Cooking With Confidence
Meatless Meatballs: Savory and rich meatballs made with a spinach and ricotta mixture. You'll never miss the meat in these!
Main Dishes, Pasta, Vegetarian

Meatballs Are Better Without the Meat

by Nick

You know what? Most meatballs suck. There. I said it.

They all kind of taste the same and it’s hard to add a lot of flavors to them because you have to save room for all that meat.

This comes straight from the mouth of a meat eater, but sometimes a change can be really nice. This is one of those times.

While most meatballs can make you feel weighted down and blah, these meatless meatballs (veggieballs?) are nice and light but still have plenty of flavor.

They were completely delicious and vastly better than I was expecting.

Serves 4.
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Spinach and Ricotta Vegetarian Meatballs


  • 1 Cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 Cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 1/2-2 Cups Italian breadcrumbs (plus some for rolling)
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Sauce:
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (opt.)
  • 1 pound pasta (I like whole wheat spaghetti.)


1) Mix cheeses together with chopped spinach, oregano, and salt and pepper.  Add breadcrumbs and eggs.  Try not to add too many breadcrumbs.

2) Mix together lightly.  Then form Tablespoon-sized balls with the mixture.  Roll them lightly into a ball, coat them with some breadcrumbs, and set on a baking sheet.

3) To pan-fry veggieballs:  Add a few Tablespoons of oil into a large skillet.  Over medium-high heat, cook the balls turning occasionally until they are browned on all sides.

4) To bake veggiesballs: Add balls to a baking sheet lined with foil.  Drizzle all balls with a bit of oil and bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes turning every 10-15 minutes until they are lightly browned all around.

5) For sauce, add a drizzle of oil to a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion and cook for a few minutes.  Then add garlic and tomatoes.  Stir in spices and balsamic vinegar and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add more water as it gets thick.

6) Before serving, add balls to the sauce and serve over pasta with extra Parm and chopped parsley.

Making the Meatballs

Because there’s no meat in these guys, there’s a ton of room for some other flavorful ingredients… like a lot of spinach!

Meatless Meatballs

Shredded spinach.

To make the veggieballs, chop the spinach and oregano and stir it in with the cheeses.

If possible use a fine grater to grate the Parmesan so it kind of melts into the meatless meatballs.

Meatless meatballs

Piles of cheese.

Mix this all together and then add your eggs and just enough bread crumbs to pull it together. About 1 1/2 Cups should be enough but if you have very large eggs you might need an extra 1/2 Cup.

Stir this all together but try to keep the mixture nice and light.

Meatless meatballs.

Future balls.

Next, take a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Make sure it holds together, but try not to press it together too much. Then roll the ball in some extra breadcrumbs and add it to a baking sheet.

Meatless meatballs.

Shaped up.

Cooking the Meatless Meatballs

There are actually two ways to cook these guys: Baked or pan fried. I fried mine this time around but baking them is just fine also.

If you want to pan fry, just add about 3 tablespoons of oil to a large skillet and add the balls over medium heat. Cook and turn until all the balls are lightly browned all around.

Meatless meatballs cooking.


If you’re baking them, which is also delicious, then add all the balls to the baking sheet and drizzle on a bit of oil over each one.

You should end up with about 30 veggieballs.

rolled and oiled

A drizzle of oil is all you need.

Bake them at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, turning every 15 minutes or so.

They should be nice and golden brown when you pull them out!


The Baked Version

Making the Sauce

It’s important to have a good sauce for these (meatless) balls. You can definitely use a jar sauce if you want but since you have to wait for them to cook anyway, you might as well make some good tomato sauce from scratch.

This recipe also happens to be my go-to tomato sauce if you’re curious. It takes about 15 minutes to make and is really flavorful.

In a medium pot, add a good drizzle of oil and then all your diced onion over medium high heat. Cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic followed by the diced tomatoes.

Then add the oregano, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes and as it gets thick, add a bit more water to keep it sauce. The tomatoes will break down a bit after a few minutes.

Taste it and adjust it to your liking.

When you’re about ready to serve this dish, add the cooked veggieballs straight into the sauce, just like you would meatballs!

I was a bit worried that they would disintegrate in the sauce, but they held together just fine.

Meatless meatballs.

In the sauce pool.

Then serve the sauce and meatless meatballs over some pasta with maybe some chopped parsley and Parm cheese!

I would serve these to any meat eater and if they didn’t like it, they can take a hike!

Meatless Meatballs: Savory and rich meatballs made with a spinach and ricotta mixture. You'll never miss the meat in these!

This is an updated post from the Macheesmo archives!

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52 comments on “Meatballs Are Better Without the Meat

  1. These look fantastic – I'm trying to be veggie, and hadn't come across a homemade solution to the veggie meatball problem. One question: these are very Italian – any idea what you'd change for a more Swedish version???

    1. Nick my mother used to make these in two different formats: one baked like your recipe (almost exact-she added garlic mmmmmm or nutmeg to your recipe) and the other style was boiled like dumplings or italian matza balls. this used more bread crumbs and eggs. sometimes my mother added sour cream with the ricotta and replaced the oregano with dill or paprika. scandindavian or polish. take your choice. its a versa tile recipe! in any case,she never called them meat balls.they are mafati (not sure of the spelling). a little interesting cook lore

  2. I bet these would make a wonderful appetizers, ,maybe stuff a small cube of fresh mozzarella in the center and serve with the tomato sauce on the side for dipping it in. I know what I am bringing to the next party I go to!

  3. After being fed a Turkey Meatball that came from the freezer section of WFM…………I feel your pain, and while this looks good for a Veg version of a Classic Italian Dish — I say don't give up on Meat just yet Nick.

