From Scratch, Recipes, Sandwiches

Italian American Meatball Hoagies


Italian American meatball hoagies

These Italian American meatball hoagies feature smokey fennel meatballs in sauce on homemade bread rolls finished off with fresh mozzarella and basil. A mix of old world Italian, mid-century American, and my global kitchen.

I made them because I was feeling nostalgic. Not for my time in Italy, but for my time in the United States. In the US, an Italian meatball hoagie is usually seen as Italian. Whereas in Italy, the same dish is nothing but pure Americana.

The idea that Marco Polo brought pasta from China to Italy is as congenial to Italians as the idea that the hamburger came from Germany is to Americans. Pasta, The Atlantic

One of the things I love most about food is how it reflects its evolution through the ingredients and methods used. As food moves with people across the world, it also gets reinvented at each step, maintaining some aspects of its original condition while shedding others and evolving to include bits and pieces of the local contexts it passes through…the people that pass through those contexts.

Food and cooking are powerful expressions of our ties to the past and to our current identity.  – Prof. Donna Gabaccia in “Italian Americana” Winter and Summer 1998 volumes, no. 1 & 2

In some ways it’s similar to the way diaspora people like me often feel – I’m seen as Romanian while in Canada, Canadian in the eyes of Romanians …and something unclear and in-between in my new life in Holland.
Dishes like this one have taken a circuitous journey around the world, picking up different influences each of which leaves a mark on it from a specific time and place. The bread, the meatballs, the garnish, and the overall composition reflect how the meatball hoagie or meatball sub has become what it is today.

The Bread Rolls

By many accounts the long and thin bread rolls characteristic of hoagies or submarine sandwiches started in Italy but were reinvented in the United States, sweeter and softer than their old world counterparts.

Hoagie, a submarine sandwich filled with Italian meats, cheeses, and other toppings. The name likely comes from the Philadelphia area where, during World War I, Italian immigrants who worked at the Hog Island shipyard began making sandwiches; they were originally called “hoggies” before the name hoagie took hold. Hoagies are similar to the sandwiches known as subs, heroes, and grinders that are common elsewhere around the Northeast United States. Encyclopaedia Britannica

For these hoagies I omitted the sugar, which represents a broadly more European and more old world approach to bread baking. I adapted the sandwich rolls (hoagie rolls) recipe from Feeling Foodish. The omitted sugar accounted for almost 3% of the original recipe (as compared to the 2% salt). I cut the recipe in half to make a total of 6 rolls. Once the dough is mixed and proofed it can be shaped and left to proof again before baking. It’s a great recipe that was basically foolproof.

Making the Meatballs

The meatballs also reflect their evolution from Italy to the United States and now to the global stage. While meatballs are a well known element of Italian cuisine (known broadly as polpette) they weren’t used in the same way that American cooks began using them.
Spaghetti and meatballs…It does not exist in Italian cuisine, but is iconic in the United States. Wikipedia Italian-American cuisine
Italian style meatballs in tomato sauce
It’s much the same for meatballs in sandwich form. Culturally a meatball sandwich isn’t something that would have naturally developed in Italy. Meatballs are a dinner food that I imagine many a mama and nonna lovingly prepared and served for Sunday dinner – sometimes with pasta (generally in the south) but probably more likely with polenta as is common in the north of Italy.

Panino were eaten as a quick lunchtime food with cold meats called salumi. The meatball hoagie or submarine sandwich concept didn’t happen until the early to mid 20th century when Italian immigrants brought Italian flavours and adapted them to American culinary sensibilities.


So you see this dish is as much if not more American than it is Italian. A perfect reflection of the way food transforms and is transformed by the passage of time and the movement of people. I’ve also adapted them in my kitchen, applying the old world principles of cucina povera, which in my kitchen often means using what I have on hand to develop a lot of flavour.

I had some smoked turkey slices in the fridge that I thought would add a beautiful layer of flavour to the meatballs. I diced about 3 slices of turkey very finely and added it to the meatball mix. You can substitute another smoked/cured meat like salami or prosciutto, or omit this addition altogether if you don’t have any salumi on hand.

Italian American meatball hoagies

Finally, I added a little sprinkle of slivered fresh basil to bring things full circle. From Italy, to America, and now to my Amsterdam kitchen.


Italian American Meatball Hoagies

Italian American meatball hoagies

These Italian American meatball hoagies feature smokey fennel meatballs in sauce on homemade bread rolls finished off with fresh mozzarella and basil. A mix of old world Italian, mid-century American, and my global kitchen.

  • Author: Cristina
  • Prep Time: 50
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Category: Lunch
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian-American


Bread Rolls

370 grams / 13 oz all purpose flour

210 grams / 7.5 oz water

20 grams / 1 oz olive oil

5 grams / 0.2 oz instant dry yeast

7 grams / 0.25 oz salt


350 grams of ground beef

1 yellow onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

75 grams / 2.5 oz smoked turkey, finely diced

1 egg

1/2 cup of bread crumbs

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

2.5 cups tomato sauce of your choice


Fresh basil

Fresh mozzarella


Bread Rolls

Mix: Add all ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attachment. Mix for about 20 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Alternatively add all ingredients to a regular bowl and mix with a large wooden spoon until incorporated, then knead for 10 – 15 minutes (fold dough in half, rotate a half turn, repeat) or until smooth.

Rest: Divide the dough up into 6 even sized balls and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.

Shape: Roll out each piece with your hands or a rolling pin and then roll it up like a cigar and put on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover lightly and rest another 20 minutes. You can prepare the meatballs in the meantime.

Bake: Preheat oven to  225 C / 450 F. Just before baking cut a line lengthwise across each roll with a sharp knife or baker’s razor. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden.


Mix & shape: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a spoon until homogenous. Shape into 18 evenly sized meatballs.

Sear off: Heat a little bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sear off the meatballs just enough to give them a relatively even brown crust. If you work in batches, remove finished meatballs to a paper towel lined plate.

Sauce: Once all the meatballs are fried, put them all back in the skillet and cover with tomato sauce. Put on lid and simmer for 15 minutes.

Assemble: When you are ready to serve, cut the bread rolls lengthwise and put 3 meatballs in each roll. Top with more sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil.


You can substitute ground pork, chicken, turkey or a mix.

Keywords: hoagie, sub, submarine sandwich, sandwich, hoagie sandwich, meatball sub, italian meatball sub, italian sub, italian sub sandwich

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