan on trying it soon.

  11. This looks and sounds amazing, especially the beanballs! I love zucchini (or courgette as we call then in the UK!) noodles but since I don’t have a spiralizer, I slice them into ribbons with a veg peeler – it still works wonderfully as a quick cheat option 🙂

  12. It’s such a good idea making vegan alternatives. I’m gluten intolerant and trying to cut out meat and dairy for digestion reasons so it’s inspiring to come across delicious recipes. I’ve tried a few gluten free and vegan ones myself on my blog (if you ever have a chance to click on it). Keep up the good work and yummy food! Here’s mine:

  13. I will be the first to say that I am a carnivore. I love meat. However recently I have been trying to venture out and try new things. You never know that you won’t enjoy it till you try it! Your recipe looks amazing and I can not wait to try it out! I love food more than most things in life so thank you for this awesome recipe to try.

  14. alliechandler

    This looks amazing! I just did a post about how much I love my spiralizer.

    I can’t wait to try this!


  15. Inspirational and interesting post …love the concept 🙂

  16. Pingback: best ever beet burgers with goat cheese spread (aka best veggie burgers, ever! ) | E A T & R E L I S H

  17. This looks like a wonderful recipe to try when my lovely vegetarian neighbors come over for dinner! I will play with substituting the oats for possibly another nut flour mixture as I cook mostly grain-free. Thanks for sharing!

  18. ryanlinnbrown

    I absolutely adore zoodles! Looking forward to trying this recipe…a little vegan pesto is also DELICIOUS to add to your zoodles 🙂

  19. Pingback: best ever beet burgers with goat cheese spread (aka best veggie burgers, ever! ) | the amused bouche

  20. Wow this looks great! Me and my partner made bolognaise last night, we couldn’t think of a substitute for spaghetti! This is great thank you!

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