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Meatball Subs with Caramelized Onions and Gruyere

These meatball subs are my new favorite form of mid-game sustenance. They’re hearty, meaty, cheesy, and hot.

It’s no big secret that I’m a football fan…a Buckeye fan to be exact. When you grow up in Central Ohio, it’s nearly impossible not to be. It doesn’t matter where you go in Columbus, if it’s a Saturday and it’s football season, you’ll find no shortage of red and gray shirts, TVs with the game on, and people asking what the score is.

If you want to go couch shopping, find awesome parking spots, or get seated right away at a restaurant, just go during game time on a Saturday. Seriously, places that don’t have TVs or booze practically shut down during game time. I used to work at a bakery about 5 minutes from campus. The hour before the game would be a mad house (people really love their Block O cookies), but after kick off it was a total ghost town. I think I saw a tumble weed once.

The Mr. was actually pretty shocked at the intensity of Buckeye love here in Columbus. Keep in mind, he grew up near Detroit, in a family with some serious loyalty to U of M. But even he was taken aback by the ferocity of our collective Buckeye fever. Some are born with it, some catch it, but all who contract the fever seem to carry it with them for life.

But I digress. We’re supposed to talk about subs. Meatball subs. And what in the world would football have to do with meatball subs?

Absolutely everything.

Because what do you need when you have a 4 hour long football game to watch that may require pacing, nail biting, yelling, and jumping up and down? Sustenance, that’s what.

These meatball subs are my new favorite form of mid-game sustenance. They’re hearty, meaty, cheesy, and hot. They’ll keep you going through the most grueling of games.

You can make these as simple or as difficult as you’d like. I included a recipe for one of my favorite homemade meatballs. It’s a rich, ricotta and parmesan stuffed meatball that uses half ground beef and half Italian sausage for tons of flavor. The recipe makes a huge batch so you could easily freeze these to have them on hand for a quick weeknight meal (or to feed the crowd of people watching the game at your house).

I also included a recipe for a quick tomato sauce you can use for the meatballs. It comes together in about 15 minutes, uses ingredients you already have in your pantry, and creates a rich, chunky, tomato sauce with a bit of a kick. I love it, and it’s a good recipe to have on hand for those nights you think you have a can of tomato sauce in the pantry until you realize you definitely don’t. Ooops!

But here’s the thing. I like simple things as much as the next guy, and I’m pretty darned sure these would be just as good with some frozen store bought meatballs and a jar of tomato sauce. What really makes these subs special is the smoked gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. A sprinkle of cheese and onions and a trip through the broiler takes a simple meatball sub to the next level.

Suddenly you’ve got a melty, browned, meaty sandwich with just a hint of sweetness from the onions. A single meatball would make a perfect slider to feed a crowd, but I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to save these guys for yourself. After all, if the game gets rough you made need it!

Meatball Subs
Yield: 40 mini meatballs, enough to make about 20 meatball subs
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Better Homes and Gardens 

For the meatballs: (Shortcut: Store bought meatballs!)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground Italian sausage
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup panko Japanese bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

For the tomato sauce: (Short cut: Jar of your favorite tomato sauce!)
4-5 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, partially drained (drain about half the liquid off)
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

For serving:
Overly generous handfuls of shredded smoked gruyere cheese
Sub buns
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:
1. For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Break the beef and sausage up into small chunks. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the meat and mix. Add meat and use your fingers to combine all ingredients. Form into 1 1/2 in size balls (should make 35-40). From here you can either bake the meatballs in 2 9 x 13 in pans for about 30-40 minutes, or you can brown the meatballs on the stovetop for about 10 minutes then add them to the pan and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. Once baked and cooled,  you can place the meatballs in a freezer safe ziplock container and freeze for a quick weeknight meal.

2. For the sauce: Combine garlic cloves, red pepper, and olive oil in sauce pan over medium heat and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, crushing tomatoes with a fork or spatula as they cook. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and saucy. Add additional salt and/or sugar to taste.

3. For the onions, place olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add salt and onions and cook until soft, tender, and golden brown–about 20-30 minutes (Not gonna lie- I sometimes rush the process and take them out after about 15 minutes. They don’t have quite the same texture as truly caramelized onions, but will still be very sweet).

4. Meanwhile, slice buns and place cut side up on a baking sheet. Broil until golden brown. Remove from oven.

To serve, place 2-3 meatballs on one side of bun, cover with tomato sauce, onions, and hefty amount of smoked gruyere cheese. Place cheese side up on a baking sheet and broil until cheese is melted. Top with second side of bun.

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