Pesto Meatball Sandwich

It’s no secret how much I love some kind of carb, drenched in tomato sauce and oozing melted cheese. It’s my Platonic ideal of comfort food really. So instead of making another baked pasta, I thought I’d try tackling the meatball sandwich.

This sandwich was inspired by a pesto turkey meatball sandwich offered at one of my favorite diners here in Seattle. Their meatballs are made with ground turkey, soaked in tomato sauce then drizzled with pesto. It’s usually delicious, but my one beef (har har) with it is that the turkey can get dried out while cooking in the skillet. So I thought for my meatballs, I’d turn to a mix of ground beef and sausage which have a little more fat to help keep the meat from drying out, and give it an extra flavor and moisture boost by mixing the pesto directly into the meatball mix. These meatballs were light in texture, moist in the interior, and bright in flavor thanks to the basil in the pesto. All they needed was to bathe in a pool of tomato sauce, made quickly from using canned crushed tomatoes with plenty of red pepper flakes, and to make friends with some melty, stretchy mozzarella cheese. For a little more color and nutrition, I added leaves of fresh spinach which wilted slightly from the heat of the tomato sauce. This is a meatball sandwich that is satisfying, but one you can feel good about eating as well.

Note: I served my sandwich with oven baked breaded zucchini rounds on the side, the recipe for which you can find here.

  • 1 lb lean ground beef (I use grass-fed Angus)
  • 13 oz hot Italian sausage, bulk or removed from casings
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 tsps dried oregano, divided
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • olive oil
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 medium onion, halved
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 bunch fresh spinach, stems trimmed, leaves washed and spun dry
  • sandwich rolls
  • garlic butter spread (optional)
  • salt and pepper

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, add the crushed tomatoes, butter, and onion halves. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer over low heat with the sauce just slightly bubbling, for at least 30-40 minutes. Discard the onion then stir in 2 tsp oregano and 1 tsp red pepper flakes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

While sauce simmers, make the meatballs. In a large mixing bowl, use your hands to mix together all the ingredients from beef to bread crumbs. Mix until just combined being careful not to over-mix the meatballs to keep the texture light and airy. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet over medium high heat. Roll meatballs the size of about 2 inches in diameter and set aside on a plate. Carefully place the meatballs in the skillet, being careful not to overcrowd them, cooking in batches, about half at a time. Brown the meatballs on all sides, about 5 minutes each side then add them to the tomato sauce to simmer and cook through. Let all the meatballs simmer in the sauce for at least 20 minutes to ensure that they have cooked all the way through.

Split the sandwich rolls, spread some garlic butter on each side if you want, then lightly toast. Lay a bed of spinach in each prepared roll, then top with 3 meatballs (or however many your sandwich rolls can hold) in each sandwich and plenty of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle a layer of shredded mozzarella and place in a warm oven (about 350 degrees F) if you want the cheese to melt faster.

CSA Count: 1

Fresh basil (in pesto made over the summer and frozen for later use)


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