this all started a few months back, when i ate a delicious meatball sub from my local butcher, bespoke – i’ve been craving another one ever since. but making / posting about meatball subs had me feeling a little conflicted. it’s rare that i make a food so blatantly jersey shore, “gino”, italian-american. i prefer to explore traditional italian cuisine from multiple regions, learning about the strict rules and techniques that have been established. i like to gush about pasta making, about the laws of pizza, and i advise my friends to visit authentic restaurants like terroni, not east side marios – but then i realized this is important, in addition to being freaking delicious.
here’s a little history for you guys today:
italian american food came to be in the late 19th and early 20th century when italian immigrants starting to come over from around naples or sicily, and moved to large, established cities like new york, chicago and boston. they cooked the wholesome food they had been cooking back home for their families, with the ingredients that were accessible to them in their new environment. ingredients like fresh cheese were now affordable to cooks that came from poverty, and as a result, they started using them as the main attraction instead of as accents – enter the invention of foods like mozzarella sticks. these italian cooks took pride in being able to use these ingredients with abandon, feeding their family and friends in abundance. “classics” like spaghetti and meatballs (traditionally, the meat, when available back home, and pasta are separate courses), garlic bread, and pepperoni pizza (in the absence of prosciutto di parma, which wasn’t traded to the u.s until the 1970’s), are all birthed from the hybrid cuisine, which is now one of the top 3 in the world. just take a look at eataly, mario batali and lidia bastianich’s hugely successful, 50,000 square foot italian food mecca in nyc.
italian-amercian food is now an established, always evolving cuisine, and it’s important to respect it because it’s the reason there is a growing interest and respect for the traditional italian techniques and ingredients. 🙌🏼
i couldn’t find any history on the origins of the meatball sub, but in my version of the invention, a nona had been simmering a big batch of meatballs in sauce for the family, and her son came home from a long day yelling “ma! i’m hungry!” and to tide him over until dinner, she slapped a few meatballs in a homemade bun and said “giovanni, mangia!”. he loved it so much, he brought some for the guys at work the next day, and the meatball sub was born. these are so simple to make and so satisfying (one of the best fundamentals of italian cuisine) – meaty, cheesy, nap inducing goodness. 🍅
meatball subs with garlic rapini
*meatballs make about 20 medium sized, plenty of delicious leftovers
1 pound ground pork
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
big pinch black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably homemade
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
1 can whole san marzano tomatoes
1 jar pureed tomatoes (the ones in the glass jar!)
4 fresh white submarine rolls
1/2 head rapini, blanched and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
more grated pecorino cheese, for tops
add all ingredients except tomatoes to a large bowl, and mix gently with your hands until combined. form into balls a little bit bigger than a golf ball. in batches, brown all over in a heavy bottomed pot. add both canned tomatoes and jarred tomatoes to the pot crushing the whole tomatoes with your hand or a wooden spoon. add meatballs to the pot making sure they are covered with sauce and cook, covered until tender and cooked through, about 35 minutes. store them in the sauce until ready to use.
sauté blanched rapini with oil and garlic until fragrant. cut rolls in half lengthwise and gently open. top with rapini, a few meatballs with some sauce and grated pecorino. toast under the broiler until cheese is melted and buns are starting to brown.