Meatball Sandwich

meatball sub

I often think how amusing (and sometimes frustrating) how many words there are in the French language that seemingly mean the same thing, but have various subtleties and nuances that make them worlds apart. And thinking about it, I realize that Americans have our own variety of words for seemingly (or exactly) the same thing, many based on where we live. Speaking of which, I had a hankering for a meatball sandwich for — oh, say… the last three years. And due to an abundance of bread crumbs, I thought I’d tackle them at home.

onions fryingmeatball mixture
meatball mixtureonions

Technically, these kinds of sandwiches are called “grinders”, and if you call them something else, then you weren’t raised in Connecticut. You’re probably from one of the 49 other states that doesn’t call them grinders, but refers to them as submarine sandwiches (or subs), torpedo sandwiches, hero sandwiches, poor boys, or hoagies. (Which I now realize, since the shoe is on the other food, are all just to confuse the foreigners.) So let’s just call them meatball sandwiches, because who wants to argue over names where there are hot meatballs bobbing in tomato sauce, ready to be sandwiched between two pieces of crusty bread, then topped with melted cheese to eat?

fresh herbs
meatballs

In the states, these grinders were often served at Italian-American spaghetti joints, that also often have spaghetti and meatballs on the menu as well. Interestingly, I’ve been told that in Italy they don’t eat meatballs in tomato sauce with pasta. Since I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing every corner of Italy, I can’t say for an absolute fact*. But it’s amusing Italian-Americans are serving them up right and left.

meatballs and tomato sauce

But from what I’ve seen personally with my own two eyes (and accompanying mouth) in Italy meatballs, or polpetti, are served on their own. Basta. In France, meatballs called boulettes and I’ve only seen them in Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurants, and they’re invariably oversized meatballs that come as part of a plate of various appetizer. I’m not sure who was the first person to put meatballs and tomato sauce on a sandwich, but whoever it was, I thank them for an excellent idea. And they get no argument from me.

tomato sauce

Speaking of tiffs, (which for non-English speakers who are kind enough to follow along here, is another word we use for “argument” or “row” or “fight” or squabble or “dispute” or…) I once got into a little row in a supermarket in Southern California, when I was teaching a class at a cooking school next door and needed anise seeds. The folks where I was teaching kept trying to give me fennel seeds, which they insisted were the same thing. Thankfully America is a melting pot culture and I headed straight to the meat counter, found someone who would know the answer for sure – an Italian-American butcher – and he quickly concurred, “Of course they’re not the same thing!”

tomato saucescooping meatballs
mozzarellameatball sub

I was loosely inspired by the recipe in Tartine Bread, where meatballs sandwiches were sometimes the staff meal at their bakery. I futzed around with the recipe quite a bit and came up with what I’ve been digging into for lunch lately. This recipe makes kind of a lot of meatballs, but you can do as I did and freeze a portion of them in a zip-top bag or another container, and use them whenever the urge strikes for a meatball grinder. Or sub. Or hoagie.

Meatball Sandwich

45 Meatballs – 8 to 12 sandwiches


Inspired by a recipe in Tartine Bread (Chronicle) by Chad Robertson


I used fresh herbs that I gathered from a recent trip to the countryside, which included sage, savory, and thyme. Conversely, you’ll notice that I used dried oregano in the tomato sauce, which I did for two reasons: One if that fresh oregano isn’t available easily here (I’ve only seen it for sale once), and two, dried oregano adds that unmistakable flavor of the meatball sandwiches that I fondly recall back in the states.


For the tomato sauce

  • 2 medium onions, peeled and minced
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 cups (1kg) canned crushed or diced tomatoes, along with their juice
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • one bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar


For the meatballs

1 large onion, peeled and minced
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound (450g) ground beef (not too lean)
1 pound (450g) ground pork
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (25g) grated Parmesan, Asiago, or Pecorino cheese
1/2 cup (15g) chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
2 cups (220g) dried breadcrumbs
3/4 cup (180ml) milk

Additional salt and black pepper, for seasoning the onions

-Mozzarella or provolone cheese

-Crusty Italian or French bread

1. For the tomato sauce, sauté the two minced onions in a good pour of olive oil in a Dutch oven or very large saucepan, seasoning them with a bit of salt and a few generous turns of black pepper, stirring frequently – until the onions start to wilt. Add the garlic and cook until the onions are completely soft and translucent,

2. Add the canned tomatoes, the tomato paste, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, the bay leaf and the sugar, and let simmer for 10 to 12 minutes over low heat, stirring everyone so often. Set aside.

3. To make the meatballs, sauté the onion in some olive oil in a large skillet, seasoning with a bit of salt and black pepper, stirring frequently, until the onions start to wilt. Add the garlic, and cook until the onions are completely soft and translucent. Remove from heat, scrape into a large bowl, and let cool to room temperature.

4. To the bowl, add the ground beef and pork, the eggs, cheese, parsley, herbs, 2 teaspoons salt, a few generous turns of black pepper, the fennel seeds, the breadcrumbs, and the milk. Use your hands to mix everything together thoroughly.

5. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease them with olive oil.

6. Form meatballs slightly less than the size of unshelled walnuts, and place them evenly spaced apart on the baking sheets. Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven, pluck out the bay leaf, and slide them into the tomato sauce. You can also fry the meatballs in olive oil in batches, in a large skillet until cooked through, although it can be quite messy.

(Note: If you like your meatballs sandwiches more “sloppy”, or extra-saucy, leave out about a dozen of the meatballs. They can be frozen for another use.)

7. Heat the sauce with the meatballs in it until everything is warmed through. If the sauce is very thick, it can be thinned with a bit of warm water.


To make sandwiches, take crusty French or Italian bread, cut it open almost all the way through. Slice some of the meatballs in half and put them between the bread, pressing down with a fork to meld them with the bread. Top with slices of cheese and heat in a hot oven (about 400ºF, 200ºC), or under a broiler, until the cheese melts.



