Ah, roasted red peppers… I like RRP about four times a year, so that’s when I make my quarterly roasted red pepper pasta with meatless balls. This is a truly unique dish, so when I’m craving it, no substitute can be found. Marinara is too heavy, Primavera is too light, pesto sauce is too bitter, vodka sauce is too sweet. When I gotta have RRP, I gotta have RRP pasta.
The recipe is short and simple: the sauce, the pasta, the meatless balls. You pick the pasta and balls, I’ll provide the sauce. The only sorta special ingredients you need are red peppers to roast or a jar of already roasted red peppers, and nutritional yeast, which should be in the pantry of any vegan and most vegetarians. Fun fact for veggies who might not know what to look for on cheese labels: Parmigiano Reggiano is made with a non-vegetarian rennet, from pigs I think, which will be noted on the ingredient list. So don’t buy it. There are other cheeses with similar flavor profiles, such as Grana Padano, which uses vegetarian rennet and will also be noted on the ingredient list. It’s cheaper, too. I use nutritional yeast because I like it and because we’re officially in use-’em-up made until we move.
Unless you’re making your own meatless balls, start with the sauce. There’s a sauté-purée-reheat process here, so start your pasta when you return the sauce to the pan to reheat. I recommend spaghetti because this sauce is silky and clingy, qualities that play very well with long, thin pasta. Angel hair, linguini, bucatini, fettuccine, anything with a structure that the sauce can grab onto! Once your sauce has heated through and your pasta is cooking, add your meatless balls to the sauce and let them cook. Once everything is warm, combine the love in a bowl, sprinkle with basil and eat up, preferably with friends who can tell you repeatedly how amazing this dish is. And it’s vegan!?
As with most sauces, start by sautéing aromatics in extra virgin olive oil. One small onion, four cloves of garlic, and chile flakes in two tablespoons of oil. A quick note about the technique here: this sauce is puréed, so nothing has to be chopped perfectly to size, but it’s good to have an efficient chopping method so you save time and don’t cut yourself. To cut an onion quickly, cut off the root end and the bloom end, then cut in half from root to bloom. Holding one half flat against the surface of your cutting board, carefully slice horizontally into the bloom end of the onion about a quarter of an inch from the bottom, straight across almost to the root. Move up a quarter of an inch and repeat until you’ve made cuts all the way to the top.
Then, slice vertically into the onion every half-inch across from bloom to root.
Next, chop across the two cuts from bloom to root, effectively creating a chopped onion of generally the same size chop.
For the garlic, my preferred method is to break the required number of cloves off the head, smash them with my knife held in my right hand with the blade facing away and slightly down from my left hand as I firmly press the blade onto the cloves. This crushes the cloves, removes the paper, and reduces the amount of chopping required. For a dish that is not puréed I would then chop the garlic much finer, but for this dish, I give it a rough chop and throw it into the pan with extra virgin olive oil and chile flakes.
Sauté the garlic and chile flakes first to infuse the oil with flavor and spice, then add the onion just as the garlic starts to brown. Add salt and pepper and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally.
The onion-garlic mixture is then puréed in a food processor or blender and the rest of the ingredients are added. Blitz everything until it’s smooth-ish and return to the pan to reheat. All you need now is meatless balls and pasta!
Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce
Sauté over medium heat:
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. chile flakes
Add 1 small onion, chopped and cook until soft and translucent.
Carefully transfer to a food processor or blender and purée until semi-smooth
1 c. non-dairy unsweetened milk
2-3 roasted red peppers*
1/4 c. nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot (for thickening)
Salt & pepper to taste
Purée until smooth, then carefully pour back into the pan and reheat over low heat.
Taste for salt and pepper, then serve over spaghetti with meatless balls
*Using jarred peppers is absolutely fine here. It’s quick and easy. If you’re so inclined, however, you can roast peppers over/under a flame, i.e., over a gas burner or under a gas broiler. It can be done under electric elements, but it takes a long time and the benefit just isn’t there. To roast over a gas burner, just place the pepper right over the flame and turn the pepper until it’s charred. The same for under a broiler, but on a pan and it takes a little longer. Then place the peppers in a bowl and cover with cling film for a few minutes. This steams the skin so it will slide off more easily. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel the charred skin off the pepper, then remove the stem and seeds.
I usually use Ikea’s vegetarian meatballs, which are really good, but we’re out and I’m not going to Ikea just for meatballs because I’ll end up coming home with a new couch and a rug with a pug’s face on it or something. In the so-called “health food” frozen section of Kroger, there are a couple options for meatless balls, but I like my meat substitutes to be not-substitutes-at-all. I think trying to exactly replicate the flavor and texture of meat is gross and self-defeating. I’d rather companies focus on changing the food landscape so people choose vegetarian options for how unique and interesting they are, not how close they come to the meat version. I have been vegetarian for so long that the very smell/sight/thought of meat makes my a little sick; why would I want something so similar to that?
I chose a meatless ball that is made from nuts and seasonings, which sounded pretty tasty. Carla Lee’s NUT Balls!
They are quite yummy and the texture is chewy and dense. Mmm, super good. I just popped them into the sauce while it reheated and covered the whole lot with a lid to make sure the balls were nice and hot. All this while the pasta cooks and the final touches are prepared. I also use either whole wheat or veggie based pasta for the extra nutritional boost.
This is basil chiffonade. Stack 4-5 basil, roll them into a tube, then chop along the tube to create ribbons of basil. This can be used for any flat-leaf herb, such as sage. This is a garnish because it’s mean to cook fresh basil. That’s why there’s dried basil.
The spaghetti should be done (al denté) and the sauce and meatless balls should be hot, so drain the pasta well and put it back into the pot with a splash of olive oil to prevent sticking (this is good for storing pasta as it maintains its texture allowing for better reheating). Scoop some spaghetti into a bowl, top with the balls and sauce, then garnish with the basil and a crack of pepper. Serve white wine and toasty bread on the side for scraping up the last bits of sauce.
This is really a good sauce any time of year. Not too heavy for summer, not too light for winter, but just right. I should call it Goldie Locks Pasta!