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Reinventing the Meatball Parmigiana Sub: 2011 Version

August 16, 2011 by Joan Nova in Italian, Meat, Salads, Sandwiches | 16 Comments

I’m not a traditionalist. Never claimed to be. Not in my beliefs, not in my life’s decisions and certainly not in my kitchen. I stand squarely against doing things a certain way (or any specific way) just because that’s how they are/were conventionally done.  It may be a controversial stance to some who hold tradition dear, but for me to do otherwise would be contra my mind’s eye. Sure, I’m influenced and guided by prevailing wisdom and ‘tried + true’ experiences, but I adhere to the view that every.single.thing in life could – and should – be routinely revisited, questioned and perhaps reinterpreted with the passage of time. That goes for relationships, behavior, beliefs, politics, style…and food!

I’ve eaten my share of meatball subs…although not recently. In fact, it’s been a long time what with watching calories and a changing perspective of what constitutes good food.

Much like this photo when I think of a meatball sub, I conjure up memories of:

heavily sauced,
long and slow cooked meatballs,
that are squished into a soft bread,
with spooned over sauce permeating the dough and making it…well, doughy.

It’s just a big mush. To take it  a step further and make the sandwich ‘parmigiana’ adds yet another layer of mushiness. Now this may make some of you drool. I used to be that way. But it’s not the way I eat anymore.

Calories and nutritional value aside…there’s no textural contrast, every bite is a blur on your palate, nothing stands on its own, and the visual doesn’t help to separate and identify the ingredients either.

It just doesn’t work for me anymore.

There are many names for this type of sandwich. Growing up in NYC, the term we used was “hero” or “sangwich” :) but elsewhere it’s a sub, grinder, hoagie, blimpie, rocket, torpedo and spuckie! Spuckie?! Whatever you call it, the recipe is simple…it’s a filled sandwich served on Italian or French bread. According to Wikipedia, the sandwich originated in Italian-American communities who settled in the NE United States in the late 19-mid 20th centuries.

Building the 2011 meatball parm sub starts with really good bread.

And the meatballs, of course. Where I differed from the traditional (ground meat, beaten egg, onion, garlic, parmesan, breadcrumbs, basil, dry seasonings) was I used turkey and added white cannellini beans to the mixture. First time I ever did that, but not the last. By baking the meatballs at 375 instead of frying and not adding them to a sauce, they retained their garlicky cheesy taste and structural integrity.

I’m a big fan of using fresh mozzarella and raw tomatoes in places where you’d generally find them cooked or baked. I often do it with pasta, vegetables (especially eggplant) and, as you can see, in sandwiches.

So instead of the ‘parmigiana’ component, I went for more of a tomato caprese.

Next came the meatballs.

And, then, just to keep it fresh, I topped it off with an Italian Slaw made of shaved fennel, radicchio, green onion and parsley with olive oil, dry seasonings, garlic and lemon dressing.

I didn’t set out to reinvent the meatball parm sub, but I’m glad I did. It started because I had ground turkey and a container of leftover white cannellini beans. I wasn’t even thinking meatballs but then one thought led to another. You know how that is.

It may not be a traditional meatball sub but when you take a bite…

you get toasted artisanal bread, creamy fresh mozzarella, sweet fresh tomatoes, garlicky and cheesy meatballs, and a fresh salad that complements and brings everything together. Mamma mia, sono buono!

Other uncooked ‘parm’ dishes:
No Bake Eggplant Parm Sandwich
Summertime Eggplant Parm: e molto delizioso
Eggplant Napoleon

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. giz says:

    I like your life philosophy and love the meatball sub (or whatever you want to call it). Yep, the old sloppy version running down your arms is kind of tired and I much prefer chicken or turkey meatballs.

  2. Katie says:

    You know, I must confess that I’ve got a soft spot for the old-school meatball grinder, as we’d call it in Philly. However, the 2011 version looks downright tasty. The cannellini beans with the ground turkey sound like a great twist on the meatball. Here’s to different and delicious!
    Katie recently posted..One More Funny Argentine Brand NameMy Profile

  3. How our tastes change as we get older! Today I would much better have your sandwich and I am sure it is much better for you. Great post!

  4. redkathy says:

    “Sangwich” LOL I haven’t heard that in forever, oh my gosh Joan I love it!

    I too find the heavy red sauce a bit much these days. And fresh mozzarella was always a first pick with me.

    Where I come from grinder was the most common lingo!
    redkathy recently posted..Spinach, Bell Pepper, Rice Stuffing – Leftover Veggie RecipeMy Profile

  5. Marie says:

    Mamma Mia is right, I’ll eat your version any old time! I love everything about it. I love that creative mind of yours, sorta like a MacGyver in the kitchen!

  6. mary says:

    i’m not a big fan of the sandwich but take your meatballs and all the toppings, place them in a dish, with a slice of that yummy bread on the side, give me a knife and fork, and I know I would love it.

  7. The meatball fanatic that I am welcomes your version just as much as that ridiculously heavy, cheesy, fattening version we all grew up with. Like you, I can’t do that anymore. And, I too like fresh mozzarella placed just about anywhere.

    P.S. Thanks for your comment about the peanut butter pie post. I worried that I was going too deep, but that’s just me.

  8. Sippitysup says:

    That is certainly pretty, but I will keep my favorite to myself. GREG

  9. Foodafok says:

    I like it! Fantastic.

  10. I love your philosophies Joan…that is a great attitude to have. As for your take on a meatball sub…where do I line up? I bet yours has more flavour too!

  11. Ben says:

    I love it! I understand that sometimes the classics stop working for us and we need to reinvent them. You should start your own sub restaurant chain :)

  12. Mary says:

    What a gorgeous sandwich.I love your updated version of this classic. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  13. Well, I am a traditionalist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try your deconstructed version. That looks great too.
    ciaochowlinda recently posted..Tomato SoupMy Profile

  14. Liren says:

    Spuckie? That’s definitely a new one to me, Joan! Love your update to the meatball sub – so fresh, it doesn’t look like it will sink to the bottom of your stomach. Now I’m craving…

  15. bellini says:

    I don’t know how I missed this sandwich Joan. It is my kind of sandwich too, without all the heavy sauces.

  16. norma says:

    How did I miss this one. This is also my kind of sandwich…I don’t like all that sauce and mushy bread…
    norma recently posted..Piñón – Puerto Rican LasagnaMy Profile

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