Related Recipes

Party Pan Pizza

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes


French Tomato Tart

Tomato Basil Pizza



*I’m sure that somewhere out there – yes, there is an obscure village high up in some mountain in Italy with a population of 47 people, where folks do eat meatballs in tomato sauce with pasta ; )

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133 comments

  • September 19, 2012 12:59pm

    One more regional name for these sandwiches: when I was growing up in Westchester County, New York, we called sandwiches like this “wedges”. Yours look delicious– thanks for the memories!

  • Jane in Denmark
    September 19, 2012 1:11pm

    The ultimate comfort food – I grew up in Connecticut too and was obsessed with grinders in high school. And when I moved to Boston I was shocked, shocked that they called them subs.

  • September 19, 2012 1:20pm

    NOM NOM NOM!

  • Sophia
    September 19, 2012 1:59pm

    Looks amazing! Here in Rhode Island we call them grinders (grindas) too! Thanks for the amazing recipes!

    • September 19, 2012 2:03pm
      David Lebovitz

      Hey, didn’t realize our neighbors in Rhode Island called them grinders as well. I remember the first time I went to New York and no one knew what a grinder was. Vive les grinders! : )

  • soozzie
    September 19, 2012 2:01pm

    Looks like a new kitchen to me….looking forward to an in-depth unveiling!

  • Liz
    September 19, 2012 2:04pm

    That is one delicious-looking meatball sub (grinder, hoagie, etc…)! What makes it especially delicious-looking is the bread!

  • September 19, 2012 2:26pm

    David, the meatballs in Italy are called “polpette di carne al sugo”. I think they are from south Italy, where most of the North and South America emigrants are from.

  • Cathg1g2
    September 19, 2012 2:27pm

    Oh yum, great recipe

  • Lifecycle
    September 19, 2012 2:32pm

    I’ve seen them on the menu as ‘grinders’ all the way over in Seattle. We don’t get them in the UK though, so I will have to follow suit and make some myself. Fresh mozzarella, nice! Actually a well-known US sandwich chain sells them here, but when I tried one of theirs in the states (yes desperate circumstances led me there) it was horrid, so never going there again, ever!

  • September 19, 2012 3:03pm

    OMG YUM! It’s moments like these I really wish I could cook. anything.

    I will have to try to tackle this one I think, it looks too good not to!

    Lize

  • Helge
    September 19, 2012 3:04pm

    In Germany, the meatballs themselves carry different names in different regions. (Nobody in their right mind will put them in a sandwich.) In the north and west, it is mostly “Frikadelle”, Berliners will call them “Bulette” (sounds the same as french “boulette”), and there is more…

    I’m just finding this nice map of regional names for this food:

    http://www.philhist.uni-augsburg.de/de/lehrstuehle/germanistik/sprachwissenschaft/ada/runde_7/f01f/

  • Cris
    September 19, 2012 3:30pm

    I had no idea, really, what a meatbal sub was or why anyone would eat one, until we moved to Chicago. And while you sometimes have to avoid bad meatballs here, you almost always get excellent bread, which I find to be key. After all, while Chicago has it’s take on meatball subs (you don’t hear grinder) our specialty is Italian Beef, which you can get as a “Combo.” As in, “What would you like on your Beef, sir? Why I would like a Sausage, please.” That’s right – we use meat as a condiment for our meat.

    The really good bread also soaks up the oil from the tangy giardiniera here. A sub – and possibly a grinder – isn’t complete without it.

  • Riva
    September 19, 2012 4:11pm

    Dear Helge,
    Thank you for the link to the utterly brilliant meatball map!
    Riva

  • Claire
    September 19, 2012 4:17pm

    Holy Mother of all that’s Holy! That first photograph had me wishing I could have given my first born to have taste and smell-o-vision on my computer screen. Fie on you David, for making me drool and my stomach growl for such a luscious “sub” (as we say here in Austin) at 9:14 in the morning!

    I’m now dumping what I brought for lunch and plan on heading to an old Italian deli near me to get a pale imitation of that sandwich. And is there anything better on a sandwich than melted, fresh mozzarella?

    Your photographs are SO beautiful!

    Thanks,
    Claire

  • adrian
    September 19, 2012 4:36pm

    bon appétit! Looks like something I could use right now, no matter whatcha wanna call it ,-)
    Linguistically I come across the same problem a lot here too in Germany. German is a more literal language than English and has much less synonyms (They use a lot of compound nouns, their length measured in meters ;-). That’s my take on it. Often my wife or a German friend will come to me and ask about a word they’ve come across and I’ll explain that it means the same as… This always amounts to much confusion.
    So, you see, as you do, French and English do share similarities.
    Cheerio,
    Adrian

  • Katherine
    September 19, 2012 4:42pm

    What size disher did you use for the meatballs? They look delicious, you’ve prompted me to make some this weekend. Thank you David.

  • September 19, 2012 4:49pm
    David Lebovitz

    adrian: One doesn’t usually notice quirks in their own language, until it’s time to explain them to others, or if you yourself are learning one. Things like “fishing” for compliments or “couching” an insult in a compliment, or how can one be “bowled” over, when we eat cereal in bowls? It’s all kind of funny.

    Katherine: I don’t know the exact size (when friends watch me cook, and see me taking the a ruler out, they give me odd looks) – but each was about the size of an unshelled walnut. But it doesn’t really matter precisely since you’re going to cut ’em up for sandwiches : )

    Claire: Thanks! Glad you like the photos. Hope you find a good one for lunch today!

  • September 19, 2012 4:58pm

    One of the hardest part of living in Paris is how blah and uninspired the sandwiches are. This is a great reminder of how much I miss them. Off to find ground pork….

  • September 19, 2012 4:58pm

    I’ve never made a good meatball but this truly sounds delicious especially with the fresh mozzarella on top. I can’t wait to make them and I’m sure my husband won’t be able to refrain from eating them.

  • bill LaBelle
    September 19, 2012 4:59pm

    Hi David
    Here in western Massachusetts in and around springfield ma we call them grinders as well ..always have .Gotta go and make some meatballs ….

