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Meatball Marinara Sub Recipe

Tender meatballs simmered in a simple marinara sauce, topped with melted cheese in a buttery toasted sub roll. This meatball marinara sub recipe is satisfying comfort food with options for a homemade or shortcut version. 

Either way, the results will be pretty darn delicious. If you like Italian food, it’s highly likely you will enjoy this easy weeknight meal.

meatball marinara sub on plate

Homemade vs shortcuts

No judging here. Yes, homemade is usually better because you have full control over ingredients and seasonings. But there’s a trade off of course. More work.

Convenience foods have their place. If the ingredients are simple, they can be just as nutritious, not to mention a huge time saver. In fact, we’re big believers in shortcuts when time is short or we’re feeling tired (or lazy). Check out these 13 convenience foods to shortcut meal prep that don’t compromise taste or nutrition.  

Bottom line: Make homemade meatballs and homemade tomato sauce (40-45 minutes) – both easily made ahead. Buy the meatballs and the sauce (about 20-35 minutes). Or make one and buy the other. Your choice.

Meatballs

  • Homemade: If you have a favorite homemade meatballs recipe, go ahead and use that. Even better, maybe you have a stash of leftover meatballs in the freezer. For this recipe, I use our old fashioned Italian meatballs recipe. Or I make chicken meatballs used in our Hungarian chicken paprikash recipe with meatballs. 
  • Shortcut: Skip making your own meatballs and buy frozen or fresh uncooked meatballs at your local grocery store. This way, you can skip all the mixing and prep and just bake them (or plunk them in the marinara sauce if they are already baked). You will have to experiment to find a brand you like. 

Marinara Sauce

  • Homemade: I love our simple San Marzano tomato sauce. It’s a delicious rich tomato sauce. But if you want an even simpler, quicker homemade marinara sauce, check out the instructions in the recipe card below. It an old recipe from Bonny Stern. Super easy, ready in about 20 minutes and so fresh tasting. Just 3-4 ingredients.  
  • Shortcut: There are some excellent marinara sauces out there. White Linen from Costco is great. Two other marinara sauces recommended by chefs are Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce and Whole Foods 365 Marinara Sauce. If not available where you live, just buy one that has the least additives. 

Sub rolls

  • Er, homemade sub rolls would be another whole level. And we’re not going there 🙂
  • Just buy sub rolls. You can also use regular hotdog rolls if your meatballs are on the smaller side, slider buns, hoagie rolls or French rolls.

Cheese

  • We’re not making this either! The most common cheeses used for meatball sandwiches are Mozzarella cheese and Provolone sliced cheese. Some people like to sprinkle on Parmesan cheese too. 

How to make this meatball sub recipe

cooked meatballs, sub rolls, mozzarella, marinara sauce, butter
Ingredients: Cooked meatballs (homemade or store bought), marinara sauce (see recipe or use store bought sauce), grated cheese, sub rolls, butter or olive oil
meatballs in sauce in pot
Simmer cooked meatballs in sauce for 10-15 minutes.
meatballs simmering in pot on stove
Meatballs will soften and absorb some sauce.
meatball marinara sub on plate 2
Add additional sauce and dig in!
cut open meatball sub with marinara sauce
meatball marinara sub on plate p

FAQ

How do you make a flavorful, juicy meatball?

1. Use a combination of meats like beef, pork, chicken or Italian sausage. – not too lean. You want 15-20% fat for flavor and moistness
2. Mix meat with a “panade”, a mixture of bread and milk (or other liquid)
3. Add seasoning, chopped fresh Italian parsley and sautéed onions to meat for great flavor.
4. Don’t over mix the meatball ingredients and don’t pack the meatballs too tightly.

What are the best canned tomatoes to use for a marinara sauce? 

San Marzano tomatoes are the best types of tomatoes to cook with because they have a sweet flavor, low acidity, firm pulp and low seed count. They simply make the best sauce.

What is marinara sauce?

Marinara sauce is a simple, quick sauce – chunky or smooth – made with tomatoes (canned are fine), olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Sometimes basil is added as well.

Tailor To Your Taste

As simple as this recipe is, there are still a few variations to try. 

  • Seasoning: I keep very simple, but you can add Italian seasoning if you like, fresh chopped basil leaves and a little bit (or more) of red pepper flakes for heat. 
  • Meatballs: Use any combination of ground beef, chicken, veal or Italian sausage.
  • Sauce: The recipe calls for a marinara tomato sauce but you can certainly use a meat sauce if you prefer. 
  • Add-ins: Purists stick to meatballs, sauce and cheese. If I’m feeling energetic, I like to add sautéed onions and bell pepper or mushrooms. 

