Domenica Marchetti's Eggplant & Porcini "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce

September 25, 2018

Test Kitchen-Approved

Makes: 20 meatballs
Prep time: 45 min
Cook time: 1 hrs 15 min


  • 1 large eggplant (1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • Boiling water
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 4 small garlic cloves, finely grated
  • Two 28-ounce cans imported whole Italian tomatoes, pureed with their juices
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil, plus leaves for garnish
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups fresh bread crumbs (pulsed in a food processor from from 6 ounces stale, crustless country bread)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • All-purpose flour, for coating
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Crusty bread, for serving (optional)
In This Recipe


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and set it on a baking sheet. Roast in the center of the oven until very soft and collapsed, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly, then scrape the eggplant flesh into a large bowl and let cool completely. If any excess liquid has collected, drain it away. Discard the skin. Break up any especially long and stringy pieces of eggplant into smaller pieces with your fingers.
  2. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and let stand until softened, 30 minutes; drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the porcini to remove any grit. Finely chop the porcini.
  3. In an enameled cast-iron or other heavy, nonreactive pot, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and half of the garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and pour in the porcini soaking liquid, stopping before reaching the grit; bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, about 1 hour. Add half of the chopped basil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Fold the chopped porcini, bread crumbs, eggs, 2 ounces of cheese, parsley and the remaining garlic and chopped basil into the eggplant. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
  5. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Form the eggplant mixture into twenty 1 3/4-inch balls, pressing and rolling tightly. Dust the balls with flour and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  6. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. Add half of the meatballs at a time and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for 5 minutes (don’t let simmer rapidly or for much longer, or they may start to fall apart). Garnish the meatballs with basil leaves and serve with crusty bread and grated cheese.

More Great Recipes:
Meatball|Italian|Mushroom|Tomato|Parsley|Eggplant|Cast Iron|Vegetarian|Dinner

Reviews (46) Questions (1)

46 Reviews

Cindy C. March 23, 2019
OMG I just made these, they are divine. I made them gluten free and used gluten free bread to make the crumbs and coated them in potato starch. I also just used baby bellas from Costco instead of the porcinis, which I couldn't find. I food processed the fresh bellas and cooked them down into sort of a duxelle. I'm freezing some and plan to reheat them in the oven, or maybe I'll fry them again with another coating of potato starch KFC style.
Elaine February 12, 2019
These are really really good. Very moist and meaty tasting, but light. Crunchy and satisfying exterior texture. Held together perfectly well, but I would never actually put them in the sauce. Rather, serve with the sauce as accompaniment. My only suggestion is a bit less bread crumb, I used panco and only 2 cups not 3. Also, I salted them at the table and they were dramatically improved. These will fool meat eaters, they will not be able to tell you what they are eating. So delicious. Even the tomato sauce recipe is spot on and I’m a snob about that. We ate them 3 nights in a row. Reheated on a hot pizza stone turning once every 5 minutes subsequent nights with no loss of quality. These take some time, kitchen mess/prep commitment, but a great choice for family occasion kitchening, event vegetarian options, pot-luck choice for cookout, family pasta night side dish.
MM January 17, 2019
Hi is it okay to use fresh mushrooms? I have dried on hand but I have a ton of fresh leftover.
Nina K. January 7, 2019
Hello, can you tell me what the kettle is in the video? It looks exactly like the type of variable temperature kettle I'm searching for. Thanks! And I will add the recipe to my list :)
Tucker &. December 31, 2018
I did a test run last week and the real deal for one vegetarian and her husband who is not this past Saturday. I can tell you they were lost in meatballs, meat or not, and spaghetti. So flavorful, so much fun to pull together. Add a little home made crusty boule, a fresh green salad....heaven!! For dessert.... Greek yogurt chocolate mousse with my own totally amazing macaroons. Total success and then some.
Ashley December 31, 2018
I liked these! Do they taste like real meatballs? I didn't think so at all. But they were delicious and as long as you aren't looking for something to replace actual meat, I think you will be happy with them. I used shiitake instead of porcini, which I had read would up the meatiness, but I still felt like the texture and the taste were def not close to being meaty.

