Meat(less) classics

From ricotta meatballs to stuffed bell peppers, plant-based meats make a delicious alternative
Meat(less)balls get added texture from a mushroom duxelles. Photo: susan dyer Reynolds

It’s no secret that reducing your intake of red meat is better for your health. I spent four years as a vegetarian a decade ago, and I’m heading more in that direction again. With the influx of high-quality plant-based meat substitutes, it’s easier than ever to satisfy your taste buds, so lately I’ve been recreating some of my favorite family recipes with Beyond Meat “ground beef.” To be clear, I prefer the product of their competitor Impossible Foods, because it resembles meat more closely in texture and flavor (you can even cook their burgers medium rare because the plant heme “bleeds”), but it’s not available in markets yet. Still, Beyond Meat is much better than any other beef substitute I’ve tried.


To make my Grandpa Lorenzo’s ricotta meatballs even meatier, I add mushroom duxelles (recipe follows), but you can also use finely chopped mushrooms. I prefer portobello or shiitake for their meaty texture and earthy flavor. If you’re not a fan of meatless meat, just double the mushrooms or make them with grilled eggplant (the meaty texture and smokiness also makes for great meatballs). You’ll find my recipe for eggplant meatballs below. I also make delicious stuffed bell peppers with Beyond Meat or Beyond Sausage. Again, mushrooms or eggplant also work well. Just use a classic stuffed bell pepper recipe (like the one I’ve provided below) and substitute the meat for a plant-based alternative or vegetables.


When you’re making a meatless version of a classic recipe, a great sauce is key and homemade is best. Grandpa Lorenzo served his meatballs with a quick-and-easy marinara sauce, using fresh tomatoes when in season and canned San Marzano tomatoes when not. Non-Italians often think a red sauce must cook for hours, but that’s only true with Sunday gravy. Grandpa Lorenzo’s Easy Marinara Sauce is perfect for a quick weeknight meal, and it’s my go-to red sauce for a wide array of dishes (I’ve included the recipe below). During the summer when our homegrown tomatoes are plump, ripe, and plentiful, I like canning them for future use. I also make extra marinara sauce to keep in the freezer for up to a month.

If you don’t want to make meat(less) balls, simply sauté chopped veggies or crumble up the Beyond ground meat, brown it in a skillet with some olive oil, and add it to the marinara sauce for a meatless Bolognese. I served Beyond Meat Bolognese to an unabashed carnivore who said he couldn’t tell the difference, and to a vegetarian friend who declared it was the closest thing to meat she could remember (granted, it’s been several decades since she had it). For vegan versions of these classic dishes, substitute the dairy and eggs for vegan alternatives.


2 pounds Beyond Meat ground “beef”

mushroom duxelles (recipe follows)

1 cup fresh spinach, cooked, pressed 

dry, and chopped

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

2 large eggs

1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

¼ cup fresh Italian (flat leaf), chopped

2 teaspoons dried Italian oregano

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, preferably

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon ground fennel

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put ground “meat,” duxelles (recipe follows), cooked spinach, ricotta, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes, and fennel in a large bowl. 

Drizzle olive oil into a 9–by–13-inch baking dish and use your hands to evenly coat entire surface. Leave olive oil on your hands, and gently mix together the meatball mixture until fully incorporated. The meatballs should be firmly packed, but don’t overwork the mixture or they will become tough. Roll into balls, about 1½ to 2 inches in diameter (I use a cookie scoop). Place meatballs in oiled baking dish so they are tucked closely together. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup finely chopped shallot or onion

1 garlic clove, minced 

1 pound shiitake or portobello mush-
rooms, pulsed in a food processor or
very finely chopped

½ teaspoon coarse salt

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely

⅛ teaspoon coarse salt

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot (or onion) and garlic; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and salt; cook, stirring, until mushrooms have softened and released their liquid, about 7 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high; cook until liquid has evaporated, 4-5 minutes. Stir in parsley, a pinch more salt to taste, and the pepper. Let cool completely.


4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup onion, minced

1 large carrot, finely chopped

3 large whole garlic cloves, minced

1 28-ounce can San Marzano crushed 


1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomato 


¼ teaspoon dried Italian oregano

2 bay leaves

¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt

3 large fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 tablespoos sfresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, stirring for one minute to release oils. Add the tomatoes and purée, oregano, bay leaves, and salt. Simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. If sauce looks too thick, add a little pasta water. Turn off heat, remove bay leaves, and stir in basil and parsley. 

Transfer to a large sauté pan and toss with cooked pasta and warm meat(less)balls over low heat until well incorporated, adding a little of the pasta water to loosen sauce. Transfer to pasta bowls and garnish with parsley. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper.


1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 slices stale bread, crust removed

1 cup whole milk

2 eggs

1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese

½ cup plain breadcrumbs

½ cup flour, plus extra for dredging

A few pinches of salt

Heat marinara sauce in a large skillet and keep warm. In a large pot, boil salted water to cook pasta per package directions (if serving). In another large skillet, sauté the peeled, chopped eggplant in olive oil until moisture is removed and it begins to brown. Remove to a baking sheet lined with paper towels; drain well and let cool completely. Using a kitchen towel, squeeze excess moisture from the eggplant. 

In a bowl, add the bread and milk and allow the bread to absorb the milk (about 4 minutes). Squeeze out as much of the milk from the bread as possible, tear into small pieces, and wrap in the towel with eggplant. 

Wipe the bowl dry and add the eggplant, bread, eggs, cheese, and a pinch of salt; mix with your hands. Incorporate the breadcrumbs and flour. (If the mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs.) Mix well until all the ingredients are combined. 

Shape into 2-inch balls (about golf ball sized) and dredge in flour. Add the eggplant balls to the sauce and allow to cook for approximately 15 minutes. If you’re serving with pasta, cook according to directions and add to sauce and eggplant balls, tossing gently to combine. Turn off heat, add more grated cheese, and serve immediately.


1 pound Beyond Meat crumbles, 

ground beef, or sausage (or mush-
room duxelles, chopped mushrooms, 

or chopped eggplant)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Cooking spray to coat pan

4 medium bell peppers (any color or
a mix)

½ cup onion, minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup fresh marinara sauce

1-12 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

1 cup cooked rice (I use wild rice)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves,

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese 

½ cup shredded mozzarella or other soft

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut tops off bell peppers and discard to compost. Using a spoon, carefully scrape out and remove membranes and seeds from peppers; arrange in a 9–by–9-inch baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until peppers are slightly tender (about 15 minutes). Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and stir until fragrant (1–2 minutes). Add tomato paste and Beyond Meat (or mushrooms duxelles, or eggplant) and cook until brown, stirring frequently. Mix in cooked rice and diced tomatoes, then gradually stir in tomato sauce until just combined. Be careful not to add too much sauce — you don’t want the mixture to be watery. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.

Divide mixture evenly among peppers. Top each pepper with shredded cheese; bake at 450 degrees for 30–45 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown and peppers are soft enough to cut with a knife and fork. Garnish with extra parsley and serve immediately.

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