Shortcuts

  • Buy pre-made frozen or fresh meatballs
  • Buy a good quality marinara sauce
  • Get shredded Mozzarella cheese or Provolone slices

Make Ahead

  • The meatballs can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for 3-4 days or frozen (cooked or uncooked) for 2 months. 
  • The tomato sauce can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for a 4-5 days and in the freezer for 3 months or more.
  • Assembly of the meatball sandwiches should be done just before serving. 
meatball marinara sub on plate
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Meatball Marinara Sub Recipe

Tender meatballs simmered in a simple marinara sauce, topped with melted cheese in a buttery toasted sub roll. This meatball marinara sub recipe is satisfying comfort food with options for a homemade or shortcut version. 
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian, Italian-American
Servings: 4
Author: Cheryl, Two Kooks In The Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 16 cooked meatballs, Note 1
  • 4 sub rolls, Note 2
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup (110 grams) grated Mozzarella cheese or 4 Provolone cheese slices
  • Optional: sprinkle of garlic powder, grated Parmesan cheese

easy marinara sauce, Note 3

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 540 ml canned diced tomatoes (1 can), Note 4 I use San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 teaspoons (or 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • MAKE MEATBALLS: For store bought meatballs, bake according to package instructions. For your own meatballs, make these old fashioned Italian meatballs. You will need to heat the oven to 500F/260C to bake them. I prefer baking them, but you can also pan fry them in a frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • MAKE MARINARA SAUCE: For a shortcut, 2 cups/473 ml use a good bottled or canned sauce, Note 4. Otherwise…. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil on medium heat, add garlic and stir for a minute (make sure it doesn't burn as it will become bitter). Add the diced tomatoes, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Cook uncovered for about 20 minutes until thickened. Adjust seasonings (and add basil or Italian seasoning if you like).
  • SIMMER MEATBALLS IN SAUCE: Add meatballs to sauce and cook on medium for 10-20 minutes to allow meatballs to soften and absorb the sauce
  • ASSEMBLE MEATBALL MARINARA SANDWICH:
    ° Slice hoagie rolls or sub rolls in half, butter insides or brush with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with garlic powder if you like. Place on baking sheet.
    ° Toast rolls in toaster oven or place them butter side up baking tray and broil 2-3 minutes 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) from top of oven (set your oven rack higher). Set aside top half of roll.
    ° Add 3-4 meatballs with sauce on bottom half of each sub roll.
    ° Sprinkle on grated cheese on top of the meatballs (about 2 tablespoons per sandwich). Broil for 3 minutes until melted.
    ° Serve: Spoon on a bit of extra sauce. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese if desired. Place top half of sub roll on cheesy meatballs and serve.

Notes

  1. Meatball options: For homemade meatballs, I use our old fashioned Italian meatballs recipe. Or I make chicken meatballs used in our Hungarian chicken paprikash recipe. Alternatively, buy any frozen or fresh meatballs and cook according to package directions. 
  2. Roll options: Use sub rolls, hoagie rolls, hot dog buns (for smaller meatballs), French rolls or slider buns (for one big meatball). 
  3. Marinara sauce options (shortcut): Good options for store-bought sauces are White Linen from Costco, Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce and Whole Foods 365 Marinara Sauce. If not available where you live, just buy one that has the least additives. You will need about 2 cups/474 ml for this recipe.
  4. Canned tomatoes: If you only have canned whole tomatoes, drain out half of the liquid, then squish the tomatoes into the pot with your clean hands. With less liquid, the sauce will cook faster. If you prefer a smooth sauce without any chunks, blend it with an immersion blender. I don’t bother. 
  5. Make ahead: 
    • The meatballs can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for 3-4 days or frozen (cooked or uncooked) for 2 months. 
    • The tomato sauce can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for 4-5 days and in the freezer for 3 months or more.
    • Assembly of the meatball sandwiches should be done just before serving. 
 
Nutritional information is estimated based on 4 meatballs per sandwich. Calories and fat will be less if only 3 meatballs are used. 
 
Timing for recipe is based on making the marinara sauce as per the recipe and using store-bought or leftover meatballs. 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Meatball Marinara Sub Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 510 Calories from Fat 270
% Daily Value*
Fat 30g46%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 14g
Cholesterol 62mg21%
Sodium 986mg43%
Potassium 444mg13%
Carbohydrates 39g13%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 8g9%
Protein 22g44%
Vitamin A 388IU8%
Vitamin C 13mg16%
Calcium 201mg20%
Iron 13mg72%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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