Vegan Italian Meatballs with Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce (Pasta: The Other Comfort Food)

Vegan Thyme: Vegan Italian Meatballs with Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce (Pasta: The Other Comfort Food)

Before going to bed the other night, I had a vision of spaghetti and meatballs. It was nine at night, a little too late to do anything about it (and not that I would eat a plate of spaghetti before going to bed) but that's what I went to bed thinking about: a nice warm dish of pasta with amazing meatballs. I try not to dream about food too much, but it's difficult to control what happens once my eyes close. So yesterday morning when I woke up, I was FAMISHED (because I am once again trying to stick to my Eat to Live Fuhrman diet for at least two meals a day--trying to shed ten pounds). I have a physical with the doc coming up and nothing sends terror through my bones like having to weigh myself in front of a stranger with a clip board in hand. So, I headed straight for my slow cooker and began the prep for an all-day marinara sauce to accompany my meatball vision. Once the sauce prep was behind me, I knew the rest of the day would be a breeze. Plus the house smelled like a little Italian piece of heaven all day long.  
Vegan Thyme: Vegan Italian Meatballs with Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce (Pasta: The Other Comfort Food)
I had a recipe for Italian Meatballs from the New York Times I clipped several years ago (BV: before vegan). Quite simply it made the absolute BEST meatballs ever. And it is truly an easy recipe. The key, in my opinion, was fresh basil and a TON of garlic. I happened to have about two pounds of fresh basil from my garden this summer and keep it in my freezer for days like yesterday when the aroma of fresh summer herbs is called for. To use my basil, I remove handfuls from the freezer bag and crumble it over whatever it is I'm cooking. Works like a charm and imparts, again, amazing smells throughout the house.
My garlic obsession runs about as deep as my love for chocolate. I could spoon garlic up, dab a little olive oil over it with a pinch of salt and serve it up: as is. Needless to say, I have no problems with vampires. I keep a jar of the minced stuff around for the times when I am just too lazy to smash, peel the skin, then chop and mince garlic cloves. Sometimes I'll go crazy and add both: some minced garlic from the jar AND fresh.

So this meal is about as basic as it comes. The marinara is so flavorful, the meatballs are like a side dressing for the main dish. I have both recipes for you below. For those not wanting to take the time to do an all day sauce, you will miss something, but I get it: time constraints. But, if you must use a jar version of sauce, just don't tell the meatballs.

Vegan Italian Meatballs

1 package Gimme Lean Vegan Beef
(*I am a big fan of the Gimme Lean vegan food line, so is my pocketbook)
4 tablespoons garlic minced (a little extra if you're feeling crazy--a little less if garlic is not your thing)
1 tablespoon powdered onion
1 tablespoon powdered garlic
1/4 cup fresh basil OR 2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 
3 tablespoons of Italian bread crumbs (if you have your own bread crumbs hanging out--just reduce the amount a bit)

In a large mixing bowl, add the package of Gimme Lean or whatever vegan beef sub you are using. Separate it out into small chunks to make mixing the ingredients easier. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and with a large spoon or fork, begin mashing everything together. Use your hands toward the end to really incorporate those bread crumbs. Let the mixture set for about ten or fifteen minutes (gives the mix time to moisten the bread crumbs). Next, roll the mixture into balls about the size of golf balls. Set aside. Next, heat a medium saute pan with two tablespoons of canola or olive oil. Add the meatballs to the pan when the oil is warm. Carefully watch the pan and sort of jiggle it a bit to coat the balls with oil. Allow them to brown slowly for about twenty minutes--checking every few minutes to turn the meatballs to cook the other side. Remove from heat until ready to use.

Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce
(*I used a 4 quart slow cooker for my sauce. You may want to adjust the recipe or cut it in half to fit a smaller slow cooker.)

1 large onion chopped
1 large green pepper chopped
1 large carrot chopped
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil or 2 tablepsoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or a dried Italian herb blend
1/3 cup red cooking wine or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons agave nectar or 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup tomato sauce
4 cans of 14.5 oz. diced tomatoes (I used a can of fire roasted tomatoes in the mix)
pinch of fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook for about five minutes--not till completely soft, but just "barely cooked". Add the garlic and cook an additional couple of minutes or so. Remove from heat. Add these cooked veggies to your slow cooker and then all the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Set cooker on LOW for six hours.


  1. That looks very delicious! What type of pasta do you prefer?

  2. Yum! I am making this next week, because ever since I made meatballs (yes, hubby is still eating meat) I have been craving them. I have not tried the Gimme Lean Vegan Beef. Is it in the tube packaging? Thanks for such an enticing recipe!

  3. Hi Bonnie! Thank you! I try to get my hands on any Italian pasta, usually the good stuff is imported--my favorite being angel hair. I get the kind in nests--made with semolina flour and no egg whites.

    Hi Noelle! Thanks so much! Yes, the Gimme Lean is in the white tube and works really well in this recipe. I hope you like these!

  4. These recipes look terrific! I can't wait to try both the sauce and the meatballs. Love a good pasta dish. I also love using my slow cooker, with a little prep in the morning you have dinner ready when you want it.
    Also, thanks for the tip about freezing your basil. I usually make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. But I've never tried to freeze the leaves. What a great idea!

  5. Could I ask what size cans of diced tomatoes?

  6. Hi Elizabeth! Thanks so much--I, too, LOVE to use my slow cooker for just that reason--it frees me up to work on other side dishes, too. (Or, bake a cake for dessert!) The basil idea is one I stumbled across in my gardening research. The leaves turn a bit brown when frozen, but the flavor is still intense when you crumble the leaves into the dishes.

    Hi Chris! Thank you for the note and I made the changes in the recipe indicating the size of the canned tomatoes I used: 4-14.5 ounce cans.

  7. Sigh .. I am seldom tempted by cake or sweets but savory carbs ... that is an entirely different story. I heart pasta so much, and potatoes and rice and bread - only at my age they don't love me anymore!!! And ps - you should do French Fridays and see what you can veganize. The mushroom soup would have been dead easy - there's no cream in it!

  8. Those meatballs look amazing! We used some gimme lean this holiday season in some sausage cheese balls :) It's good stuff.

    Happy New Year and I hope you had a nice Christmas!

  9. Hi Trixie! Thanks! (I'll just shout out to you here about my love of the tater and the whole carb thing period!). And P.S. I JUST did the mushroom soup. Wow. So yummy!

    Hi Cassie! Thanks so much and Happy New Year to you, too! Those meatballs you made sound delish!

  10. I made this tonight! SO delicious!!! I cannot wait to blog about it. Thanks Kelly!


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