  • Lisa
    September 19, 2012 5:00pm

    My Italian-American mother, a Philadelphian, would probably call these “meatball sandwiches”- go figure! Whatever you call them, these look wonderful! Thanks David!

  • Vicki B
    September 19, 2012 5:02pm

    In Sacramento we call them meatball sandwiches! I’ll tell ya what I love, and that is an eggplant parmesan sandwich.

  • Tiffany Jensen
    September 19, 2012 5:06pm

    Making this *now*! Exactly what I was craving :)

  • September 19, 2012 5:08pm

    It’s funny to me that here in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country, these sandwiches, generically, are called hoagies, but the meatball version is always called a meatball sub. Go figure.

    Cutting the meatballs in half! (Slaps forehead.) That would certainly make it easier for my small mouth!

    • September 19, 2012 5:12pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think some people just shove them in there and smoosh them down, but since I was using a baguette, I didn’t want to break the all-important hinge, so cut them first!

  • September 19, 2012 5:12pm

    Today is a meatball kind of day! You make me crave them.
    I love to add pul biber to my meatballs. Well I add this to almost everything I eat…

  • Stephanie
    September 19, 2012 5:16pm

    I bet the French would eat this with a knife and fork :)

  • September 19, 2012 5:16pm

    You can call them what you want, they still look amazing.

  • Tiffany Jensen
    September 19, 2012 5:17pm

    Making this NOW! Exactly what I was craving :)

  • September 19, 2012 5:19pm

    So happy to see you make a homie sandwich in Paris! I too, grew up in Chicago and went to college at a state school where the Chicago pizzerias had opened much-loved outposts. Worked at a couple of them most of the way through school, in fact. Big thing, of course, is Italian beef sandwiches, but meatball subs are right up there. Moving all around the U.S. and some of Europe, I had to figure out how to make these homie meals away from Chicago. I’ve blogged both sandwiches myself, but am still totally blown away by how crazy my husband gets if I say, “We’re having meatball subs for dinner. AND: there’s a movie to go with them.” Something like THE BIG NIGHT or THE GODFATHER, for instance. Beautiful pics, David! Thanks.

  • Hillary
    September 19, 2012 5:20pm

    Hey, we call them grinders (“grindahs”) here in Massachusetts, too!

  • September 19, 2012 5:20pm

    Heading down right now to the local Italian deli for a grinder/wedge here in CT for lunch – pure comfort food! Thanks for the great photos…

  • Sandy
    September 19, 2012 5:20pm

    Thank you so much for this recipe! It takes me back to my childhood. I grew up in Rockford, IL, which has a huge Italian population, so I grew up eating meatball sandwiches. Mmmmmm…..your picture is mouth watering!

    Sandy

  • September 19, 2012 5:21pm

    Thanks for the idea. I’ll make them for dinner!
    I look forward to your posts. You are living one of my dreams – living and focusing on food in Paris. I can live vicariously through you. Your writing is clever and your photos stir desire.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Santé!

  • September 19, 2012 5:24pm
    David Lebovitz

    Laney: Have a “grinder” for me!

    Sara: Someone was recently saying that there’s a niche (maybe a big one?) for more creative sandwiches in Paris. With all the interesting ingredients, like great charcuterie and cheese, you’d think someone would open up a place. Le Petit Vendome has great sandwiches, many French standards, but done well.

  • September 19, 2012 5:25pm

    I knew them since my childhood in Switzerland and we simply called them ‘Hackfleisch-Bälleli’ (small balls of minced meat) – they are truly wonderful and I not only made them in a tomato sauce but also just fried with a salad, or as a starter – I feel right now a hunger bang mounting up inside me….. mmmmh – thank you David. Something delicious, deliciously presented and quite cheap too. I never had them in a sandwich though – and why not, with a nice crusty bread and a quiet corner of the sofa :)

  • September 19, 2012 5:35pm

    Strangely enough, France seems to be the only country in Europe that doesn’t have a traditional recipe for meatballs. That I know of, they are rarely eaten at all (if not part of a more Mediterranean oriented cuisine). But that sandwich would be indeed wonderful.

    Oh and I think the main reason as to why Italian do not eat meatballs with their pasta is that Italian meals are mostly sequential. First you eat the pasta (maybe with the sauce the meatballs have been cooked in) – primo – and then the meat with some veggies – secondo. The only exception I can think of is some types of pasta ripiena or pasta al forno, which can have meat in them and are often substantial enough – they are very much a Sunday lunch dish – to skip the secondo.

  • JanetinMaine
    September 19, 2012 5:38pm

    That picture just about killed me. I swear I can “almost” smell that sauce.
    I am literally miles from anything that looks and tastes that good or I would ditch my bag lunch and seek it out.
    I grew up in California and referred to the sandwiches as “submarines”.

  • September 19, 2012 5:40pm

    This sounds yummy with the addition of fennel seeds and cheese in the meatballs, David. And the tomato sauce sounds like it is seasoned perfectly. I’m saving this post.

  • Carolyn
    September 19, 2012 5:41pm

    My family comes from a small town in Ohio that had a lots of Greeks and Italians with wonderful neighborhood restos !! They had one Italian resto that served “meatball in a heel”. Which was when they took the “heel” of a loaf of Italian bread, scooped out some of the inside bread and loaded it with cheese and meatballs. TO DIE FOR !!!

  • Meems
    September 19, 2012 5:46pm

    So nice to know you are a landsman! I was raised in Massachusetts and thought any sandwich on an “Italian” roll was a grinder (grin-dah) everywhere in New England. Kinda like a frappe. Or a bubbler. Rock on.

  • Lisa
    September 19, 2012 5:51pm

    Meatballs seem to be trending — I’ve seen a lot of recipes for them lately. Maybe it’s just the return of hearty-meal weather. I bought ingredients to make some from The Wednesday Chef, but I think I’ll make yours instead. I like the additional herbs, etc.
    I’m wondering about some differences in technique. She plops them into the sauce without baking them first. I imaging that the baking step browns them, changes the texture . . . although cooking longer in the sauce seems like it would add some nice flavor.
    Also, bread crumbs v. milk-soaked bread — ?
    Thanks for the recipe!

