Vegetarian Spaghetti and Quinoa Meatballs

It’s time to dial it back, take it down, bring it in, or engage in any other motion that’s going to get me back on track. March was a whirlwind of travels and the last two weeks were spent too far from home. Though I was around stoves it wasn’t to cook for myself but to teach and share. Which, truth be told, is fabulous because I love to teach and share and learn — it’s such a delicious feedback loop.

Anyway, back to the track at hand: this last week was a whirling dervish of a New York trip as I attended the IACP conference, which included a lot of networking, noshing, and knocking a few (too many) back. (You know you’re exhausted when your voice has gone down an octave and not in a cool, breathy way.)

Well, I’m headed back home — albeit for just 72 hours — and desperately in need of a home-cooked meal to calm me down and charge me up. Enter this meatless spaghetti and “meatballs” dish, made with spaghetti squash and quinoa. I know, all my Italian relatives are slapping me silly from an ocean away. But, really, they shouldn’t knock it ’til they’ve tried it.

This creation came about when I was asked to compete in the new Everyday Health YouTube series, Recipe Rehab. The idea is that a few chefs come together for a friendly competition in order to healthify (yes, I just made that up) classic comfort foods. All the obvious recipes will be covered, including a healthy remake of spaghetti and meatballs. The purist in me wouldn’t dare look past my family’s meatball recipe while the flexitarian in me wanted a way to have my spaghetti and meatballs, hold the meat.

I know, I know, this recipe looks long and you’re turned off, but don’t be. Know that every part can be made up to 4 days ahead of time and you can rewarm and assemble it when you’re ready to eat. Do it a few times and it’ll become second nature. Honest. And, if the spaghetti and meatball match up isn’t for you, take a page from The Small Boston Kitchen folks (who’s recipe first got me thinking of quinoa meatballs) and turn this into a meatless meatball sub.


Vegetarian Spaghetti and Quinoa Meatball Recipe

Be extra careful when opening the squash; true, spaghetti squash are usually easier to open than others, but here’s a tip to make it even easier. And, if you’re still scared, go ahead and boil up some pasta and skip the squash altogether.

  • Makes: 6 servings
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Hands-On Time: 30 minutes


  • For the squash:
  • 2 medium spaghetti squash, (about 5 pounds total) halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper
  • For the sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) container crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons unrefined cane sugar
  • For the vegetarian meatballs:
  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems discarded and caps finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish


  • For the spaghetti squash:

Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange rack in the middle. Drizzle the flesh of the squash with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place squash, cut-side down, on a baking pan and roast until fork-tender, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, make the sauce or meatballs. When squash is cooked, set it aside until cool enough to handle.

Scrape squash with a fork to remove flesh in long strands. Put in a large mixing bowl, cover to keep warm. Keep oven on for the meatballs. (Can be done up to 4 days in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator and rewarm before using.)

Aida Mollenkamp Spaghetti Squash Tip

  • For the sauce:

Place oil in a medium pot over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, stir in the onion, season with salt, and cook until the onion is translucent and lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the wine and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and sugar, stirring to incorporate, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. (Can be done up to 7 days in advance. Store refrigerated until ready to use.)

  • For the quinoa:

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water and a few big pinches of salt to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Stir in the quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until you can see the curlicue in each grain, and it is tender and the water is entirely absorbed, about 15 minutes. If the water is not entirely absorbed, drain any excess.

Remove from heat and turn the quinoa into a mixing bowl. (Can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store refrigerated until ready to use.)

  • For the meatballs:

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and coat with the oil. When oil shimmers, add the onion, salt and pepper, and cook until soft. Stir in the garlic, thyme, and some additional salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook until lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and scrape into the quinoa. Set aside to cool, at least 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, bread crumbs, cheese, and parsley and mix thoroughly. Dampen hands with water and then measure out 1 tablespoon portions and roll into 30 to 32 (1-inch) “meatballs”.

Arrange “meatballs” on a rimmed baking sheet sprayed with oil, and bake until warmed through, about 15 to 20 minutes. (Can be done up to 4 days in advance. Rewarm in a 350°F oven until heated through.)

Vegetarian Quinoa Meatballs Recipe

  • To serve:

Divide spaghetti squash among 6 serving dishes, top each with 5 to 6 meatballs, then serve topped with a ladle of sauce and additional parsley and cheese, as desired.

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