How To Make The Perfect Meatball Sandwich

Meatball sandwiches are like philly cheesesteak sandwiches; everyone has a favorite preparation, topping and sandwich joint that they staunchly love. My favorite meatball sandwich comes from Potbelly Sandwich Works, a place that started in the midwest but sadly, hasn't made it's way to Los Angeles (sad face). Their bread is fantastic; hot with a flaky crust, and their meatballs are juicy, tender and full of great tomato, herb and beef flavors. Top it off with a layer of melted Provolone cheese and more bubbling marinara sauce and you've got yourself a serious winner.

The crazy thing is that for the five years since I've been back in L.A., I've pretty much pouted and just missed this sandwich without doing anything about it. My options are pretty limited as I can't have one shipped in -- freshness would be a slight issue -- and I'm not exactly in a position to franchise a store. So I did the next best thing: I made my own. A flip through last month's Bon Appetit confirmed my decision as I turned straight to a section entitled, "Finally Found: The Perfect Meatball."

The Perfect Meatball Sandwich
The recipe was so good that I found myself eating the meatballs out of the pan and literally slurping the sauce with a spoon. For real. But once I forced myself to regain my composure, I made a pretty kick-ass meatball sandwich topped with diced onions, Italian parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It's not Potbelly's, but it will definitely do. Here's the recipe.

(Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

Sauce Ingredients:
  • 2 28-ounce cans diced or crushed tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt
Meatball Ingredients:
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 8 ounces ground beef (15% fat)
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • 1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)
To make the sauce: Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.

To make the meatballs: Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes. Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup ground Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper. Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture. Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using hands, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined (do not overmix). Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Combine the meatball ingredients and chill
Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs, then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Note: The meatballs and sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead.

Arrange meatballs in single layer in simmering tomato sauce

Cover with sauce (turn over if necessary) and let cook through, about 15-20 minutes.
While meatballs are cooking, assemble the sandwich ingredients. Cut off a 5-inch section from a fresh loaf of French bread. Slice three-fourths of the way through the bread, leaving the two "sides" connected (this is so the meatballs rest on the bread and don't fall through the other side). Dice two teaspoons of sweet onion and fresh Italian parsley. When the meatballs are finished cooking, arrange five meatballs and some extra ladle of sauce inside the bread. Sprinkle the meatballs with the onion, parsley and grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately (with extra napkins!).

Slice French bread, dice onion and Italian parsley

Arrange five meatballs between bread; top with onions, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
The great news is that this recipe yields a lot of meatballs, which you can also use for spaghetti and meatballs the next day. Or you can just reheat the meatballs and eat them alone. Yep, they're that good. Either way, you're gonna love them.

Got leftovers? Make spaghetti & meatballs!

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