Classic Italian “Meatballs”

Classic italian pasta and vegan, plant-rich tofu meatballs

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This is a Variation on a Root Formula, a simplified recipe that shows which ingredients
are core and which can be changed to create different flavor combinations or use what you
have on hand. See our other variations at the bottom of the Root Formula page.

Classic italian pasta and vegan, plant-rich tofu meatballs

Classic Italian "Meatballs"

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 40 mins
Yield: 6 people

Recipe Notes

You can also serve the “meatballs” and sauce in an Italian roll for a delicious sandwich.
We like how Aleppo pepper offers flavor and subtle heat, but if you don’t have it, simply substitute 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes. And if you’re serving these balls to young children, you may want to leave out the pepper altogether.


  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 pound firm tofu, drained, patted dry, & crumbled (no need to weight it)
  • 1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon each: fine salt, Aleppo pepper and fine granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasonings
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra
  • 1 pound spaghetti or your favorite bite-size pasta shape
  • 1 quart Simple Tomato Sauce


  • Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Start by whisking chia seeds and water so they have time to thicken up before you add them. Measure the remaining “meatball” ingredients, including basil, Italian seasonings, and fennel seeds, in a large bowl; whisk thickened chia mixture and add to the bowl. Using hands, mix thoroughly to combine. Divide mixture into approximately twenty-four 2-tablespoon portions, rolling each into a ball.
  • Meanwhile, bring 2 tablespoons of oil in a large (12-inch) oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. When whisps of smoke start to rise from the pan, reduce heat to medium, add the balls and cook until well browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the balls over and continue to cook on the remaining side until well browned, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake until balls are firm, about 25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat Simple Tomato Sauce over low heat in a large saucepan and bring a generous 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt in a large pot. Add pasta and, using package cooking times as a guide, cook until al dente. Drain pasta and add a couple of cups of Simple Tomato Sauce; toss to coat. Top with a portion of “meatballs” and remaining sauce.

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