  • September 19, 2012 5:53pm

    These look delicious! You’ve inspired me to make this for dinner–perfect meal now that the weather is getting chilly in NY.

  • September 19, 2012 5:57pm

    Now I have a hankering for …. uhhh … “meatball heros.” In MN, they call them “hot dagos” and are astounded when one mentions that the name is considered highly offensive.

  • kitt
    September 19, 2012 6:05pm

    Lovely sandwiches, but what really blows me away is that bread! OMG! Why can’t I get bread like that in Palm Springs?

  • Cat
    September 19, 2012 6:08pm

    I came from the land of Meatball subs in Jersey, your picture puts them all to shame, that bread alone if only I could find it here in Ohio where I know live! And the cheese, I will def use fresh mozzarella next time as it appears that is what u used? My only suggestion for your next batch, from my 91 year old Italian mother in law’s recipe, use 3 slices of bread minus crusts that you soak in 2/3 c milk in lieu of the breadcrumbs. Heat the milk in a small pot until steamy. Turn off the heat, tear the bread into little pieces and soak it in the milk until it partially dissolves. Mash it until you get something that resembles a paste. Turn it out onto a plate to let it cool then add to the meat mixture. It makes all the difference in texture and taste and you will thank her for it as I had to beg for that recipe!

  • Heather Howard
    September 19, 2012 6:08pm

    I am so on this….putting together my shopping list now. Merci, Monsieur!

  • Susan
    September 19, 2012 6:09pm

    I grew up inside the beltway in Maryland where sandwiches served in a “French” roll were all submarines or subs, for short. The bread used was made specifically for this type of sandwich, it wasn’t a chunk cut from of a loaf of french bread. Forward to the SF Bay Area of CA where they use the french bread cut to size. Even the knock off Philly Cheese Steaks are served this way! Different strokes… My first meatball Sub was from Togo’s in the south bay. I love’em!

  • susan
    September 19, 2012 6:31pm

    OMG – I rarely eat meat these days but I think a meatball “hero” is in my near future!! Thank you David – for this wonderful reminder and all that you post. Cheers!

  • BelleD
    September 19, 2012 6:39pm

    Another Connecticut transplant here! I grew up with grinders (meatball, Italian, etc). No birthday party was really complete without one. Got more than a few blank stares when I first moved to San Jose CA and asked for a grinder. No one seemed to know what it was. And the meatball grinders don’t taste quite ‘right’. Must be the dried oregano in the sauce.

  • Francesca
    September 19, 2012 6:39pm

    Scusa Julieta, but that is not quite right about the humble polpetta. We here, in Italia, have many types of polpette, and this type is more or less the polpette di carne, but without il parmigiano . The polpette is not from the south but of the provincia of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the north of Italia.

    David, I am from Bologna and we eat our polpette with piselli. We do not eat them with bread or pasta because it is too heavy and we Italians are vain and do not like to get fat.
    Do you cook your polpette with il parmigiano sometimes?

  • Marylouise Sillman
    September 19, 2012 6:51pm

    Franklin Ave, Hartford Ct, home of the BEST Meatball Grinders

    Your photos make me homesick for the great row of Italian restaurants on
    Franklin Ave.
    Living in Paris for 23 years has not given me a clue for fresh oregano….I think fondly
    of the HUGE fresh bunches I once bought in Ct.

    WHERE do you source for dried oregano? I will really appreciate a store or
    market name here in Paris.

    • September 19, 2012 7:38pm
      David Lebovitz

      I bring dried oregano back from California. I usually buy it in Mexican markets as it’s usually pretty fragrant. You can likely buy the dried stuff in Paris at places like Izrael in the Marais, or Goumanyat, which is very well-stocked with spices.

  • PHYLLIS POLK
    September 19, 2012 6:52pm

    As a life-long (more decades than I care to count) resident of Philadelphia – and the co-creator of Philadelphia’s “The Book and The Cook” of blessed memory – I’m a reasonably authoritative source on the definition of a “hoagie” in this city. (I started eating them in seventh grade freshly made from a little Italian deli next to the school.) A hoagie starts with an Italian torpedo roll, preferably from Amoroso’s, slicked with olive oil and filled with an assortment of Italian cold meats (moradello, salami, etc., etc.), provolone, tomato, lettuce, onion (and depending upon your heat tolerance), hot peppers. It is not heated or grilled in any manner – simply wrapped in paper and inhaled.
    I think a meatball sandwich is also called a “grinder” in Philly – but I’ve never really ordered them. Sorry we never got to invite you to Book & Cook -don’t know why!!

  • PHYLLIS POLK
    September 19, 2012 6:56pm

    oops – made a spelling mistake in my comment – it should be mortadello, not moradello.

  • September 19, 2012 7:05pm

    I used to eat a lot of meatball sandwiches… it was the only one I’d eat at (gasp) Subway. Nowadays I am no longer eating meat, so maybe you could share your favorite non-meat substitute? I grew up eating Vietnamese versions served in caramelized sauce in baguettes…

  • Sally
    September 19, 2012 7:13pm

    I love making meatballs. Finally got one of those cookie ball shaped scoops and the small one is perfect for forming meatballs.

  • Lydiawescott
    September 19, 2012 7:36pm

    Love le petite vendome. Stupidly, we waited until the last of august to head there for a sandwich (having already been there for 6 weeks) and they were closed for vacation. Merde! Now we have to wait until next year.

  • September 19, 2012 7:53pm

    hat just looks sexy!!! nothing like the comfort of some good meatballs… I guess every culture has some kind of meat mash made into balls, thats delicious in its own way

  • Ritina Albuquerque
    September 19, 2012 7:59pm

    i love to read your articles and have even purchased your books. Keep writing!

  • MaryAlice Denson
    September 19, 2012 8:00pm

    San Francisco: meatball sandwich. period.

