Mini Meatball Heroes

Everyone gets stuck on things. Sometimes it’s a song you have to hear over and over until you’re sick of it and sometimes it’s a food you have to keep eating until you can’t eat it anymore. Lately I’ve been hung up on Meatball Sub Sandwiches. It’s not something I typically think about making, so I’ve been picking it up from the local sub shop. When my cravings really kicked in, it dawned on me that I should be making it at home…

So I did.

You wouldn’t think it’d be hard to find a good recipe, but it was. Most recipes, even the ones I saw on epicurious, called for jarred marinara and if there’s one thing I absolutely can’t stand, it’s that. Finally, I found one that I liked from Giada De Laurentiis.

The sauce typically takes the longest, not because of the work involved, but because of the simmer time. So I started with that.

Marinara Sauce:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves

A meatball hero requires a smooth sauce with little chunks. It should grace and adorn the meatballs, not get into an embittered texture fight, so I diced up the garlic and onion with a knife then pulsed the celery and carrots in my food processor.

The veggies were cooked up in a large pot until the onions were soft and translucent, then I dumped in everything else and let it simmer for about an hour.

Then I went to the fun part: the meatballs.

1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 large egg
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
6 ounces ground beef
6 ounces ground veal
6 ounces ground pork
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

The first seven ingredients go into a bowl together and whisked.

So far, so good. Add the cheese and breadcrumbs and mix. Then add the meat.

I didn’t use the mixture of meat she prescribes above (one part beef, one part veal, one part pork). Instead, I used two parts beef, one part veal. The point of the mixture is to make sure you end up with a meatball that has a smooth, easy-to-bite-through texture. If you end up with meatballs that require gnawing to get through, it’s no good. Reviewers of the recipe also noted that they tried it with two parts turkey and one part pork with success. Feel free to mix it up – the veal and pork give the meatball a gentler texture that is easier to bite through. Beef on its own can come out a little coarse, same as ground turkey/chicken, so make sure you mix a little bit of pork or veal in there, whatever your poison.

Try and make sure you’ve combined the mixture as thoroughly as possible then, using about two tablespoons of mixture (I eyeballed it) roll it into a meatball.

From here you’ve got two options: frying or baking. I tried both, knowing full darn well the frying was going to come out badly. I’ve fried meatballs before, and it always ends unfavorably, because it smells up the whole house for days, your fabrics and linens smell like whatever you were frying and the oil eventually gets so hot that after your first couple of batches of meatballs, everything chars on the outside. I am not a good fryer and I’m okay and people like me.

But as you can see from the picture above, I tried it anyway. It was okay, but then I was freaked out that the veal hadn’t cooked all the way through so I broke open every single meatball to make sure that I wasn’t about to kill my spouse (because, let’s face it, we have a life insurance policy on him but it’s really not big enough to warrant killing him off, moving to a resort in Mexico, and hiring a sexy pool boy).

At any rate, when the frying didn’t work, I put all of the meatballs on a foil-lined cookie tray and baked them at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. They all cooked perfectly and there was no char on the outside.

When those are done, you put everything together. Spoon up some sauce on the top and bottom of a roll (okay, you got me – I didn’t make any rolls, I bought them!) put a couple of meatballs on top and stick a slice of provolone on top.

Grab a napkin and dig in. Yummy.

If you have leftover sauce, which I did, it can be placed in an airtight container or two and frozen for months. When you want more meatball subs, take it out of the freezer and dump it into a pot with a half cup of water. Turn the burner on medium and place a lid over the pot, stirring the mixture occasionally. This will successfully reheat your sauce without burning the bottom of the frozen chunk.

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