Juicy baked beef meatballs coated in a rich homemade marinara sauce, all tucked up into some fresh, crusty bread make these meatball sandwiches the ultimate in cozy comfort food. The sandwiches are so easy to make and are perfect for a weekend lunch or simple weeknight dinner.
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You’ll know by now if you are a regular reader of my website that the recipes I post always come from a place of meaning for me. The ones that I love the most are the recipes that are attached to a memory, they are the ones that I always feel the best about sharing.
This recipe is one of them. So let me tell you why.
When I first stepped foot in New York City, I realised very quickly that everything I knew about the city had been shaped by the TV show Friends. So needless to say one of the first food items I went in search of was a meatball sandwich alla Joey Tribiani.
I don’t remember too many specifics from the sandwich we found, only that the guy who served us was ironically from Brisbane, exactly where we had travelled from, and we got a packet of potato chips (or crips) to eat alongside the sandwich. Something that I recall because in Australia a packet of chips is a standalone snack, not a side to a sandwich and I had found that strange.
While I don’t remember the specifics, I do remember really enjoying the sandwich and whenever I think about New York I think about walking through the freezing cold park, seeking refuge and caffeine in Starbucks, feeling overwhelmed by the tallness of the buildings and yes, that meatball sandwich.
I think it was less about the sandwich itself but rather it was one of those things we had always said we would do in New York. For that reason, eating one of these sandwiches takes my mind straight back to that memory even if it’s just my version and nothing like the original.
A quick note here, this recipe is not trying to be an authentic New York style meatball sandwich but rather it was simply inspired by my experience with this iconic food in this even more iconic city.
This is simply just a really delicious food to eat on a chilly day.
How to make baked beef meatballs
These meatballs are my go to. They come together so fast and are never dry. I actually hated making meatballs until I realised how simple they are to make in the oven and with this method instead of unevenly cooked, could be burnt on one side meatballs, they come out perfect every time.
To make them you’ll need to mix some beef mince (use any you like, a lot of people will say the more fat the better but I use lean mince and they are still super moist and never dry), and then mix this through with an egg, some breadcrumbs, fresh garlic, herbs and salt and pepper.
I always keep dried herbs in my pantry which makes this recipe even easier but if you have fresh herbs you can certainly use these instead, just up the quantity to 1 tablespoon. More often than not I’ll use a mix of fresh and dried based on what I have available.
Mix everything together with your hands and then start rolling out the balls using tablespoon quantities of the mixture. Place them on a lined baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes. I don’t worry about turning them, just throw them in the oven and that’s it.
How to make dairy-free marinara sauce
This marinara sauce is everything. It’s so simple, comes together really fast and tastes amazing no matter what you’re using it for. Serve it with these meatballs on pasta or with veg, or use this sauce with seafood again on pasta or use it as a base for your favourite pizza toppings. The possibilities are endless with this sauce so definitely keep it in your back pocket.
Start by melting some dairy-free butter in a small saucepan. If you don’t want to use dairy-free butter or just don’t have any available, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil is a great substitute.
Don’t let it get too hot as you’ll add your crushed garlic straight in and if it burns you’ll need to start again because there is no recovery from burnt garlic and you’ll end up with a bitter/burnt tasting sauce. Just let the garlic infuse with the melted butter for a couple of minutes until things get super fragrant.
Add in the passata sauce (making sure the one you buy is just tomatoes and salt in the ingredients) and the wine if using. I love the added complexity and richness of flavour the wine gives this sauce but if you want to leave it out you can. I’ve done it both ways and both still are delicious.
Add your dried or fresh herbs depending on what you have and then stir everything together. Let gently simmer for about 20 minutes giving the sauce a stir every now and then. The sauce will thicken a little and you’ll know its done when you give it a taste and the tomatoes have started to taste sweet rather than bitter.
Once done, you can add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and mix to coat.
These are super simple sandwiches to make but they are such a delicious and comforting food. Grab some fresh bread rolls, preferably a baguette or other long roll and slice in half without cutting all the way through.
I like to scoop out a little of the extra bread in the centre to give my meatballs a nice comfy home to sit in. Butter the insides of the bread and then place the rolls in the oven to toast and get a little crunchy.
Add your warm meatballs and lots of that delicious tomato sauce to the bread roll. Leave things here if you want to keep things simple or you can add any additional toppings you want (aka salads or yes, cheese if that’s your thing). I just give them a sprinkle with fresh parsley before digging in.
You want to eat these sandwiches straight away as the sauce will cause the bread to go soggy if left. If you do want to make these in advance, the meatballs and sauce last and I could argue, get better, after a couple of days in the fridge
The meatballs and sauce will also freeze really well either separately or together for up to three months making this a great recipe for meal prep. When ready to eat all you need to do is grab some fresh bread.
Now that the weather is getting cooler, all I want is cozy comfort food and these sandwiches are perfect for a weekend lunch or a quick weeknight dinner. Serve them with a salad, some potato chips or just as they are and watch these meatballs become a staple in your kitchen.
More easy comfort food:
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For the meatballs:
- 500 grams beef mince
- 1 egg
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- Salt and pepper
For the marinara sauce:
- 60 grams ¼ cup dairy-free butter
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 x 700gram jar passata (tomato puree)
- ⅓ cup red wine optional
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
For the sandwiches:
- 4 long bread rolls like baguettes or hot dog rolls
- vegan butter
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
- Make the meatballs. In a large bowl, add all of the meatball ingredients and use a wooden spoon or your hands to mix everything together until combined. Roll tablespoons of the meatball mixture between your hands to make balls and place evenly onto the prepared baking tray. Repeat with all of the mixture and then place the tray into the oven to bake for 20 minutes.
- While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce. Place the dairy-free butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it melts. Add in the crushed garlic and mix, turning the heat down to low to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Once fragrant, add the passata, red wine if using and herbs. Let very gently simmer for about 20minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and doesn’t have any bitter flavour to it.
- Add the cooked meatballs to the saucepan with the marinara sauce and stir to coat the meatballs. Set aside.
- Prepare the bread rolls by cutting them lengthwise without going all the way through. Scoop out a little of the middle of the bread so that the meatballs have room and then butter the insides of the bread roll. Place the bread in the warm oven for about 5 minutes until lightly crunch.
- Assemble the sandwiches by scooping about 4-5 meatballs into each prepared bread roll with a generous amount of the sauce. Season with salt and pepper and chopped fresh parsley.