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Like good take-out, this recipe cuts to the chase: It turns a one-pound package of 80% lean ground beef into a meatball sandwich. And it skips an entire step—browning the meatballs on the stovetop or the oven first—to get there faster.
This pragmatic recipe services my yearning for those meatball grinders (also called meatball subs, meatball hoagies...) of my East Coast youth, the ones available at any Greek-style pizza shop. Since there aren’t any to be found where I live now, in the rural West, I resort to making them myself on a regular basis.
First, the meat. Traditional meatloaf and derivative meatball recipes combine pork, beef, and sometimes veal. But when I used equal parts ground pork with beef, I did not experience a major flavor advantage in the finished sandwich. I was also left with a half-pound of each ground meat, which would only be convenient if I was going for a double batch. Given the full flavors of the grass-fed ground beef widely available today, an all-beef meatball allows anyone to buy a pound and use it all at once to make a batch of 12 meatballs, or four finished sandwiches. Sufficient, I thought, and in proportion to the sauté pan full of tomato sauce.
Now, the method. It’s certainly unconventional to omit a step that browns the meat proteins to their most delicious state. (Yes, you know, the Maillard reaction.) To be clear, I’m not advocating eliminating pan-fried or baked meatballs altogether. But in this instance, it makes a lot of sense. As you form the meatballs, you plop them into the simmering sauce. Now, it may seem weird to put raw meatballs into your tomato sauce. You may wonder: Will they cook all the way through? Will they fall apart?
Not only do they cook through, given sufficient simmering time, they make the sauce taste even better. Simmering the meatballs directly in the sauce imparts flavors into a sauce that would otherwise just be lost. The meatballs and sauce marry from the get-go and give you toothsome, tender meatballs with much less labor.
The hardest part is deciding on the best bread—neither too hard nor too soft—and sliced melting cheese for your own ideal meatball sandwich. My only advice is for you to do what the grinder shops do: Soak the open sides of the toasted bread with some of the sauce and crack the meatballs before layering on the cheese—be it fontina, provolone, or fresh mozzarella.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or basil
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley, optional
- 1 pound ground beef, 80 percent lean
- 4 ciabatta rolls, split
- 4 slices fontina cheese
What are your favorite ways to eat grinders/hoagies/subs? Let us know in the comments!