Meatball sub

Tuck into this decadent meatball sub recipe – just the thing to help cheer on Italy in the Euros. Make sure you put plenty of time and care into the marinara sauce, the longer it's bubbling away on the stove, the better the results will be. Read Danny's guide to snacking through the Euros for more football-food goodness. The sauce is best made the day before then kept overnight to deepen the flavour, but feel free to make it on the day if short on time.

First published in 2016

A lot has been written on the subject of food in film and with the exception of Burnt, the nitty gritty of cooking in general, translates very well onto the big screen. Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas for instance, is a fantastic example. Sure, it is a fairly brutal and violent portrayal of the Mob, or the Italian mafia in America. However, when it comes to displaying the intricacies, techniques and pure damn passion behind Italian food, it is second to none. Garlic cloves should be sliced to thin precision with razor blades, so that they ooze and melt into the pan; red wine must always be available to accompany a feast; and you just have to keep an eye on the tomato sauce, making sure that it is being constantly stirred, over a long period of time. Even when the FBI are hovering in helicopters over your house. If you haven’t got a clue as to what I am talking about, you should probably watch the film but the point I think I am trying to make, is that whilst Italian food is often simple, time and attention to detail is paramount.

So it goes without saying then, that when making the tomato sauce to go with these very moreish and filling meatballs, snuggled into soft sub rolls, make you sure that you prepare it well in advance and not during the football this weekend. It’s one thing to go running into the front room, holding a spoon and dribbling rich marinara all over the carpet when someone shouts ‘GOOAAAAL!’ But if you don’t take the time beforehand, well you’ll just end up with a sauce that is reedy and thin and without soul. Two hours are needed minimum, to slowly cook all those sweet flavours out. And if you can leave it overnight to steep and stew, then even better.

To pair up and instead of red wine, I’ve picked an unusual beer that hails from the central region of Italy and not too far from Rome; namely Cortigiana, a saison from Birra del Borgo. These pale, amber and fruity ales are often associated with the mighty beer brewing country that is Belgium. An easy going, slightly lactic or sour summertime treat, to be quaffed in the open squares of Ghent and Bruge. That some breweries in Italy are also starting to produce some very fine ones of their own is testimony to the exploding craft beer scene going on over there. There are over 600 microbreweries in that boot-shaped land now, which is pretty amazing. The great thing about this particular saison is that it has a slightly herby note going on in the background, which compliments the woody thyme, sage and rosemary that has gone into the meatballs. Hmmm, meatballs.

If you fancy grabbing a bottle then you will mostly likely have to take a trip to a specialist beer shop, if you have one near you. Most supermarkets do a generic Italian cooking lager, which would be fine for the game. But if you can take the time and effort to find a bottle of Cortigiana, or a farmhouse beer that would be similar, then do seek it out.

And I can’t repeat this enough, take your time over the tomato sauce. Because scrubbing red stains off your brand new Axminster is no fun at all. Mama mia, it really isn’t.





Marinara sauce

To serve

  • 4 white sub rolls, long, cut in half
  • Parmesan, for grating over the subs


First take a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Add half the olive oil, then add the onion, garlic, oregano, chilli and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir through, reduce the heat and sweat the vegetables off for 10–15 minutes, until they become very soft
Add the tomatoes and the rest of the oil and cook for a further 15 minutes before adding the tinned tomatoes
Continue to simmer and cook for at least another hour, but 2 is better, returning often to stir
When ready, check the seasoning and gently blitz using a hand blender to smooth the sauce out, but only a little. If you whizz it too hard, the sauce will become bright orange (in my experience)
While the sauce is bubbling away, make the meatballs. Place all of your ingredients in a bowl and mix together thoroughly with your hands. Check for seasoning by pinching off a small piece of meat and frying it off quickly. If it needs some more salt and pepper, mix a little bit more in
Taking a small piece at a time, start to roll the mixture into balls, roughly the size of golf balls. You should make 30 meatballs, give or take. Place on a lightly greased tray and keep in the fridge for 30 minutes
Meanwhile, heat your oven up to 220°C/gas mark 8
When ready, place the tray with meatballs into the oven
After 10 minutes, turn your meatballs over and leave them to bake for another 5 minutes or so before taking them out and finishing to heat and poach in the tomato sauce for another 5 minutes
To serve, slice your subs halfway through, plonk 3–4 meatballs into each roll and spoon over a generous helping of tomato sauce
Finish by grating over plenty of Parmesan cheese and make sure your guests have napkins to mop up with. Wash down with some of that ice-cold saison
First published in 2016

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

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