    One of my pet peeves of veg food, and i happen to like most of it. Is calling something by a familiar name b/c otherwise you wouldn't know what to call it or identify with it.

    Un-Chicken Salad, Un-Egg Salad, now Meatball w/o meat. If Veg food in the mainstream by a vowel, and come up with names.

    Having said that what would you call these ;)

    1. Well, I went with veggieballs when I wrote the post, but now that I think about it, I think I'd called them Spiriballs. Spinach-Ricotta.

  4. this post should be titled meatballs are great without the meat… using the word 'better' might be pushing it a little don't you think? unless you make shitty meatballs ;)

    1. Well, I would like to think I make pretty good meatballs, but most meatballs aren't great, in my opinion.

      It could also be that this was so different that I just liked it more.

  5. I'm so gonna try these when Lent comes around this year–it'll beat the heck out of the same tired rotation of tuna casserole and fish sticks that we seem to force ourselves to choke down on Fridays.

  6. How do you feel about arugula instead of spinach? I married a spinach hater (gasp!). This is going in my meatless meal rotation. Awesome!

  7. Those sound great. I'm always looking for ways to hide veggies in foods since there's quite a few that I won't eat.

    1. Also, I made your Butternut Squash risotto. Fantastic. I couldn't believe I hadn't done risotto before and now that I've found how easy (and ridiculously cheap – why is it expensive out?) it is, it's on the list of things I will not go out to a restaurant for.

  8. At first I was surprised that these would appeal to me, since I adore meatballs and no meat = heresy. But really, these still have all the appealing aspects of regular meatballs – browned crispy exterior with savory inside that can be topped with cheese and sauces.

    Hmm, I think I just equated meatballs with dumplings.

  9. That's a great idea. It's cool that they held up when cooking in the sauce. I would've figured they would have just fallen apart, but kudos.

  10. …you were right, meat lovers really like this dish. I served it to my Dad and he especially liked the consistency. He said I should definitely add it to my repertoire. Thanks :)

  11. This looks really good ! I am trying to eat less meat, so I will definitely make this. Just one question though… Can I substitute the italian breadcrumbs by Panko?

  12. My friends and I did a Meatball party. Three of us made different meatballs. I made vegetarian meatballs and put them up against mozzarella stuffed beef meatballs and some nicely herbed meatballs. I think mine turned out superior, partially due to the sweeter veggie meat used.
    If anyone lives close to some friends try out a meatball tasting! It's a ton of fun and great if you're going to watch Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. This recipe looks delicious, I'll have to try it out since I normally buy me veggie meatballs at Trader Joes and are none around.

  13. these look great..i need to have something like this for a party coming up…can you cook them and freeze them do you think?

    1. Hey jessica. This might sounds strange but I use cottage cheese as a replacement for ricotta and it works pretty well.

      Good luck!

  14. This recipe sounds great, and I plan to try it. I am, however, a novice cook and was wondering if these can be frozen? If so should it be done before or after they go into the oven?

    1. Hey Naome, if you were going to freeze them, I would do so after cooking, but before saucing if that makes sense. Good luck!

  15. This recipe sounds fabulous. I can’t wait to try it. I will need to use a vegetarian cheese alternative to parmesan as it is not vegetarian.

    1. Thanks for bringing this up. My family has an aversion to parmesan, very strange coming from an Italian lineage, so help us out Nick.

  16. I love these balls! Sometimes I like to substitute extra firm tofu for the ricotta and throw it in the food processor with the eggs. It’s frankly a little scary how similar it tastes, just throw in some extra salt!

  17. Found this recipe 3 hours ago. Just finished it and loved it. I pan fried and loved every bit. Cooked two in the oven to note the difference. I prefer the pan, however the oven versions tasted light and healthy. More like hushpuppies. Next time I might do all the steps similarly but mix in a different spice in each before frying….see which flavor profile s work.

  18. They do look tasty and will try them BUT I will replace the cheese for vegetarian options, because parmesan isn’t vegetarian…

  19. Well of course they taste good…they are mostly cheese :)
    I happen to really like meatballs. My Italian mother-in-law makes awesome ones. Maybe the solution is to somehow join an Italian family?
    Unfortunately cheese doesn’t agree with my partner, so these are a no-go in our household.

  20. These sound delicious – essentially deepfried cheese balls. I wonder if you could use cauliflower pulsed in the blender to replace some of the bread and some of the cheese to add more veggie to the veggie ball:-). Definitely need to try these.

  21. Hi Nick ,
    Great idea, how about adding some chopped cauliflower into the mix and cutting back a bit on the cheese & bread crumbs ( just a bit) ????

      1. Hi Nick
        Thanks for responding. It seems cauliflower is the latest rage these day especially for diabetics. Cauliflower can be a great low carb substitute. I have used cauliflower as a substitute for Tator Tots.
        love your web site!!!

  22. For my mom’s birthday dinner, I had a pasta bar with three different sauces, three different pastas, and assorted toppings. I had one vegetarian that was coming so I thought it would be fun to try these meatless meatballs. Let me tell you, they were the surprise hit of the night. They were loved by meat-eaters and vegetarians alike! I’m about to make another batch right now. I wonder how well they will freeze. I have a feeling they will be gone before I get a chance to try freezing them.

    1. So glad you liked them Megan! They should freeze fine. I think I would cook them and then cool and freeze them so they would just need to be reheated. Good luck!

      1. Good tip about the freezing, but I think I’ll try freezing them raw and then defrosting and frying them. The “meatballs” taste so good freshly fried! We’ll see!

  23. I made these and served them over spaghetti squash as I had some that needed to be used, everyone loved it.

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