Maybe if you added a touch of beef bouillon to the mixture it would add some more meaty flavour? Or I wonder how these would taste if you added like half meat, so they weren't meatless per se but just "less" meat. The texture is definitely too different to be fooled, but again I really liked these! I actually opted to finish mine in the oven, I did about 12 mins in a 350 degree oven.. I loved how they stayed nice and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. I also rolled the whole ball in a thin layer of flour instead of just dusting one side with it. Extra crunch!
Ashley December 31, 2018
Sorry just to clarify - I fried them first but instead of finishing them in the sauce for a few minutes, I opted to bake. Hope this helps someone! The crispiness was really nice :) And I just used the tomato sauce as a dipping sauce to preserve the crunch.
Tucker &. December 20, 2018
Can they be served with pasta, or is that overkill?
Kristen M. December 21, 2018
Not overkill at all—pasta is always good idea, especially with a sauce like this. In fact, that's how we shot the photo for the recipe—visible here, if you want some inspiration:
FrugalCat November 11, 2018
Dried mushrooms are cheap if you go to an Asian mart.
mj October 27, 2018
Is this something that should be eaten the day it's made? Or is it like beef and pork meatball that taste better after sitting for a few days? I'm thinking that it will get mushy.
Kristen M. October 29, 2018
I think the meatballs are best the day they're made to keep some of the crispness from frying. They'll get a little mushier and absorb some of the sauce after chilling in the fridge, but still be delicious (to prevent mush, you could also store and then reheat the meatballs and sauce separately).
plotto October 20, 2018
If I haven't fresh bread crumbs, can I use panko? Or are they too dry?
Kristen M. October 29, 2018
Apologies for the delay—I haven't tried panko myself, but I think it would be the next best thing to freshly ground (definitely better than finely ground Italian-style packaged breadcrumbs—they'd be too dense and dry). You might want to start out by not adding the full amount of panko and see if the balls are holding together well. Let us know how it goes!
tania October 13, 2018
I tried these "meat"balls und they are amazing. But, the 1 hour Cook time is far from the time you actually need...Baking the eggplant take one hour, cooking the sauce an additional hour, refrigatering the meatballs 20 min etc.
It took me approx 2,5 hrs in total for this meal.
Kristen M. October 17, 2018
Hi Tania, I'm glad you enjoyed the meatballs—it was hard to figure out the cook and prep time here, since so many of these steps can be done at the same time (the eggplant can be roasting while the sauce is simmering, etc.) and, as always, every cook will work through them at different speeds. But I'll increase them to help more cooks be better prepared. Thank you for your feedback.
Rosalind P. October 4, 2018
Had to make these without the porcinis. $25 a bag in my grocery. I used some reconstituted "black fungus" from my pantry (purchased at a Chinese market). Added meaty texture but not that gorgeous porcini flavor. Used a few drops of fermented soybean sauce for the umami. These meatballs can take a lot of variation! They're great.
Kristen M. October 17, 2018
Nice subs!
Ronnie M. January 1, 2019
dry? Get mine from Fungus Among Us at a much better price (fresher, too). And before you ask, no, I have no other affiliation with them other than as a customer.
KMcG September 29, 2018
Any suggestions for dairy-free substitutions? This looks so delicious but, sadly, I can’t have the pecorino.
Kristen M. September 30, 2018
Nutritional yeast is a handy sub for cheesy oomph, but there's also so much other flavor going on you might not need anything. You can fry off a mini tester ball first to check and tweak the flavors.
KMcG September 30, 2018
I’m not always a fan of nutritional yeast flavor, so will try first without. Thanks!
Sheppard October 5, 2018
There are vegan Parmesan options. Some are Bette than others. One from the Vreamery is supposed to be good (
Rosalind P. September 26, 2018
meant to add also: use whole wheat bread...that ups the nutrition but doesn't change the flavors.
Rosalind P. September 26, 2018