  • Chelsea
    September 19, 2012 8:02pm

    I grew up in Connecticut too, I grew up vegetarian but I ate plenty of eggplant parm grinders for sure.

  • Meghan
    September 19, 2012 8:02pm

    We call them grinders in Vermont too! I think they also do in New Hampshire – so must be a New England thing.

  • Dan
    September 19, 2012 8:51pm

    This link (below) gives a page from an American survey about the distribution of various words for things in different dialects. Here you can see the distribution of “grinder”, “hoagie”, and so on; others in the same survey ask about things like whether you can use “anymore” without a negative (I can’t), roly poly vs doodle bug vs pill bug, how many syllables there are in “caramel”, and what vowel you use in “hoof”.

    http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_64.html

    These kinds of differences in words and pronunciations have been important in scientists’ understanding of how languages change and how dialects develop. The survey is from Bert Vaux; the leading authority is Bill Labov.

    (there are similar differences in French too. ‘pain aux raisins’ vs ‘escargot’ might be one – I don’t know if anyone uses both terms).

  • GB
    September 19, 2012 9:04pm

    I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, we always ordered meatball sandwiches, never heard those other names until we moved out of state.

  • Bill
    September 19, 2012 9:09pm

    Re: how can one be “bowled” over, when we eat cereal in bowls? It’s all kind of funny.

    I don’t think it has any connection to a bowl, as in kitchenware, but to cricket, where the pitcher (again, not a reference to kitchenware) known as a bowler, tries to knock over (bowl over) the wickets.

  • Lis Brodie
    September 19, 2012 9:10pm

    I rarely eat meat, but this had my mouth watering. I fear however that making these here in the states would be a waste without that amazing bread you surely have in Paris!

  • Becky
    September 19, 2012 9:33pm

    You are correct about Italians not eating meat and pasta together. When we visited Italy my husband (who is Italian American) made his meatballs and sauce for a friend we know there in his traditional way with pasta and his homemade meatballs and sauce and she would NOT touch it served that wa. Rosa ate the pasta and sauce for one course and then the meatballs for her next course. It just wasn’t done. I see several variations on meatballs, but they are all very similar in ingredients. My husbands grandmother soaked her bread in milk, but that’s probably because she had stale bread sitting around. We fry ours for the nice crust achieved and then finish cooking them in the sauce which flavors the sauce nicely. Our recipe makes 40-50 meatballs so we individually freeze them and plop them into freezer bags so we can have a quick meal on busy nights. The same with the sauce he makes a large batch and freezes it in bags too. The meatball subs we eat for lunch as the precursor to pasta and sauce later. The baguette looks amazing on your sandwich – that’s what I noticed first and wish we could find those here to eat our sandwiches on!

  • shari
    September 19, 2012 9:50pm

    All sandwiches depend on using good bread, so you’ve got a head start on how good that sandwich is going to be.

    I remember a sandwich chain back in the late ’70’s called ‘San Francisco Grinders’, which was a type of ‘loose meat’ ground beef, mushroom, onion and spices type ‘sub sandwich’ which was excellent. I wonder what happened to them? They didn’t seem to be around very long, which made me very sad. Does anyone else remember this place, or did I dream it?

  • September 19, 2012 9:54pm

    If only we could all be so lucky as to be making this sandwich in Paris next door to freshly baked bread and hand-pulled mozzarella. Gorgeous sandwich…has us all drooling here in San Francisco.

  • Marie
    September 19, 2012 10:18pm

    My husband’s family was authentic died in the wool Sicilian Italian. I promise you, they ate meatballs and “gravy” or sauce on bread. With 9 children in the family they also ate pasta with everything and anything and I learned to cook meatballs and gravy from my little Italian mother-in-law. I have seen my husband eat meatballs with sauce on Italian bread, white bread, hamburger rolls and
    even hot dog rolls. Yours look delicious. And authentic. Now I am drooling for some in memory of my husband.

  • Carol L
    September 19, 2012 10:22pm

    Hi David,
    I hate to tell you this but I grew up in and around the Chicago-land area and we called them grinders there too ( meatball and shaved steak & cheese were my favorites ). We called cold cut sandwiches made on the same long roll subs. Maybe that’s the difference, hot or cold ?

  • Kelly
    September 19, 2012 10:31pm

    It is my understanding, from my Italian grandmother, that meat was a very special and expensive treat so the meatballs were served individually and not with pasta. Pasta was an inexpensive and common meal. Meat was not.

    It was not until Italians moved to the US in great numbers that you started to see pasta with meatballs due to ability to afford meat and serve it almost daily. I have been to Italy many times and have never seen meatballs served with pasta.

  • Don
    September 19, 2012 10:54pm

    I tend to believe that grinder is a term used in a lot of Italian resturants. In western Massachusetts it was grinders but in other parts of the USA, I have seen grinders used as well. In Louisiana, its po’boys, at sandwich resturants its usually subs. There is one place in Houston where the menu is Hot Grinders and Cold Hoagies so go figure.

  • Alessandra
    September 19, 2012 10:57pm

    Hi David,
    in Italian they are called polpette, but in Sicilian they are called something like ‘purpetti’ and I am sure the Sicilian spelling was quite widespread in the US, hence your polpetti?
    Nobody ever eats spaghetti with polpette (just the same as nobody eats spaghetti with bolognese sauce, which we call ragu’) but I remember my grandmother making them and then using the sauce to dress short pasta. We just usually do not eat them together, but in separate courses. But as you say, there must be some small town in Italy where somebody at this very moment is eating spaghetti with meatballs on top, Lady and the Tramp-style. Or maybe not, Italians tend to be food fascists.

  • meatballparty
    September 19, 2012 11:01pm

    if i wanted to make these for a dinner party (ok, a messy, but fun dinner party) could i make the meatballs and the sauce the night before, keep them seperate and then just reheat them that night? Maybe serve with a ceasar salad?

    I am never good at knowing what stays well the night before…

  • September 19, 2012 11:02pm

    David,
    Thank you for sharing your amazing recipes. These sandwiches look beyond delicious.

