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~The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub~

IMG_3840You do not have to be Italian or Italian-American to fall in love with an ooey-gooey, cheesy-saucy meatball submarine sandwich.  That said, while meatballs can be made with any type of ground meat or poultry, when most folks dream about the perfect meatball sub, they associate it with traditional Italian-style ground beef meatballs.  That is not the case with today's recipe -- we're using ground chicken infused with lots of onion, garlic, basil, egg and fresh bread crumbs.  What does that do?  It adds moisture and full-throttle flavor to an otherwise dry, lackluster protein.  

There is no right or wrong way to make a meatball sub sandwich.  Technically speaking, all one needs is a submarine-shaped roll, sauce-simmered meatballs and a good melting cheese.  

IMG_4429I use medium-textured, Italian rolls with a thin crust.  Why?  If the meatballs (which are the star of the show) were made right, they will be moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender.  I don't want to fight with a tough, crusty roll trying to get to my delicate meatballs and melted cheese.  I try to purchase unsliced rolls so I can top-split them, and, I don't like them toasted.  Texturally, I want to effortlessly glide through a meatball sandwich with some of everything in every bite.

IMG_4389A caprese salad.  It's classic Italian, and, it's my favorite way to enjoy our Summer garden. Nothing compares to same-day-picked tomatoes and basil leaves served with fresh mozzarella cheese, a drizzle of fruity olive oil, and, some freshly-ground sea salt and pepper. That said, in my food world, for most food, I can find a way to enjoy its flavors in every season, so, come Fall, a warm bowl of caprese-style spaghetti and meatballs simmered in a warm, garlicy, homemade crushed-tomato and basil sauce served with  bocconcini (small, fresh mozzarella balls) and some crusty bread is Italian-American caprese-style comfort food.  It's divine.

Whenever I make my caprese-style chicken meatballs --

IMG_3840I make my chicken caprese meatball sub sandwiches the next day.

IMG_3795For the chicken meatball mixture:

2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, medium-diced, 6-7 ounces, about 1 1/2 cups 

2  large garlic cloves

1/2  cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

1  extra-large egg

1/2  teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

2  cups soft fresh breadcrumbs from 3 ounces soft potato bread or rolls, or almost any type of soft white or the soft center of rustic Italian bread, torn into pieces (Note:  When making bread crumbs, 1 ounce of bread produces 1/2 cup of crumbs.  I hesitate to talk in "slices" because size and thickness varies so much from manufacturer to manufacturer.)

3/4  cup whole milk

1 1/2-2  cups plain, dry breadcrumbs

1-3 quarts tomato-basil sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand (Note:  Three quarts of sauce is enough to simmer all 3 dozen of the meatballs at the same time.  To cook in batches, plan on 1 quart of sauce per dozen meatballs.), for simmering meatballs

For each sandwich (in order of assembly):

1  6"-6"1/2" long semi-soft Italian submarine roll, preferably top-split

4  thin slices deli-style mozzarella cheese, or, 2 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese + 2 slices deli-style provolone cheese, your choice

1/4  cup (a generous 1/4 cup) 1/4"-1/2" diced fresh mozzarella cheese

1/2-3/4  teaspoon finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1  tablespoon chiffonade of fresh basil leaves, for garnish

IMG_3800 IMG_3802 IMG_3807 IMG_3812 IMG_3815~Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken pieces in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the onion, garlic and basil chiffonade.  Using a series of 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken, along with the onion and basil.  Add the egg, dried basil, sea salt and pepper to work-bowl of processor.  With processor motor running for 10-15 seconds, incorporate the egg and spices throughout the now finely-ground chicken.  Place in a large bowl.

Note:  You will have a little over 2 1/2 pounds chicken mixture.  The mixture will resemble the soft "sticky" consistency of a meatloaf mixture rather than a typical burger mixture.  This is intentional. Because ground chicken is naturally dry when it is cooked, extra moisture must be added to the poultry mixture at the outset, and, it was done in the form of onion, garlic and fresh basil.

IMG_4264 IMG_4267 IMG_4273 IMG_4278 IMG_4287 IMG_4282~Step 2.  Wash and dry the processor work bowl. Place the bread in the work bowl.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the milk.  Stir to combine and set aside for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to give the bread time to absorb all of the milk.  Add the bread mixture to the chicken mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula (or your hands) thoroughly combine the two mixtures.

IMG_4293 IMG_4297 IMG_4300 IMG_4304 IMG_4313~Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350°.  Place the dry breadcrumbs in a shallow soup- or salad-type bowl.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure and working one-at-a-time, scoop, drop and roll each meatball around in the dry breadcrumbs until it is lightly and evenly coated.  As you work, place meatballs, side-by-side on pan. There will be about 3 dozen (36-38) standard-sized meatballs.

Note:  Even though the chicken mixture is quite sticky, the coating process is not messy.  The dry breadcrumbs keep the meat mixture from sticking to your hands while rolling them around.

IMG_4315~ Step 4.  Bake meatballs on center rack of preheated 350º oven for about 25 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 162º-165º is reached.  If you have an instant-read meat thermometer, now is the time to use it.  Safe temperature = safe-to-eat poultry.  That said, because I am going to simmer my meatballs in sauce, which will further cook them,  I remove them from the oven when an internal temperature of 158°-160° is reached.

IMG_4329 IMG_4330 IMG_4334 IMG_4341~Step 5.  In a 14" chef's pan, bring 3 quarts of your favorite tomato-basil sauce to a simmer over medium heat.  Add all of the meatballs to the pan.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially-cover the pan and simmer meatballs for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pan and allow meatballs to steep and absorb flavors from the sauce for 30-60 minutes.

Note:  I cooked all of my meatballs all at once today.  To cook them in batches, use a smaller pan and one quart of sauce per dozen meatballs.  To freeze meatballs, do it prior to cooking in the sauce, then, once the sauce is simmering on the stovetop, drop frozen meatballs into the simmering sauce.  When the sauce returns to a simmer, cook the meatballs as directed.

IMG_4477 IMG_4482~ Step 6.  To assemble each sandwich, split a roll short of opening it up into two pieces and place on a broiler-type pan.  Arrange 4 slices deli mozz on the roll.  Place 4 hot meatballs on top of the mozzarella.  Top meatballs with a generous 1/4 cup small-diced fresh moss and add a sprinkling of freshly-grated Parm-Regg.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler until cheese is bubbly and melted, about 2-3 minutes.

I believe you know how to "glide through it" it from here:

IMG_4466The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub:  Recipe yields instructions to make 3 dozen (36-38) 1 1/2"-round meatballs /8 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; appropriately-sized broiler-type pan

IMG_3860Cook's Note:  The difference between meatballs (a diminutive form of meatloaf) and any type of burger is:  bread or breadcrumbs. Meatballs contain breadcrumbs, burgers do not.  For a variation on the same caprese theme, this time a moist, juicy, chicken 'burger (containing no breadcrumbs) check out my recipe for ~ Grillmarked: Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers w/Balsamic Mayo ~. Unlike my chicken meatballs, which are baked in the oven, they're made in a grillpan on the stovetop.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy Melanie Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


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