I love that eggplant is the new shmoo* of the kitchen. (*a very old reference to a comic strip creature that would become ANYTHING you wanted it to become). I would like to up the protein in these delectables. some qinoa? flaxseed? kasha would add protein but has too strong a taste. I'll try qinoa first. Stay tuned.
Kristen M. September 26, 2018
LOVE shmoo. Those all sound like great ideas—have you seen this other quinoa meatball on Food52?
Rprp September 26, 2018
Haven't...don't use pork bit often substitute beef. Will check it out. Thanks☺
Rebecca G. September 26, 2018
Do you think I could bake these instead of frying them?
Misfitwife September 26, 2018
I was wondering the same thing. Just not sure they would look as nicely browned and have that crispy outer layer to stand up to the sauce.
Rebecca G. September 26, 2018
Maybe if we made sure we added a nice layer of oil to the outside layer? I do this with regular meatballs, I might give it a whirl just to see. A half fried/half baked test.
Kristen M. September 26, 2018
I asked Domenica about this because I knew some people would want the convenience of baking and she hasn't tried it (and neither have I—yet). My gut is that it should work, but you won't get the same deliciously crispy, browned crust. Please let us know if you do try it!
Ronnie M. January 1, 2019
Maybe spritz with oil and air fry?
Anh September 26, 2018
I have dried shiitake mushrooms in the pantry - can I use them instead of the porcini mushrooms?
Kristen M. September 26, 2018
Absolutely—and I'm so glad you asked. Cook's Illustrated actually found that shiitakes are often half the price, and taste less mushroomy, but more meaty:
Susanna September 26, 2018
I’m hesitant to admit this because it’s a personal failing, but I just can’t stand mushrooms. I wonder if there’s another way to up the umami instead? Maybe some minced anchovies? Though technically they wouldn’t be meatless balls, I wouldn’t care...
Kristen M. September 26, 2018
There's already a good amount of umami in the recipe from other sources (cheese, tomatoes, delicious pan-frying browning), but in my opinion, anchovies are almost never a bad idea (I love slipping a few into my tomato sauce). For what it's worth, the mushrooms don't really taste mushroomy—just meaty, so might be worth a try.
Kristen M. September 26, 2018
Thanks to Anh's question above, I also remembered this Cook's Illustrated taste test that showed dried shiitakes tasted less mushroomy and more meaty than porcini (and were cheaper!):
Kate W. September 26, 2018
I’m thinking these might freeze well. Any thoughts?
Kristen M. September 26, 2018
Yes, I think so, but I'd freeze (and reheat) the balls and sauce separately so they don't meld into one—the balls are delicate!
Susana G. November 3, 2018
I would love to make these a day or two ahead of time for Thanksgiving. Should I freeze the balls before or after cooking? Also are we to use flesh and seeds from the eggplant?
Kristen M. November 4, 2018
If you're only making them a couple days ahead, you don't need to freeze. I'd say make and fry the balls ahead and make the sauce, then chill (or freeze, if you're working further ahead) them separately. Reheat the sauce in a pot on the stove and the balls in a moderately low oven (~300F) so they have time to warm through and crisp up again, without getting too brown (not sure how long this will take, so just keep an eye on them). Then just before serving, let them swim in the warmed sauce (if you leave them in the sauce too long, they might start to absorb too much and fall apart). Hope this helps—let us know how it goes!
Kristen M. November 4, 2018
Oh, and yes, flesh and seeds! I've never had a problem running into many noticeable seeds, but if you want it extra smooth, you could give it a spin in a food processor, blender, or food mill first.
Susana G. November 5, 2018
Thank you Kristen. This is very helpful. I am looking forward to making and eating this.
Misfitwife September 26, 2018
Okay, I have to admit, when I first saw 'meatless meatball' my thoughts were...why?? But as I read the post I have become's a definite possibility...
Jade D. September 26, 2018
I thought the same but watching the video totally changed my mind. I am definitely making these.
Kristen M. September 26, 2018
Love hearing that—glad the post and the video helped tip you over the edge! (And kudos to you for not letting "meatless meatball" stop you.)