Get the Recipe
Margeret Jo McCullen: [ chewing ] Wow, Pete... I have to say, your balls are so tender. —Saturday Night Live, Season 28, Episode 9, starring Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, and Alec Baldwin
What's in a meatball sub? Roll, meatballs, sauce. So very simple, yet so very satisfying. At first bite while you try to hold the messy construction together, chunky tomato sauce and bits of meat tumble out, leaving a big splatter on the plate, and often the shirt, below and around the point of impact.
Crusty bread and a hearty red sauce are musts in a perfect meatball sub, but the most important item is its namesake: the meatball. And, as the infamous Schweddy balls undoubtedly were, they need to be tender and well-browned.
These meatballs are made with a combination of ground beef and ground pork. I prefer cuts that are well-marbled, and opt to grind my own short ribs and country-style pork ribs at home (your butcher can do this for you as well); they are rich and intensely beefy, porky, and flavorful. For that bracing touch of umami, anchovy fillets are sautéed along with onions--for those fearful of that tiny, briny, salty sea creature, rest assured you won't taste anything fishy in these meatballs, as the anchovy will only add a strong backbone of flavor that will melt into the rest of the ingredients.
Finely grated lemon zest, lemon juice, fresh oregano, and fresh flat-leaf parsley add vibrant tones to this rich beef-and-pork blend, while a Parmesan-flecked panade creates a fall-apart texture that's well suited to a sandwich: the meatballs are piled in, but soft enough that they squash down when pressed between oven toasted pieces of bread.
The meatballs are cooked until deeply browned—cook them until they turn rather dark as some of the color will fade while they simmer—to allow for a crust to form. The meatballs are then simmered in a canned plum tomato sauce made only with a handful of ingredients for a sauce that's spare but bold, that both complements and livens this classic Italian-American sandwich.