Meatball Subs

February 21, 2012


Meatball Sub

The other day I caught the episode of Friends with Joey’s sandwich – the one where a car backfires but Joey, Ross and Chandler think it’s a gunshot and Joey appears to dive across Ross in order to protect him from the bullet. Chandler is consumed with jealousy and hurt that Joey didn’t try to save him over Ross, but it later transpires that he was in fact diving to protect his precious meatball sub.

The very thought of this fictional sandwich gave me the mother of all cravings. Meatballs? Good. Marinara sauce? Good. Cheese? Gooood. I immediately started planning Project Meatball Sub.


I became a little obsessed with creating a ‘proper’ marinara and found that the Italians, unsurprisingly, have very strong opinions about what should and shouldn’t go in. I knew that I wanted a rich and unctuous sauce that was slightly sweet, but the latter requirement is the source of much controversy. Some say sweetness should only be achieved by using the most perfectly ripe tomatoes, which, frankly, would pretty much rule out ever making one in this country, even in the height of summer. Tinned tomatoes were the obvious substitute but short of spending £3 on a really good quality can (or two), I was tempted to add sugar. This, it turns out, is not acceptable. Some argue that one should only ever add a cube of potato to absorb excess acidity, while others champion the sweetness of celery. Me, I cheated and used a good pinch of plain old sugar. Sorry (lies, lies).


For the meatballs I used a mixture of half beef and half pork because I think it gives the best flavour. Breadcrumbs soaked in milk kept them nice and light, crucially important if I was to stand any chance of making a dent in such a hefty ‘wich. For the cheese, I chose Gruyère, as it’s a great melter and has a good strong, nutty flavour; I really wanted to taste the cheese in this sandwich. To counteract all that fatty richness, a topping of charred, bittersweet green pepper. Usually I can’t stand green peppers but their bite works really well here – in fact I would say they’re essential.

This is probably one of the unhealthiest sandwiches I’ve ever made, and that’s really saying something. It’s also the reason it tastes so damn good, let’s face it. Hubba. Pick me up at the corner of meatball and cheeseville and take me to heaven on the sub sub express.

Meatball Subs

(makes 4) (the meatballs and sauce would also be fantastic with spaghetti)

For the meatballs

250g minced pork
250g minced beef
1 thick slice white bread, crusts removed
A few tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 small onion, very finely chopped
Flour, for dusting
Oil, for frying

Put the bread in a small bowl and cover with the milk, allowing it to soak in, then mash to a paste with a fork. Mix the paste with all the other ingredients. Make small meatballs with the mixture, then set aside to refrigerate for half an hour at least.

When ready to cook, cover a plate with flour, then roll each meatball around in it. Fry the meatballs in oil until brown all over, then set aside to drain on kitchen paper. They don’t need to be cooked fully as they will be simmered in the sauce later.

For the sauce

2 tins chopped tomatoes
A splash of red wine
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A good pinch of chilli flakes
A pinch of sugar
1 bay leaf, torn
A splash of water or stock
1 small bunch fresh basil, shredded

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan and gently fry the garlic and chilli flakes until the garlic just begins to colour. Add the wine and let it bubble up for a minute or so. Add the tomatoes, sugar, bay leaf, water/stock and some salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then add the meatballs. Let the mixture simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce is rich and thick. Add the fresh basil.

For the roast veg

1 green pepper
1 regular onion

Slice the veg into wedges, place in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Mix well. Cook at 200C until soft and charred in places (about 30 mins).

For the subs

Recipe here. You could of course buy some ready-made.

To assemble the subs

You will need Gruyere cheese or another cheese which melts well, to top the subs.

Slice the subs, then scoop out some of the crumb from the bottom half so you can fit the meatballs in more easily. Lightly toast the bottom half of each sub. Top with some of the meatballs, then some of the cheese and place back under the grill so that the cheese melts. Toast the top half of each bun also. Top each sub with roast pepper and onions, then the top half of the sub.

Make sure you do some serious exercise the next day.


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  • Avatar
    Reply Jessica February 21, 2012 at 11:07 am


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      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 11:09 am

      He he. Naughty. NICE.

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    Reply sam b. February 21, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Holy sweet crap that looks absolutely amazing! I saw your pic of it the other day and was instantly famished – much like right now.

    I practically grew up on these; in my childhood-neck-of-the-woods (Massachusetts) we generally called them grinders. Further south – Philly especially – they are hoagies. But all the same in essence.

    And it really looks like you nailed those that are found all over the Northeast US. Sometimes some grilled onions make their way inside the bun, but yours looks fantastic. Any leftovers? 🙂

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      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 11:21 am

      Thanks Sam! These have grilled onions too if you look closely! I did come across the terms grinder and hoagie when I was researching this. Word of advice: don’t Google ‘meatball grinder’ and then look at the Urban Dictionary definition. Just saying.

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    Reply sam b. February 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Ahahaha! Of course that was the first thing I did – I love the fact that Urban Dictionary provides the example sentences for context. Not gross at all.

    And shame on me for missing those onions, seeing as they’re in the pics AND the recipe. Too busy dreaming of eating one.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

      Ha ha! I knew you would! SORRY.

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    Reply Patrick February 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Oh man that looks good.

    Helen I do hope you get a cook-book deal soon. You are to savoury food what Momofuku’s Milk Bar is to sweet.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Awww, thanks Patrick! Very kind of you.

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    Reply Lizzie February 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm


    This looks messily awesome. I am a huge fan of meatballs – interesting with the green pepper, I thought that was spinach at first glance but I bet it works really well. Hubba.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      I am still reeling, Mabs. STILL REELING!!!

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    Reply aoife @ the gannet February 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    holy mother. I’m tasting with my eyes….

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      holy mother of meatballs!

