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 travel and the last two weeks were spent too far from home. 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.
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.
(about 5 pounds total) halved lengthwise and seeded
finely chopped, divided
stems discarded and caps finely chopped
plus more for garnish
plus more for garnish
For the squash: Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange rack in the middle. Drizzle the flesh of the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place squash, cut-side down, on a rimmed baking sheet 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.
Be careful when opening the squash — here’s a tip to make it even easier. The squash can be done up to 4 days in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator and rewarm before using.
For the sauce: Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, stir in half of 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.
Sauce 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.
Quinoa 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 add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When oil shimmers, add the remaining 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.
The meatballs can be made up to 4 days in advance. Rewarm in a 350°F oven until heated through.
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.
Food styling by Aida Mollenkamp // Photography by Christopher Kalima