I see no reason why you couldn’t argue for these as a perfectly compact, perfectly balanced, perfectly comforting dinner option. You get your veggies (Fennel! Onion! Tomatoes, kinda!), you get your protein (in delicious Italian sausage form, to boot), plus you get something melty-hot and quick to prepare (so basically the trifecta of dinner situations). The day that I made and shot these, I was in a state of devastating hangover and I swear, hand on my heart, that these took off at least 25% of that hangover sting. They were that perfect dose of cheesy, greasy, yet not so terrible for you that things got temporarily better right before plummeting again. So there’s that…
BA’s Best: Meatball Subs
Taken from BA’s Best arsenal, with the most minor of tweaks here and there
1 ½ lb sweet Italian sausages (hot would also work)
8 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 fennel bulb, knobby end and stalks removed, cut in half and sliced into papery-thin half-moons
1 large yellow onion, chopped
10 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, divided
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
1 cup basil leaves, packed
4 soft hoagie rolls or Portuguese buns, cut in half but not all the way through (like a book)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large ball fresh mozzarella cheese (this is the wetter kind, similar to bocconcini), cut into slices
Remove the sausage meat from the casings. Using wet hands, lightly roll the meat into ~12 very large meatballs (larger than golf balls, ~2 oz each). Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat. Cook the meatballs, turning occasionally, until browned all over (~10 minutes, don’t worry about cooking them completely through yet). Transfer to a plate. Add the sliced fennel, onion, 5 cloves of garlic (sliced), and another 2 tbsp olive oil to the same pot. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the onion is lovely and golden and everything smells irresistibly fragrant, ~8-10 minutes. Use your hands to crush in the canned tomatoes, then bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the sauce just thickens (~8-10 minutes, but potentially less). Return the meatballs to the pot, maintain the simmer, and cook until the sauce has reduced by half and the meatballs are cooked through, ~15-20 minutes.
While the sauce and meatballs cook, preheat the broiler. Make a quick pesto by combining the basil, remaining 5 cloves of garlic (sliced), and remaining 4 tbsp olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until a smooth paste has formed, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Smear the pesto over one half of each bun or roll, then butter the remaining halves. Set the buns, open like books, onto a lined baking sheet and broil for 2 minutes, just to lightly toast. Plop the saucy meatballs inside the toasted rolls and top generously with slices of mozzarella. Broil until the mozzarella is browned and bubbling, ~5 minutes, ensuring that the “naked” halves of the buns do not take on too much colour. If you had any leftover pesto, feel free to dot it over the subs. Cut each sandwich in half and serve while piping hot. Avoid all kissing for at least 24 hours (or only kiss people who have also eaten this sandwich).