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    Reply thelittleloaf February 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Good god, never thought I’d say this but that is one sexy sandwich!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      AHA! I am converting even the non-sandwich fanciers!

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    Reply Libby February 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    OMG that looks amazing!! And any sandwich born out of watching Friends is always going to be a winner in my book 😀

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      It’s probably my favourite recipe inspiration other than the time I had to make a meatball curry after I woke myself up shouting “MEATBALLS!”

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    Reply Sally - My Custard Pie February 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Damn. I was going to make a vegetarian meal tonight and then I read this.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      Sorry! (not really)

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    Reply Simon Shaer February 21, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Please help this looks amazing but ain’t too kosher.

    Does any one know what I could swap for the cheese and the milk?

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      Reply Helen February 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Hi Simon, well you could use water in place of the milk, no problem. Can’t help you on the cheese though! Maybe just leave it out?

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    Reply Paul W. February 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    It’s cloudy here in Dorset…..cloudy with a chance of…yep you got it!!! Mmmmmm Dee Lish

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    Reply zuko February 21, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Oh boy.

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    Reply Shu Han February 21, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    haha i remember the time you “had to make meatball curries after you woke up shouting meatballs” post. hilarious. I probably would gladly have the meatballs in that sauce straight from the pot already!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 22, 2012 at 6:26 am

      Hmm yes well I did eat a few straight from the pot myself…*burp*

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    Reply Isabel February 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

    OH MY GAWD this looks so good! Will definitely have to make this very very soon (probably hungover this weekend…this looks like the perfect hangover food)

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 22, 2012 at 10:10 am

      Oh man, this would be PERFECT for a hangover! Just make sure you have it all ready the day before!!

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    Reply eatdrinkplaylondon February 22, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Oh my, it’s only 10:30am and I am drooling over the sound of these – definitely add to my to-cook list, ASAP!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      It’s always meatball o’clock!

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    Reply Melanie Seasons February 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Oh wow. Looks amazing! I’m also curious about the sandwich made famous on 30 Rock. You should try that next!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      Ah so it’s like a pimped French dip? Nice!

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    Reply Gary @ The Greedy Fork February 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I happen to have some meatballs in the freezer. Can’t wait to make this with them now

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      It’s a sign from the sandwich gods!!!

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    Reply Meatball Micky February 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Yum, this one is going in my 100 favourite meatball recipes! Thanks Helen 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 23, 2012 at 8:15 am

      Crikey, that A LOT of meatball recipes?!

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    Reply Tony February 22, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    This is making me CRAZY hungry right now. I have just had my tea as well which doesn’t bode well for my girth!

    I must admit I fancy a touch of acidity rather than the sweetness in the sauce – maybe some red wine vinegar in addition to the red wine? Altering the quantities of course rather than overdosing and making it bitter.

    I think I will give it a go this week and see how it tastes… then when it’s pants I’ll try it your way!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 23, 2012 at 8:15 am

      Ha ha, cheers Tony! Let me know what you think.

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    Reply Danni February 23, 2012 at 8:33 am

    OMG I can’t wait to have the contents of this sandwich dribble down my face! I want to make it now. Looks super yummy!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 23, 2012 at 9:40 am

      Ha ha! Oh, it dribbles…

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    Reply Katie February 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one that craves a meatball sub when watching that episode of Friends!

    I have these delicious looking meatballs simmering on the stove right now! I simply couldn’t not make this!

    Katie xoxo

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 25, 2012 at 7:58 am

      Oooh what did you think?

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    Reply Katie Bryson February 25, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    pure filth Helen 😉 I’m thinking my boys would LOVE this – and I could sling some soya-based meatballs in for my veggie husband.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 27, 2012 at 9:19 am

      Thanks! A veggie husband? Poor you…(joking)

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    Reply zuko February 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Well, this was amazing. Made this on Sunday and had the sub for lunch and then caved in and had them with spaghetti for dinner too, whoops!

    Pro tip: I scooped out some of the crumb in my sub to provide the bread for the recipe and also create a trough to cram in more meatballs.

    There is one portion left now which I will tucking into on Friday night while my wife goes round to a girlfriend’s to watch ‘One Day’, I think we all know who the winner here is. The only question is, sub or pasta…

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      Reply Helen February 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      Wahey! Really pleased you liked it! I forgot to say about scooping out the crumb! I’ll add it in. I expect people can see from the photos but best to just in case. Thanks for reminding me! The sub or pasta question is a NIGHTMARE I agree! Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed it, so lovely to hear. H

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    Reply joey February 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I think I just died and went to heaven a little with the picture of those meatballs! Goodness!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Ha ha! Excellent, glad you like the look of them. Mmmmmm meatballs.

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    Reply Anita March 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    What a lovely recipe, Helen. Do you think you could use the sauce recipe to make into a tomato soup (perhaps adding more water) and then putting the meatballs into the soup?

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      Reply Helen March 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Only one way to find out! Do make sure it doesn’t go too thin…

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    Reply Roger June 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Have you ever tried Tomate Frito (one brand is Hida) as an addition to your standard tomato sauce. You should get the sweetnees you are looking for without adding sugar. You can get it in 155g tins which is a useful size.

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      Reply Helen July 2, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      I haven’t but thanks for the tip. Where do I get it?

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    Reply Dixie Innes August 30, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Well, i just have to say you are a genius!! That really does look like a sandwich i would risk my life for. I have always wanted to taste Joey’s meatball sub! Like you I have am a serious lover of sandwiches, so when I came across your post about sandwiches I was VERY intrigued. They look and sound fantastic and I will be trying them all!

    Thank you,

    Dixie xx

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen August 30, 2012 at 11:07 am

      Ha ha! Thanks. Perhaps genius is a LITTLE bit strong 😉 I’ll take the compliment though…

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