  • Lee
    September 20, 2012 12:11am

    Sophia beat me to it– I too was going to note that they are properly called “grindahs”. In college I used to get them at a hole in the wall sandwich shop called, wait for it, “Hole in the Wall.”

    Thanks for sharing! I look forward to making these.

  • September 20, 2012 12:41am

    I’ve on a meatball roll myself. My daughter just had a baby and we made 2 large batches and put them in the freezer. All in all, I used the same ingredients as you. The first batch was made with raw onions and the 2nd with carmelized onions. In the 2nd batch, I also soaked the bread in the milk before adding to the meat. I have to say that the 2nd round of meatblls were much more tender, yet held together better. Also as a variation, I left out the cheese and fennel and added a pinch of allspice and a grating of nutmeg to make Swedish meatballs. We had some of them for dinner and froze the rest. And as you suggested, they are at the ready at the urge. Now, after seeing your pic, I think that urge will hit sooner!

  • Norman Seckold
    September 20, 2012 1:00am

    Geez David, it’s not even 9AM is Sydney but I want one NOW!

  • Allie
    September 20, 2012 1:46am

    Now I just feel silly for having whole meatballs unnecessarily fall out of the back of my hoagie my entire life….

  • Michelle
    September 20, 2012 1:55am

    Love, love, love a meatball grinder. Get very strange looks in Kansas City when ordering one, but I will not be deterred. And yes, I make them at home when I have time. A treasured memory from a New England childhood. Thank you, David!

  • Gavrielle
    September 20, 2012 2:24am

    We don’t have any kind of meatball sandwich tradition in New Zealand, but reading this makes me not only want to make them, but to rush out, buy a food truck and start selling them. My only problem – we don’t have food trucks yet either! Maybe I could start a trend…

  • September 20, 2012 4:09am

    Hi David – in my mother’s hometown (southern Italy), they do not eat meatballs – you are correct. In fact, on a recent visit, my mother made some of her meatballs for her nephew and sister and they would not eat them. She does in fact make excellent meatballs which include a touch a cream and a mandatory overnight rest period in the fridge to marry the flavors of the uncooked meat mixture. she also slow cooks them so the meat is extremely tender….

    Your version also looks delicious and is making me want to have one right now (we call them hoagies down here in Phila).

  • nancy
    September 20, 2012 4:13am

    My favorite part of a Meatball Hero – in NYC, we don’t call them grinders, subs, hoagies – is the soggy bread at the end of the meal. My taste has improved a bit since the 7th grade, and I must say the beautiful french bread makes me want to make a ‘fancy’ hero. We make meatballs alot, and do sandwhiches when we don’t feel like pasta, but I’m turning it up a notch….thank you!

  • Dana
    September 20, 2012 4:24am

    Love this posting! Yes, in my neighbors to the north (I’m in the NYC area), they are called grinders, but at the end of the day, your version sounds delicious! It is very similar to how I make meatballs, but with the addition of fennel seeds (a French influence?) and I never add sugar to my tomato sauce. Think I’ll try the fennel seeds though…

    Thanks David!

  • Rebecca
    September 20, 2012 4:41am

    I once tried to explain the difference between an alarm “going off” and “turning off” an alarm to my Chinese roommate. I believe I failed miserably. Your sammies look good!

  • Joan
    September 20, 2012 4:43am

    I grew up in Brooklyn (where we called them meatball subs) and this posting brought real joy to my heart. Meatball subs are my very definition of comfort food. Best meatballs I’ve ever tasted were made with a healthy dollop of ricotta. Try it, you’ll be amazed.

    Never thought about making one on a good crusty baguette … as opposed to the too soft, too white loaves of Italian bread of my youth. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Mary
    September 20, 2012 5:15am

    I make my own meatballs, instead of milk I use tomato sauce. (I actually use some that is home made by someone else & I purchase it). Sometimes I make the meatball mix the night before and then I cook them in the morning. I may try baking mine next time too. I do need to make some now too, I’m all out!
    I have a question….if you take a recipe from a cookbook and use it in a blog, do you have to get permission from the person who wrote the cookbook? Just curious as to how that works……

  • Janet Catesby
    September 20, 2012 6:09am

    Yes yum yum. Here is Oztralia we call them RISSOLES! But they are still meatballs. I like to put green tomato relish or pickle on these AND have you tried them with a beetroot sauce? Scrumptious.

  • September 20, 2012 7:01am

    I made these from Tartine once and fell madly in love with them. I was always kind of a snob about meatball subs, though could inhale Chicken Finger Subs in great number (that’s what we have in Massachusetts) but upon making these I realized them for the genius that they are.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Connie
    September 20, 2012 7:22am

    All this talk about hot meatballs and grinders… There’s gotta be a Grindr joke in there somewhere. lol

  • September 20, 2012 10:47am

    My husband, who is French, doesn’t like meatballs-alas. I haven’t had any in years. Maybe if I put them on bread like yours? Come to think of it, he’s not big on sandwiches either. He didn’t grow up eating meatballs so isn’t a fan but will go out and buy veal brain or items made of “innards”. I have converted him to Thanksgiving meal items though though he is confused by yams with brown sugar on them.

  • September 20, 2012 12:25pm

    I was in the mood for meatballs these days but I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to eat them.. this a new method for me. Meatballs in a sandwich? It sounds so odd but still so good that I must try it. And SOON! Like this weekend maybe :)

  • September 20, 2012 1:57pm

    This looks so wonderful! I love a meatball sandwich …. specially with a baguette.
    I think this is what I’m making for dinner tonight … thank you for the inspiration!

  • susan
    September 20, 2012 5:19pm

    Southeastern Mass. here. Grindahs!! is what we grew up with. However, the takeover of the world by a chain that shall remain nameless has all but obliterated regional monikers and sub ( as in part of the chain’s name) is taking over. Sad

  • September 20, 2012 6:06pm

    MY GOD ! I would die for this sandwich right now !!!

