The Meatball Shop's Vegetarian 'Meatballs' in a Classic Tomato Sauce

The other day I caught a re-run of "Comfort Food" on Unique Eats. The show included Buttermilk Channel (excellent), Shake Shack (long lines), Bark Hot Dogs (haven't been) and The Meatball Shop (do they have any vegetarian fare? Yes!).   
The Meatball Shop's slogan is "We Make Balls" and indeed they do. I was over-the-moon when I found out that their repertoire included a vegetarian option, one which is packed with mushrooms and lentils. 

I checked some of the reviews online and they were solid- very, very solid. The eatery had over 647 reviews on yelp (not necessarily the most discerning reviewers- but still), averaging 4 1/2 stars, so I thought I should check it out... 
"But hold your horses," I said to myself. "Could they accommodate small children? Do they have highchairs? Will I have to stand on line all day?" 

A few of my friends went to The Meatball Shop for lunch the other day and they reported back that is was definitely NOT kid-friendly. In large part this was due to the lines, which were over an hour (though they will call your cell if you want to wander off to a local watering hole). I was bummed out. 

But three-cheers for the internet because I found their recipe on Martha Stewart's Radio Blog. And so, without further ado, here are The Meatball Shop's Mushroom and Lentil Balls (presented by Daniel Holzman, the executive chef and co-owner).  This is the perfect choice for Meatless Monday. Enjoy!
[Note: While these take some time to make you can easily prepare the dish in parts...]

The Meatball Shop's Vegetarian Meatballs (Courtesy of Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, by way of Martha Stewart Radio Blog)
Makes 24 golf ball-sized balls (You can easily halve this recipe)
2 cups lentils
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 celery stalks, minced (about 1 cup)
2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
4 sprigs thyme, picked (about 1 tbsp.)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups)
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (about 1⁄2 cup)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine the lentils with two quarts of water in a medium-sized stock pot and bring to a boil over a high flame.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft but not falling apart (about 25 minutes-- mine took a bit longer).  Strain the lentils through a colander and allow to cool.

3. Sauté the carrots, onions, celery, garlic, thyme, and salt with 1/4-cup of olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, stirring frequently (about ten minutes). When the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown, add the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring constantly for three minutes. 

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring frequently for fifteen more minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and allow to cool.

4. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl with the cooled vegetables and lentils and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated. 

5. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil into a large baking dish (9x12), making sure to evenly coat the entire surface (use your hand to help spread the oil).
6. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely (about 25 minutes). Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-sized meatballs making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls into the oiled baking dish, such that all of the meatballs are lined up evenly in rows and are touching each of their four neighbors in a grid.
7. Roast until firm and cooked through (about 30 minutes). Allow the meatballs to cool for five minutes before removing.
I topped the balls with classic tomato sauce (recipe below), some grated Parmesan and a bit of chopped parsley. 
* * *
Classic Tomato Sauce (Courtesy of The Meatball Shop by way of Martha Stewart Radio)
Makes 7 cups
1 yellow onion, small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 bay leaf (fresh or dry)

1 sprig fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dry)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp. salt

Two 28-oz. cans tomatoes, chopped (preferably San Marzano)

Cook the onions with the olive oil, oregano, bay leaf, garlic, and salt over medium heat in a large pot (12-quart pot), stirring constantly until soft and translucent (about 15 minutes).
Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for five minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and stir constantly until the sauce begins to boil.
Continue cooking for 1 hour, stirring ever four or five minutes so that the sauce does not burn. Season with extra salt to taste.