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Whole Wheat Spaghetti with White Bean Balls

Try these bean based meatballs with your spaghetti and tomato sauce for a nice change of pace and an amazing vegetarian complete and filling dinner.

  • Duration
  • Cook Time
  • Prep Time
  • 4 ServingsServings


  • About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Two 24-ounce cans strained unsalted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen
  • 6 sprigs fresh oregano, tied together with kitchen twine and 1/2 teaspoon minced
  • fresh oregano leaves, divided
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus extra for salting the pasta water, divided
  • 15 grinds black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onions
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fennel
  • Two large slices white country bread
  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons 2% milk
  • One 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti


1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium-sized, heavy saucepan with high sides over medium heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons minced garlic and the red pepper flakes and sauté until aromatic, no more than 1 minute. Immediately add the tomatoes, oregano sprigs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 5 grinds pepper. Raise the heat to medium high and simmer until the sauce is thick and reduced by about a third, about 30 minutes (you should yield about 4 cups of sauce). Carefully remove and discard the oregano. Turn off the heat.

2. Heat another tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch, heavy, nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the red onions, fennel, and the remaining 1 teaspoon minced garlic, and sauté until soft, aromatic, and slightly golden brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside off the heat to cool a bit.

3. Meanwhile, add the bread and milk to a medium-sized bowl. Squeeze together with your hands until you form a paste.
Add the drained beans, 1⁄2 cup cheese, the minced oregano, sage, rosemary, egg, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 10 grinds pepper. Stir in the sautéed onion-fennel mixture. Use a potato masher to mash the mixture very well, then grab a bit with your hands (it will feel wet and a bit sticky) and shape into 16 balls.

4. Wipe out the sauté pan to clean it. Heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add 8 bean balls and cook until they’re crisp and golden brown on all sides, turning over halfway through, about 9 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining bean balls and another 3 tablespoons or so of oil, about another 9 minutes.

5. While the bean balls are cooking, cook the spaghetti. Fill a medium-sized heavy saucepan two-thirds full of heavily salted water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti, and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, 7 to 8 minutes (follow the package directions). Once the pasta has finished cooking, drain in a colander set in the sink.

6. Pour the drained spaghetti back into the hot, empty sauce-pan (in which you cooked it). Add 2 cups of the sauce and toss with tongs. Divide the dressed spaghetti between four large, shallow soup bowls; top each serving with 4 bean balls. Garnish each portion with the remaining 1⁄4 cup of cheese. Serve with additional sauce at the table, if desired.

Serving suggestions: Serve a salad (perhaps frisée with orange, red onions, and fennel) alongside. Finish the meal with brownie sundaes.

Try This: Fennel can hold a lot of dirt. The best way to wash it is to first cut the bulb from the fronds, then cut the bulb in half, core, and slice, leaving you with large half-moons. Put those in a bowl of cold water and swish around with your fingers. Remove the fennel from the water, discard the dirty water, and rinse one more time to ensure the dirt is gone.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Meatless All Daypublished by The Taunton Press in 2014.