Mushrooms’n’Oats “Meatballs” and Zoodly Spaghetti Bolognese

Ever wondered what would happen if you take away noodles and the meat from the equation? You might think that it’s hardly spag bol once the two major ingredients are taken out, but this recipe is simmering proof of otherwise.2017-03-15 21.05.45

The traditional spag bol has a reputation for being “carb-y” (notorious amongst low-carb fans) and the meat-based sauce can be an oily, shirt-staining mess… well, brace yourself for a lighter, meatfree twist to the classic meatballs and spaghetti bolognese!

This recipe discovery is all thanks to my good friend who forwarded a video to me about an American meatless meatball recipe (thank you!). The video’s selling point was that the “meatballs” tastes just like regular meatballs – from texture to taste. I watched, made notes, made a batch – of course, I made a few tweaks to the recipe before making it (the nutritionist inside me couldn’t resist) – and tasted with a critical army of tastebuds … and I was pleasantly surprised! The texture mimicked minced meat so well and the garlic (there was heaps of it) and parmesan cheese gave the “meatballs” an amazing umami flavour, just like meat!

Cloudy with a chance of meatfree “moatballs” 2017-03-15 21.06.52

Instead of meat, these balls of yum use plenty of mushrooms and oats (hmm… “moatballs”?? Not sure if that will catch on though…). Mushies and oats provide filling fibre, plant-based protein and B-vitamins for energy release, giving you the vitality that you need for your day.

Plant-based yum!2017-03-15 21.06.15

Mushrooms are also a rich natural source of glutamates, which is a chemical that stimulates our umami taste receptors which are triggered by all of those rich savoury foods like casseroles, braised pork and meaty broths. When you make these balls of yum, you’ll agree with me that the aroma is mouth-wateringly AMAZING!

Tomatoes are another rich source of glutamates and compliments the moatballs (yes, I’ve embraced the name). I opted for a fresh and classic tomato sauce with onion, garlic and basil and minus the grease from excess oil and meat.

Portion it right 

Pasta dishes are notorious for being “carby”, even though pasta itself is actually NOT a no-no at all! The issue is portion sizes.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating defines a serve of cooked pasta as 1/2 cup, which is around 75-120 grams. Remember that anything dry that is boiled with become heavier and plumper after being cooked – so 1/2 cup of cooked pasta means much less of the dry form. To measure out your dry to cooked pasta using this nifty chart by Barilla.

Oodles of zoodles

I also replaced half the spaghetti with zucchini noodles (otherwise known as “zoodles”) to cut the carbs. Asparagus, carrots or any other high-moisture vegetables can be used. They’re made using a fancy kitchen tool called a spiralizer, which you can buy from Kmart or a homeware store – the fancier they get, the pricier they become – so if you’re not planning oodles of noodles all the time, use a regular vegetable peeler or slice up with a knife. Here are some tips for turning veggies into noodles.

2017-06-16 09.46.47

Give this meatfree Italian dish a swirl and see just how delicious spaghetti meatballs can be without the heavy after-feeling or food coma. It’s a perfect recipe discovery for my meatfree series!


Serves: 4 (20-24 meatballs, 5-6 meatballs per person or serve 4 with leftovers)

Cost: $15.15 ($3.80 per person)

Time: 1 hour 15 mins (+ 20 mins cooling and overnight chilling)


For mushroom and oats meatballs

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup brown onion, finely diced (equivalent to 1/2 medium onion)
  • 450g mushrooms, very finely diced or blitzed in food processor or blender
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp canola spread, salt-reduced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs (see Notes)
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried herbs
  • 2 eggs
  • Black pepper, to season

For bolognese sauce and spaghetti zoodles

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup brown onion, finely diced (equivalent to 1/2 medium onion)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, stalk and leaves separated and finely chopped
  • 400g canned tomatoes, no-added-salt variety
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 200g dry spaghetti or pasta of choice
  • Grated cheese, to serve
  • Extra basil leaves, to serve

Let’s get cooking:

  1. To make moatballs: heat olive oil in large fry pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until soft. Add mushrooms and salt and stir until mushrooms have softened (the salt will draw out the moisture from the mushrooms). Cook until juices have evaporated. Stir in the spread and cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
  2. Turn off heat and stir in garlic and oats while mixture is still hot. Cool completely to room temperature (approximately 15-20 minutes).
  3. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, dried herbs and one of the eggs. Season with black pepper and mix well. Add second egg and mix until a moist mixture is formed. Cover and chill in fridge for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 230°C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Take out mixture from fridge and spoon tablespoonfuls of mixture into balls, rolling with hands and place on prepared tray. Repeat with remaining mixture to make 20-24 balls. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes or until browned.
  5. To make Bolognese sauce: heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and golden. Add garlic and basil stalks. Add canned tomatoes and vinegar. Season with black pepper. Stir in basil leaves and simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken.
  6. Add moatballs to saucepan and gently stir to coat in sauce. Simmer for 15-20 minutes on low heat to allow balls to soak up the flavours of the sauce. Set aside covered to keep warm.
  7. Make zoodles using a spiraliser or with a peeler or finely slice lengthways with a knife.
  8. Prepare spaghetti as per packet directions and cook until al dente (i.e. noodles should be slightly firm and have a bit of bite to them). Drain spaghetti and toss through the zoodles.
  9. Plate up the zoodle and spaghetti and top with 5-6 moatballs per plate and Bolognese sauce. Serve with extra parmesan and basil leaves, if desired.


  • Make sure you dice everything as finely as possible to ensure that the balls hold their shape. Blitz mushrooms into bits with a food processor (if you have one) or patiently chop finely. I did it manually with a knife and chopping board (yes, it took me a while – 40-45 minutes to prep everything!)
  • Make your own breadcrumbs by grating old wholegrain bread – freeze them to make them stiff and easier to grate.
  • Time saver for cooling down the mushroom mixture: think surface area! Use a large pan or spread mixture onto a large tray to let the heat out faster.
  • You can buy prepared zoodles from Woolworths in the pre-packed salad section. For a softer texture, microwave the zoodles before adding them to the spaghetti – be mindful not to soften them too much as they will break apart when you toss them through the spaghetti.
  • Bolognese sauce too think? Keep some of the hot water from the boiled spaghetti to water it down.
  • For a vegan version, try swapping the eggs for mashed tofu as a binder for the moatballs.

Nutritional information:

One serve provides 3 serves of veggies.

4-5 “moatballs” with spaghetti bolognese  Per serve
Energy (kJ) 2275
Protein (g) 21.1
Total fat (g) 20.4
 – Saturated fat (g) 4.8
Carbohydrate (g) 61.8
 – Sugars (g) 8.8
Fibre (g) 10.8
Sodium (mg) 436
Calcium (mg) 227
Iron (mg) 5.2

5-6 moatballs provides 1.5 serves of veggies.

 Mushroom and oat “moatballs” only  Per serve
Energy (kJ) 1168
Protein (g) 13.1
Total fat (g) 14.7
 – Saturated fat (g) 4.0
Carbohydrate (g) 19.7
 – Sugars (g) 2.0
Fibre (g) 5.5
Sodium (mg) 333
Calcium (mg) 154
Iron (mg) 2.7

Recipe inspirations from FoodWishes and Jamie Oliver

Want more veggie-ful recipes?

Have you tried my meatfree dishes:

For meat-lovers, give these meat dishes a go with an added veggie-boost:

Browse for more recipes here

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