  • LeeLee
    September 20, 2012 7:35pm

    Meatballs on a roll are delicious, regardless of the name for the sandwich. That said, in Philly, hoagies are sliced deli meat sandwiches with nothing melted on them. Hot meats or melted cheese on a hoagie roll is a grinder or a sub or, more often today, just a sandwich. Roast pork sandwiches with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone should be next on your list to introduce across the pond. A Philly cheese steak pales in comparison to a Philly roast pork sandwich! Must obtain one soon.

  • September 20, 2012 8:19pm

    Oh, meatball love! I have to laugh, because I just posted about meatballs, and I have to admit I was pleased to see that your recipe is very, very close to mine. I *still* haven’t tried a proper meatball sub (or grinder, which is oodles more fun say, it’s true), but I’ve been jonesing to try a Vietnamese version of a meatball sub for a while now – a variant on a banh mi. They call the meat-spheres “Xiu Mai” (like Chinese Shumai, but without the dumpling wrapper I suppose), and yes, they do serve it with tomato sauce! I’ve even seen versions of xiu mai banh mi that are cooked in a caramel sauce called Nuoc Mao. Neat, eh?

  • Rachel
    September 20, 2012 8:54pm

    Wow, do you really read through all these comments? Anyway, i am a transplant form Boston to San Francisco (i have now been out here for 13 years) and still can’t find a decent version of a buffallo wing. So, like you, living on foreign soil and enjoying hte bounty around you, sometimes all i really want is a buffallo wing and cant find one. and when i can’t…like you…i make my own.
    Hats off to you for feeding your need (even if it took you three years)
    Also, i have tried a LOT of meatball recipes and i can safely say that my favorite hands down is the America’s Test Kitchen version: ( you will need to register online, but…) http://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/detail.php?docid=5383
    And thank you for teaching me how to make chocolate chaud!
    Rachel

  • ritanyc
    September 20, 2012 9:21pm

    I just made this and WOW- really delicious meatballs. I don’t usually use this much breadcrumbs but they really help to create the tender texture. The fennel seeds add a nice touch as well. Thanks, David!

  • Joey
    September 21, 2012 3:04am

    Well, well!
    Making a pizza for my friend’s birthday (his request: pineapple & ham); but I much rather eat this sub! So I combined forces.

    I picked up the ingredients for both, and simmered the sauce with some of the meatballs.
    My attempt will be: use your sauce for the whole pizza, except I’ll arrange half the pizza this way: place the meatballs on the bald pizza dough, cover the meatballs with mozza and sauce on top.do half with pineapple & ham,.. & call it a truce! Oh, to make a baguette that looks like that!.!!

  • Susan Williams
    September 21, 2012 4:37am

    Takes me back to D’Arios in Los Angeles back in my meat eating days.

  • September 21, 2012 7:08am

    there is nothing better than a meatball sandwich. there just isn’t.

  • Alli@peasepudding
    September 21, 2012 11:50am

    I have never thought of meatballs sandwich as very appealing but with that baguette, mozzarella and your ingredients I’m up for trailing them.

  • K
    September 21, 2012 5:05pm

    Actually, I grew up calling this a meatball wedge. Holla, Westchester!

  • September 21, 2012 5:33pm

    I haven’t had a meatball sub in ages – this might have to be the tastiest one I’ve ever seen =)

  • Kelly
    September 22, 2012 5:14am

    To Rachel that wants Buffalo wings: I’m from there and they have never been called that there – they are chicken wings. One of the best places in Bflo will ship them overnight. I’ve had them at the actual location but never shipped. May be worth a shot.

    http://www.lanova.com

  • Ellen Shatter
    September 22, 2012 5:58am

    In New York, where I grew up, they were heros but here in Rhode Island, where I now live, they are also called grinders.

  • Patti W
    September 22, 2012 6:07pm

    You wrote: “I’m not sure who was the first person to put meatballs and tomato sauce on a sandwich, but whoever it was, I thank them for an excellent idea.”

    I am originally from the northern part of NJ with a large Italian population. I think it was probobably an Italian Mom who thought up the idea.

    Too many years ago, when I was young and dating, my boyfriends were mainly Italian..whose fathers, by that time owned their masononry or construction companies where their sons worked when not in school, Mom’s would pack their lunches which were predominently leftovers from last nights meal. Eating spaghetti and meatballs cold was awkward and not much fun so they put the meatballs and sauce on Italian bread and sent the boys off to work. I know I shared a lot of “subs” with them and being taught how to run the big Catepillars. Just a thought…

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and fabulous blog. I read it avidly and often feel like I am with you, enjoying the life and tastes of France and Europe that are so different from America and so lovely!

  • TammyW
    September 22, 2012 11:50pm

    I’m from Connecticut too and haven’t heard anyone say “grinder” in a very long time, since relocating to Nova Scotia.
    There is a certain taste to the Italian-American recipes that are hard to find elsewhere. We often make our own sauces for a more authentic flavor, and I haven’t had a decent link of Italian sausage in years.
    Thanks for the memories :)

  • September 23, 2012 4:25am

    What a hoot–this lovely, inspirational, loving, funny response to meatball sandwiches. Who knew?!! I’m so interested in such a great bunch of comments about what I think of as typical Chicago food. I’m totally interested in it and a going to keep thinking about why it engenders such hot prose!

  • Penny Gold
    September 23, 2012 5:53am

    Yay for meatball grinders, for someone who ate a lot of them in southern Connecticut.

  • Patti W
    September 23, 2012 6:05pm

    Alyce…I think it all comes back to “memories”. When you are someplace else and cannot create the tastes (like TammyW wrote) it must be the memories that sustain one. In Texas, its the bread. I am unable to find or even make the tasty, crunchy, porous roll/baguette that is so required for a good sub/grinder/etc. I finally developed a sauce when we finally found good italian sausage about 8 years ago (and thank you, David for the meatball recipe) but no sense on even trying to put this on the soft rolls and bread found in Texas..

  • betty2dogs
    September 23, 2012 7:12pm

    I remember hiking across the cold and windy SUNY Oswego campus with a hot meatball sub all wrapped up and tucked inside my snorkel coat. Kept me warm until I could get back to the dorm to eat it!

