One of A's favorite cuisines is Italian. When we were newly married, I had to listen to him everyday in India of the promised sights and eats of Amreeka ;) And he kept mentioning Pasta. While I'd eaten pasta before, I wasn't a huge fan of the blandness or the cheesiness of Italian cuisine. Apart from pizza, of course, properly done with Amul Cheese back in Pizza Hut :D
The first time we went out, we went to Olive Garden, a chain Italian restaurant in the US. While this visit gave me an inkling of what fairly okay Italian cuisine was and the innumerable pastas and the sauces, it also showed me a preview of my life with A. A turned from a respectable married man to a hungry grad student (who starves himself because he is eating out that night, though A didn't really starve that day!) He gorged on the free breadsticks (which are really good, and a tad salty for me) and the salad. I struggled with the salad initially, though now I love it. He ordered his most favorite pasta of all. Fettucine with Alfredo sauce. While I gagged at the cheesiness of it, I quite enjoyed my spicy tomato sauce based pasta. However, after every such meal at any Italian restaurant, A had one misgiving. That he could not find vegetarian 'meatballs' because he loved the idea of a tomato sauce with meatballs and spaghetti. Over time, I've realized that my favorite kind of pasta is the Spaghetti family - the fettucine, the linguine, and the spaghetti itself, but of course :)
So, we tried to make these faux meatballs in the past. When I say faux, I don't mean we used TVP or something like that to get the meaty texture. The texture wasn't really what we were looking for. We looked for solid cutlets/or dumplings with veggies in them. The first time we tried it, we used just tofu-crumbled, and bread crumbs and some olive oil to bind them. While it tasted great, it wasn't firm enough. The next time around, we tried adding a beaten egg to the dumpling mixture. It turned out okay, nothing spectacular. We still wanted to achieve something without eggs. In the true Indian essence of vegetarian :)
This time around, in fact, just last night, I decided to surprise A with a Spaghetti-meatballs. I forgot about our previous attempts and went ahead and made my dumplings my way. Crumbled tofu, some chopped spinach, bread crumbs, some olives and olive oil. I was surprised it just took just about 10-15 mins for me to make these dumplings. I baked them instead of deep-frying them and they worked out fine, in my opinion. A wanted them to be a little firmer, and since I baked them, they also flattened them a wee bit. And A felt that they weren't rounder. Fair enough :) There's always the next time. I don't think I wanted to give up on baking them.
This is how I made them.
For the 'meatballs'
Half a block of extra firm tofu
A handful of spinach leaves- chopped
A fistful of olives - finely chopped
1-2 tsp dried oregano
Bread crumbs - 1/4 cup
Olive oil - 1-2 tbsp
For the tomato sauce
1-2 tomatoes, roughly chopped or a can of crushed tomatoes. We preferred the fresh ones.
1/2 an onion chopped
1 tbsp of butter
1-2 tbsp of chopped garlic
1-2 tsp dried basil ( Use fresh basil if you have them!)
2 cups of Tomato sauce ( we used a 16 oz. can)
For the pasta
Follow instructions on package and prepare the spaghetti accordingly.
1. Mix all the ingredients in the 'meatballs' list and form into balls. If you find them breaking off or not binding well enough to stay, feel free to add some more breadcrumbs.
2. Roll these 'meatballs' in bread crumbs and arrange on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. I added a drop on each dumpling.
3. Bake for 20-25 mins and broil for a minute or so. It could even take 30 mins. Bake for 10-15 mins on each side. Then turn the balls over very delicately and drizzle another drop of olive oil. Once they are done, switch off the oven and then let them be. Don't touch them. They will get a little firmer as they are when they cool down.
4. For the sauce, add 1/2 tbsp butter onto the sauce pan, fry the garlic and the onion. Once they are cooked, add the chopped fresh tomatoes and salt and chilli powder. Let the tomatoes cook down. Then add the sauce, the herb -basil and the other 1/2 tbsp butter and let them cook for a good 30-40 mins.
I usually start the sauce first and then move on to doing the 'meatballs.' The sauce tastes best the next day. So, you could make the tomato sauce the previous day and use it for the dish the next day. The same goes for the 'meatballs' as well, though you can't resist eating some :D on their own.
When the pasta is ready and the sauce is bubbling, add the 'meatballs' before you eat them up and let it be for a good 10 mins. Now, its time!
While the pictures shows you a very delicate bowl with pasta and sauce with 'meatballs' on top and cheese on them. We savagely mixed everything up (okay, make that delicate thanks to the meatballs) and ate it up quick!
The reason why the 'meatballs' ingredients are not exact measurements are because of two reasons. One, that it is totally upto you. You want more spinach - go ahead and add them. Or any other veggies for that matter. I'm planning to add onion and carrot the next time around. Also, I didn't really take care to 'dry-squeeze' any of my 'meatball' ingredients. I should have. I chopped the tofu into long thin strips and went crazy with the knife, hacking them left, right and center :D, chopped the spinach after washing them and my olives came from a can, so just chopped them after draining them. Either way, I didn't spread them on a paper towel and dry them. Maybe that is another reason why they weren't 'rounded' and weren't as firm.
Second reason why those ingredients are not exactly measured is because :D I forgot about the food blog. Its been so long and after the India trip, its easy to just throw things together and hope it turns out the way your mom or your mom-in-law makes it since the measurements are the same!
This worked out quite wonderfully, though I'd avoid the olives next time. I don't like olives. I made this huge sacrifice (sacrifice no. n+1 :D) for the sake of surprising A. He, of course, came and gave his expert, unasked for, unsolicited opinion and advice about these dumplings.
You know, my father-in-law told me once that it was better to be like him - he does not know how to boil water, than to be like A. He told me, when you marry men who know to cook and enjoy it, your food is always an object of an all-knowing critic's opinion. While I laughed it off that time, thanking God that my husband could cook, I sometimes think he's right. But then, what is the fun of living with A if he praises me all the time. Considering :D I never even think of praising him!
We are planning to grow some herbs and some veggies this summer. Ours is a small patio and we can only keep pots. Any advice and all recommendations are more than welcome. Not all of you are A, after all ;)