top of page
  • taspencer

Eggplant Meatballs

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

Meatless Mondays just got an upgrade.

Eggplant meatballs topped with cheese and basil in a metal pan.

I’m always looking for a fun vegetarian spin of a meaty classic, and these eggplant meatballs are my latest find. Rich meaty eggplant is blitzed with breadcrumbs, egg, and Parmigiano Reggiano, scooped into balls, and baked until browned and crisp, then served with a vibrant tomato sauce for a delicious and convincing alternative to the Italian classic. Invite spaghetti to the party and make it a full meal, or keep the sauce on the side for a fun dippable appetizer.

Eggplant meatballs on a wire rack

This is the time to splurge on good cheese. Quality Parmigiano Reggiano is essential to these meatballs, enhancing and balancing the eggplant’s richness with its sharp nuttiness. In a pinch, Grana Padano would also work, though its flavor isn’t quite as strong. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to sub it out with straight up parmesan or (God forbid!) anything sold in a green can. The meatballs just won’t be the same.

For the best meatball texture, don’t overprocess your eggplant. It should be finely chopped, but not broken down to the point of mush. Transferring the chopped eggplant to a bowl to mix in the rest of the ingredients is also key. In testing, I tried to shortcut the process by combining all the meatball ingredients with the eggplant in the food processor, but found that blitzing everything resulted in a gummier texture that was less than desirable. As with the cheese above, this is not the place to cut corners.

Eggplant meatballs on top of spaghetti on a white plate topped with cheese and basil

Whether you’re vegetarian and looking for a new (non-processed) solution to your spaghetti and meatball fix or simply trying to find a way to clear out an overflowing vegetable drawer, these eggplant meatballs are calling your name. Between that rich, tender center, the crispy browned exterior, and that luscious tomato sauce, they’re hard to beat.



Eggplant Meatballs

(Serves 3-4)

Eggplant meatballs topped with cheese and basil in a metal pan.

For the meatballs:

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 large eggplants (about 1 ½ lb.), peeled and cut into 1” cubes

1 ½ tsp. kosher salt

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 large egg

1 cup plain dried bread crumbs

½ cup (1 oz.) grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cooking spray

For the sauce:

1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp. tomato paste

1 tsp. kosher salt

Special equipment: baking sheet, rack


For the eggplant meatballs:

Eggplant on a wooden cutting board with a peeler

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and eggplant; season with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until eggplant is browned and sticking to the bottom of the pan, 5-7 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add 2 tablespoons water, cover, and steam until eggplant is fork-tender, 7-10 minutes more. (If eggplant begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, add 2 more tablespoons water, cover, and continue steaming). Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine cooled eggplant, garlic, egg, dried bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pepper, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Pulse until combined (do not overprocess), then turn out eggplant mixture into another bowl. Freeze for 15 minutes, until cool and slightly stiffer.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large metal baking sheet with a rack and spray rack with cooking spray.

Scoop and roll eggplant mixture into ten balls about ¼ cup (2 oz.) in size. Arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake until crisp and browned, 25-30 minutes. Serve with sauce and more cheese over top.

Tomato sauce in a metal pan

For the sauce:

Empty tomatoes into a large bowl and carefully tear into ½” chunks. Set aside.

In a large pan over medium heat, heat oil. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until paste darkens and begins to stick to bottom of skillet, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices and 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, occasionally mashing down on tomato chunks, until sauce is thickened and reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes.

If not using immediately, let cool, then transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Eggplant meatballs on top of spaghetti on a white plate topped with cheese and basil

Originally posted August 13, 2023.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page