It’s Italian-American comfort food at it’s finest with beef meatballs slathered in sauce and broiled until the mozzarella cheese topping melts and oozes down the sides of the meatballs.
One of my favorite sandwiches is the warm, sloppy, melty, meatball sub (sometimes called a hoagie). It’s Italian-American comfort food at it’s finest with beef meatballs slathered in sauce and broiled until the mozzarella cheese topping melts and oozes down the sides of the meatballs. Coming from New Jersey this was always one of my favorite lunches on cold winter days.
Ground pork typically comes from minced pork shoulder meat and is incredibly versatile. I like the flavor using both pork and beef adds to the meatball sub recipe.
I use a blend of 80% lean/ 20% fat ground beef. The fat adds flavor to the meatballs while also keeping them moist. A large portion of the fat renders out as the meatballs cook.
I use plain breadcrumbs rather than Italian in this recipe since the meatballs are seasoned with fresh herbs like oregano and parsley. I love making my own breadcrumbs out of leftover stale bread. Simply add to a food processor or blender and pulse until ground. They can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.
The breadcrumbs are soaked in milk before they’re added to the meatball mixture to keep them moist as they cook.
The cheese helps to hold meatballs together while adding a flavorful, gooey element.
The meatballs are seasoned with fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley, oregano, Calabrian chilies, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
Calabrian chilies are little red Italian chili peppers that pack a punch and once preserved in oil (as used here), they are smoky, salty, fruity and spicy all at the same time.
The sub rolls or hoagie rolls are sliced horizontally and piled with the ingredients. Look for rolls with a crusty exterior. As a result as the bread absorbs some of the sauce without losing its structural integrity and becoming mushy in these meatball subs.
The tomato sauce is flexible in this recipe. I use my recipe for marinara sauce. It can easily be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to serve with the meatballs. Swap with your favorite store-bought sauce as a shortcut. Warm in a saucepan over medium heat before assembling the sandwiches.
I use a combination of low-moisture part-skim mozzarella with provolone cheese for a melty layer over the meatballs tossed in sauce. The provolone adds a nutty flavor profile that complements the mild mozzarella cheese. The sandwiches are boiled until the cheese is melted.
How to make meatball subs
Mix the meatballs. Add the beef, pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, milk, Parmesan, parsley, oregano, Calabrian chilies, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to a large mixing bowl. Gently combine the mixture with your hands until all ingredients are just incorporated.
Make the meatballs. Roll the mixture into 1½-ounce balls and place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425ºF until golden brown and cooked through. Set meatballs aside until ready to assemble the sandwiches.
Assemble the sandwiches. Working one at a time, spoon warmed sauce into the roll then add three meatballs. Spoon more sauce over the top. Alternate slices of the mozzarella and provolone over the top of the meatballs. Repeat with the remaining rolls and ingredients.
Broil the subs. Move the sandwiches to the oven and broil until the cheese is bubbly and the bread is golden brown. Cut in half and serve immediately.
Tips for this recipe
The trick to building a perfect sub is starting with good Italian meatballs (I use equal parts ground beef and pork in this recipe) then adding them to good rolls of bread.
Instead of cooking the meatballs in the oven, they can be sautéed in a large skillet in olive oil over medium heat until cooked through.
The bread can make or break the sandwich – if it’s too soft then the sauce can cause it to turn mushy fast, and if it’s too hard then you may never even get a bite of the sandwich without a meatball popping out the side.
I added Calabrian chilies to the meatballs to add a little spice and flavor in each bite. Calabrian chilies can be found at gourmet markets or online here. It’s one of my favorite ways to kick up the fire in any recipe. Omit if you don’t like spice!
The recipe makes more meatballs than you will need for the sandwiches – I like to freeze some for a night when I don’t feel like cooking and reheat as needed.
Don’t overwork the meatballs when mixing them with your hands.
Add the beef, pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, milk, Parmesan, parsley, oregano, Calabrian chilies, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to the mixing bowl. Gently combine the mixture with your hands until all ingredients are just incorporated.
Roll the mixture into 1½-ounce balls (about 1½-inches in diameter) and place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Set meatballs aside until ready to assemble the sandwiches.
Preheat oven to broil.
Working one at a time, spoon ¼ cup sauce into the roll then add three meatballs. Spoon another ¼ to 1/3 cup of sauce over the top and alternate slices of the mozzarella and provolone over the top of the meatballs. Repeat with the remaining rolls and ingredients.
Broil until the cheese is bubbly and the bread is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
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