When I was younger, it was my dad's job to do the grocery shopping, and he always went on Saturdays. Sometimes I would tag along with him, and as I followed up and down the aisles, we would make sure to try all the free samples they were offering that weekend. Back then, the grocery stores must have been rolling in dough or otherwise feeling generous, because they were giving away so much food that little girls like me often went home with full tummies, feeling spoiled by free treats and indulgent dads.
Other weekends, I would stay at home with my mom while my dad did the grocery shopping, and those times he would usually make a stop at Subway on the way home to pick up lunch for us. I remember I used to try out all different sorts of subs (I eventually decided I like the veggie sub on white bread best, boring I know), but my dad would predictably come home with the same thing each week: A meatball sub.
When I was younger, I never really understood the appeal of the meatball sub. I can blame that on childhood naiveté, or just plain picky eating, but now I know that my dad was a smart man. Meatball subs are amazing. Since I am all grown up (or so I pretend to be), I have changed my ways and fallen head over heels in love with meatballs. Initially I slowly warmed up to them, but last year I chased after them with lust when I tried the Meatball Sammy from MIHO Gastrotruck here in San Diego. (Seriously, check out the post, you can see me eating the meatball sub with gusto.)
When this Meatball Sammy was on MIHO's menu, I tried it on Thursday, I went back and ordered it again on Friday, and I ate it again the following week. I was obsessed. Four of my co-workers tried it as well, and they agreed - MIHO's meatball sub was the best they had ever had. Any hand-crafted meatball sub is pretty great, but I think their sub really knocked my socks off because the meatballs themselves were so intensely flavorful and juicy. Of course, I had to have the recipe, and I found out their secrets: lots of fresh herbs and spices, shitake mushrooms, grass-fed beef... and bacon. BACON. Ah...it seems at the heart of every truly indulgent dish lies a core made out of bacon.
Here the bacon not only gives the meatballs a salty, more complex flavor, but it also makes them extra juicy. For me, one of the make-or-break characteristics of a great meatball is the moisture - I love when they are soft, and I detest when they are dry on the inside, and this recipe makes a perfectly tender meatball. As far as the other ingredients go, I know some purists claim no vegetables should come anywhere near their prized meat, but I strongly disagree. I adore the subtle taste of the herbs and mushrooms, and again, I think more complex flavor is the key to my heart.
Now these meatballs could be enjoyed on their own, with a little appetizer fork for a party, or some spaghetti and marinara sauce for a pasta dinner, and I can tell you they are equally good both ways. But add in soft, sweet bread, melted cheese, and steaming, spicy sauce...and I can promise that you will want to shout from the rooftops about the glory of this Bacon Meatball Sub.
Bacon meatballs are glorious on their own, but even better in a meatball sub.
With melted mozzarella, parmesan, and spicy marinara sauce, meatball subs are heaven.
So this week, for Father's Day, I think you should make dad a Bacon Meatball Sub. Because honestly, what dad would not love a meatball sub? And furthermore, what dad does not love bacon?
Just think how impressed and proud your dad will be when you place a warm sub in his overworked hands. He will beam with happiness and close his eyes in pleasure as he smells the fragrant Italian herbs. His astute nose might even be able to detect the faint trace of bacon, at which point his chest will swell with pride knowing you really know how to make a good meatball. (He will probably think he taught you this.) And when he finally bites into it, he will enjoy every bite knowing it not only tastes phenomenal, but that it was made with love.
So Happy Father's Day dads! I wish I could be spending the weekend at home with my family and my father, but I can promise that next time I see him I will be making him one of these subs. I love him dearly, and he deserves more thanks and appreciation than I could ever express with words... or a Bacon Meatball Sub, but I think he would agree that one of the subs would be a great gift.
One year ago: Arugula, Fennel, and Apricot Salad
Bacon Meatball Subs
Basic recipe adapted from the chefs at MIHO Gastrotruck
8-10 oz good quality bacon
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1-2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 lb shitake mushrooms, sliced
1-2 sprigs each, fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme, roughly chopped
Approximately 1.2 lbs 80% lean ground beef (ideally, grass-fed)
Approximately 1.2 lbs ground pork
2 tbsps milk
2 tbsps breadcrumbs
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 large egg
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2-3 tsp coarse kosher salt (less if using normal salt)
Sub-style Italian bread (soft on the inside), or french baguette
Spicy marinara sauce
Grated parmesan and sliced mozzarella cheese
In a medium skillet, heat about 1 tbsp oil and cook the bacon until cooked well (but not crispy). Transfer the bacon to a paper-lined plate to cool, then roughly chop it. Leave the bacon fat and oil in the skillet, then reheat it over medium heat to saute the celery, onion, garlic, mushrooms, and herbs. Once the vegetables are softened, remove them from the heat, and mix them together with the chopped bacon.
In a food processor, pulse the vegetables, herbs, and bacon until they are finely chopped. Let the mixture cool a bit, and meanwhile prepare the ground meat.
In a large bowl, add the ground beef, ground pork, milk, breadcrumbs, soy sauce, egg, remaining dry herbs and spices, and pureed vegetables and bacon. Ideally, mix every thing together using your hands in clawing motions - this will help to keep the meat more 'fluffy' and aerated instead of overly dense. If you don't like touching the meat, you can also mix everything together with a spoon. When everything is well-mixed, use a spoon or your hands to roll meatballs that are about 1 3/4-inch in diameter (this is the size I like, though you can certainly try larger or smaller).
Form about 12 meatballs, then add 1 tablespoon oil to a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the skillet so they are not crowded or touching, and cook them on one side until they are well-browned. Turn them over to a second side, and cook until browned, then finally try to flip them a third time to cook through the middle. When they are done, they will still feel soft the touch and will have a nice brown sear on the sides - make sure you don't over cook them so you still get nice plump, juicy meatballs. (You can also break one open to check the middle for doneness.) Repeat this process to cook all the meatballs in batches.
Once they are done, serve the bacon meatball subs by cutting the bread in half, lining the inside with plenty of sliced mozzarella cheese, and adding hot meatballs and marinara sauce. (The heat will melt the cheese.) If you like, top with extra parmesan cheese, and serve immediately.