The year was 1982, or thereabouts. My hair, frizzy. My braces, metallic. My whole look, somewhere between lanky giraffe and eager poodle, but not a show poodle with its coat just so, more a scruffy poodle who likes to roll in the grass but basically aspires to greater things.
But enough about me. Let's talk about meatball subs.
Because it was around this time that I discovered the strong pull of the meatball sub, that classic sandwich in which giant spheres of meat loll about in a crusty roll, with just enough cheese to increase your chance of a coronary.
That the meatballs are soused with tomato sauce, which oozes out of the sandwich and onto the table, your t-shirt, and your lap, somehow ups its value prop. This is not prissy food. This is tomboy food, or at least it was for me. The me who, in 1982, spent a long time listening to Jack & Diane on an endless loop, dreaming that someday, somehow, someone might want to share a meatball sub with me, assuming that once my braces came off I'd be far cuter if only I could figure out how to get my frizzy hair under control, which, if you've ever met me, you've probably figured out by now that I never really learned how to do.
Recipe for Classic Meatball Sub
A fun little book called The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo (Quirk Books, 2011) recounts the quirky lore of a wide array of sandwiches, from the commonplace (peanut butter and jelly) to the bizarre (the "chip buddy," a french fry and mayo sandwich). When I saw the meatball sub, I was hooked. I made very minor changes, only around the edges.
Makes enough meatballs for 6 to 8 sandwiches, or make fewer sandwiches and serve leftover meatballs with pasta
MEATBALLS: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil. Combine 1/2 pound each ground beef and ground pork in a large bowl with 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 beaten egg, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Mix until well-combined with one clean hand. Scoop into 1-1/2 inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.
SAUCE: Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium pot and saute 2 diced shallots and 4 minced garlic cloves until translucent. Stir in one 28-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes and one 15-ounce can tomato sauce, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and let bubble until the meatballs are ready. Add the meatballs to the sauce (they need a bit more time to cook through, so don't nibble them yet) and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes longer. Stir in 1/4 cup fresh minced parsley.
ASSEMBLY: Split 6 to 8 (or less, or more) rolls (I used Dutch crunch rolls) in half. Pull out a bit of the doughy bread from the bottom rolls so the meatballs don't roll around. For each sandwich, nestle about 4 meatballs in each roll, spoon on some tomato sauce, and top with a slice of provolone. Lay the roll tops face-up, and flat, alongside. Broil 2 minutes, or until the cheese melts and the rolls turn golden. Watch carefully. Serve immediately.