  • PinkSkatingGirl
    September 24, 2012 2:21am

    Nice memory, nice recipe. From NJ, that’s not just a meatball sub, it’s a meatball parm sub. As in “alla parmigiana,” ’cause of the mozarella. And, yep, you get a hankiering, whachta gonna do but make one?

  • Alison
    September 25, 2012 8:19am

    Vermonter here; we call them grinders too.

  • September 25, 2012 1:17pm

    That term grinder so takes me back to Stamford Ct…. and that looks better then the ones I had!

  • Erin
    September 25, 2012 7:43pm

    Oh my gosh, it’s so lovely to even see ‘grinder’ being used! I haven’t lived in CT since I was 18, so I’ve been almost entirely trained out of using the word.

    If I hadn’t already been planning on meatball sandwiches for tomorrow night’s dinner, I would be now!

  • RachH
    September 26, 2012 4:43am

    I just made these meatballs tonight for dinner tomorrow (I have yet to make the sauce, but I’ll do that then). Holy COW, David. These are it. These are my meatballs. I’ve spent years searching for standby recipes that I can just have in hand (best birthday cake and frosting, best sandwich bread, best bolognese, best berry cobbler, etc.) but the meatball recipes I’ve tried have failed me every time, until now.

    Thank you, thank you. You’ve just made this transplant to Chicago a little less of an embarrassment in the regional cooking department.

  • corie
    September 26, 2012 5:14am

    Made this for dinner tonight…and it was delicious! Thanks for another great recipe.

  • Kathy Blakney
    September 27, 2012 11:36pm

    We made this meatball sandwich the other night. It was fabulous..We saved a batch of meatballs to have in a pasta dish later. Yummy. It was quite a meal. I enjoyed half for dinner and the other half of my sandwich for lunch the next day. Thanks

  • martina
    September 28, 2012 10:57am

    As Italian I can confirm that spaghetti meatballs is something very American (I never had it)… but my mum (she is from the South of Italy) told me in those days sometimes they ate something similar to spaghetti meatball (the “polpette” were really small, sort of a big hazelnut o small walnut). It wasn’t something for everyday, though, meat consumption in the ’50s Italy was something rare, only for rich people. Martina

  • September 28, 2012 12:05pm

    I call them meatball heroes. And now that I’ve seen one on a baguette de tradition, I think that I need one. Stat. Not the same as sesame-seed Italian bread, but in Paris, I think it’ll do nicely :)

  • September 29, 2012 4:54pm

    I think the idea of having meatballs in a sandwich is very American – I don’t think it ever occurred to anybody here in the UK until Subway came along! And for us Brits, a “sandwich” happens with two slices of bread only – anything else is named for the bread it comes in, so this would be a meatball baguette! Hamburgers come in buns or rolls, not sandwiches.

    Actually, meatballs are not a very UK thing, although Lidl has started selling some lovely ones. We mostly eat mince (ground beef) loose (that’s not quite the word I want, but I’m sure you know what I mean!) in cottage pie or spag bol, or whatever. Or as a hamburger, of course.

  • Nan
    October 1, 2012 4:39pm

    I haven’t commented here in years (still a reader though!) but … meatball sandwiches?! On Cape Cod, they’re called grinders too (and in most of MA, I think). Two of the best meatballs I’ve had: 1.) Josh Ziskin’s Tuscan Meatballs at La Morra and 2.) the meatballs at Joe’s Cafe in Northampton MA. My quest for making at home what I think of as the perfect meatball started last winter — still on this worthy quest and will try yours. Your ‘Parisian meatball sandwich grinder’ looks AMAZING (that bread, that cheese)…

  • Andrew
    October 3, 2012 5:59pm

    Of course they’re “grinders”! I’m from the midwest, in Iowa, and they’re called grinders everywhere around here. And indeed they are delicious.

  • Lyn
    October 3, 2012 9:30pm

    Dying to make these for my kids ever since your post reminded me of meatball sandwich Mondays at my Catholic high school in Delaware–the comfort and regularity of which they will never experience in the French public school system. Except that at the exact date and time I went out to find the meat, every butcher was closed and there was none to be found at the local Monoprix, Franprix, or Dia. Le *sigh*. (And I’m trying so hard not to be disgruntled in my 2nd yr as an expat…) I should know my hours better by now. I’ll make it happen.

  • October 6, 2012 4:50pm

    I made this for lunch today, and I smartly doubled the batch. Fantastic! I was having a hard time finding ground pork in Paris…the butcher was puzzled why I wanted pork tartare….but finally realized that sausage meat is also ground pork, and that worked just fine.

    • October 6, 2012 5:06pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s hard to find plain ground pork in Paris; it’s often sold pre-seasoned, for stuffing. Some butchers will grind meat, such as lamb, although pork is different. I suppose that would work, although you can find plain ground pork in Chinese markets. If they don’t have it on display, they will grind up palette (pork shoulder) for you.

  • Steve
    October 8, 2012 11:17pm

    The one thing that you just don’t hear of is “poor boys”. These sandwiches, which are VERY MUCH a part of New Orleans cuisine, are called “po boys” (or “po’ boys”)

    I had never heard of or seen po boys with meatballs- you typically get an sandwich that is overstuffed with roast beef or all kinds of Italian deli meats and other stuff. On the other hand, I googled to double check, and found the meatball po boy that Emeril posted, so I am backing off on that.

    On the OTHER, other hand, this is what the New Orleans Times-Picayne (yes, dear readers from elsewhere in the world, this is the leading newspaper in New Orleans, and no, I am not making up that name) has to say about po boys:
    http://www.nola.com/food/po-boys/index.ssf/index.html
    (Dear readers, the Times-Picayune has one of the best food sections of any newspaper published in the United States)

    New Orleanians: any opinions on the proper ingredients of a po boy?

  • October 12, 2012 4:47am

    Oh my, this is a beautiful, beautiful sandwich.