Last September, surprising nobody more than my husband, decided I’d be a Good Football Wife this year and start using Sunday afternoons to make a hearty meal, one that stuck to our ribs and balanced out all those salads we enforce on ourselves during the week. I made beef chili with sour cream and cheddar biscuits and then I made… Right. It about stopped there. In my defense, my husband’s team of choice, The Giants, were hardly Good Football Material this year, so perhaps both of our enthusiasms waned simultaneously. Also, the baby decided he had to start running around dismantling the apartment most weekends, so somebody had to, you know, make sure he didn’t injure himself and blame us. Toddlers, man.
And so I’m going to make up for four lost months in one recipe today. I hardly know where the itch for a meatball sub came from; I can’t say I’ve ever ordered one from a sandwich shop (where you’d find them where I grew up in New Jersey, at least) or have any great nostalgia for a specific one, but I always had a hunch that if I made them my way, I’d make a convert out of me and a happy guest of anyone who stopped by to watch a game who was into that whole meat/sandwich/melting cheese thing. You know, people with pulses.
The meatballs are the star. I’ve been using a formula lately of a high proportion of fresh breadcrumbs and water to a smaller amount of meat that yields the kind of pillowy, fork-tender meatball that at least pleases, well, the cook, and hopefully others that are trying to erase memories leaden meatballs from their past. It has made a meatball lover out of me. I’ve made this same meatball with everything from ground turkey and chicken with whole wheat sourdough breadcrumbs and a doubled amount of chopped spinach in lieu of parsley for the baby to well, this: white bread crumbs, a shot of Worcestershire, minced garlic, pinch of red pepper flakes and ground pork. You could leave them out of the bun, ditch the caramelized onions and Gruyère (my sub stopped over in
France (oops!) Switzerland on it’s way to New Jersey, you see) and still enjoy the show, but I hardly see the fun in that.
The real magic, the real if-you’re-going-to-do-it-you-might-as-well-go-all-the-way of it, however, is when you put it all together in a hollowed-out baguette or seeded Italian sandwich roll or heck, even little rolls for a most-indulgent “slider” with all those other parts and run it under the broiler long enough for excellent things to happen.
One year ago: Best Cocoa Brownies, Chana Masala and Walnut Jam Cake
Two years ago: Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad, Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes and Crisp Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw
Three years ago: Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree and Candied Grapefruit Peels
Four years ago: Asparagus Artichoke and Shiitake Risotto
Meatball Subs with Caramelized Onions and Gruyère
Meatball recipe adapted generously from Ina Garten
a.k.a. Meatball Hoagies, Grinders or Heroes
Yields about 24 to 28 2-inch meatballs or one colossal meatball sub. I’d estimate two meatballs per person, perhaps less if you’re putting out a lot of other food.
How much bread will you need? If you make 2-inch meatballs, as I suggest below, estimate 2 inches of length in your roll for each meatball, so you’ll want 48 inches of sandwich roll altogether. The “Italian seeded demi-baguette” (as Fresh Direct called it) I show above is 9 inches but tapers at the ends, so it fit 4 meatballs. I would have needed 8 of them for the whole batch of meatballs, and also a swarm of hungry folks.
The baguettes or seeded sandwich rolls you’ll use for your sandwiches (see Note above for how to estimate)
2 pounds ground meat of your choice (I used pork but have in the past used beef, veal, chicken, turkey or a blend thereof)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg
4 cups prepared tomato sauce (plus extra if you like a lot of extra sauce)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups coarsely shredded Gruyère
Make the meatballs: Split your rolls almost the whole way through, leaving one side attached. Scoop out some of the roll to create a channel for the meatballs to rest in. Grind the bread you pulled out in a food processor or tear it into minuscule bits. You will need 1 1/3 cups or 2 3/4 ounces of fresh breadcrumbs for the meatballs. If you’re not making subs, you can get this same amount of breadcrumbs from 2 to 3 sandwich bread slices. Set rolls aside until later.
Place the fresh breadcrumbs in a large bowl with 3/4 cup warm water and all of the meatball ingredients except for the olive oil and tomato sauce. Combine with a fork, breaking up clumps of meat until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Form mixture into 2-inch meatballs are arrange on a tray. I find wet hands make it easier to form meatballs without them sticking too much.
Heat a generous slick of oil (few tablespoons) in a large saute pan with a lid. Brown meatballs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan or nudge them before they are nicely browned or they will stick and you’ll leave delicious meatball bits in the pan. These meatballs are soft, so use a gentle hand. Transfer meatballs to a paper towel-lined tray and continue until they are all browned.
Discard the oil and heat your tomato sauce in the pan. Add the meatballs, cover the pan and simmer them on the lowest heat possible for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.
Caramelize onions: While the meatballs are simmering, you can cook the onions. Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and a little pepper and cook until they’re tender, sweet, and a deep golden brown, stirring occasionally. This takes me about 30 minutes.
Assemble subs: Arrange meatballs with sauce in the hollowed-out roll(s). Drape caramelized onions over the top and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Place subs under a broiler or in an oven at top heat to melt the cheese.