Meatball Sub on a Sourdough Italian Roll

I been Ayn Randed, nearly branded
A Communist ’cause I’m left-handed
That’s the hand I use, well, never mind
– Paul Simon, “A Simple Desultory Philippic”

When I was sixteen I got my first part-time job, as a sales clerk at Fabric Corner in Arlington, Massachusetts. I measured and cut fabric, advised customers on the relative merits of the invisible zipper, and separated items into non-taxable and taxable before ringing them up.

It wasn’t a bad job for a sixteen-year-old who liked to sew, measure, and categorize things, but the job wasn’t the best part of the job. The best part was having both the means and the excuse to eat out by myself. Before every shift, I would stop in at the small pizza joint next door to the store and eat dinner.

We had a ritual: I would ask for a meatball sub. They would ask me if I wanted cheese and peppers. I always said yes to the cheese, and usually to the peppers. I wonder why I couldn’t have just said, “Meatball sub with cheese and peppers” right up front. I guess when you’re sixteen you don’t volunteer any more information than you absolutely have to, until you absolutely have to.

I would sit and eat the sub — an Italian roll stuffed with meatballs, marinara sauce, melted mozzarella, and grilled green peppers — with one hand (and this was not easy, believe me) while I held a book in the other. I think I got through my entire Ayn Rand period while left-handedly maneuvering a messy meatball submarine sandwich. This to me was the perfect meal. If pressed, I suppose I might have to say I was not a typical sixteen-year-old.

The quality of the food was secondary back then, and I do think the sandwich was probably less than stellar, gastronomically speaking. For one thing, I’m sure the roll was not as good as these sourdough Italian rolls. David Snyder posted them on The Fresh Loaf a few weeks ago, with the suggestion that they would make a substantial, non-soggy platform for a meatball sub.

And they do. For my sandwich, I made meatballs and sauce from The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan. Topped with mozzarella melted under the broiler and finished with grilled green peppers, it’s a whole one-(or two)-handed meal.

Thanks, David, for the recipe and the memory.

Sourdough Italian Rolls
(Adapted from dmsnyder’s blog on The Fresh Loaf)

Yield: 1050 g (about 8 rolls, or 4 rolls and one loaf)


  • Ferment biga: overnight
  • Mix final dough: 15 minutes
  • First fermentation : 1.5 hours with folds at 20 and 40 minutes
  • Preshape, rest, and shape: 15 minutes
  • Proof: 40 minutes
  • Bake: 15 – 30 minutes

Biga Naturale (Sourdough Starter) Ingredients:

  • 64 g mature 100%-hydration sourdough starter
  • 256 g flour
  • 192 g water

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 320 g flour
  • 170 g water
  • 3.1 g (1 t.) instant yeast
  • 11.7 (2 t.) g salt
  • 14 g (1 T.) sugar
  • 4.8 g (1-1/3 t.) diastatic malt powder
  • 14 g (1 T.) olive oil
  • All of the biga naturale

Optional Topping:

  • Sesame seeds


  1. In a bowl, combine the biga naturale ingredients. Cover and ferment overnight (about 8 hours) at room temperature.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook, combine all of the final dough ingredients. Mix in low speed until combined. Adjust the water as needed to achieve a soft dough consistency.
  3. Continue mixing in medium speed to a low-medium level of gluten development.
  4. Transfer the dough to a wide, lightly oiled container. Immediately fold the dough in the container. Cover and ferment for 1.5 hours, with additional folds after the first 20 and 40 minutes.
  5. Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter. Divide into 130-gram pieces for rolls, or about 500 grams for loaves. Preshape the dough pieces into balls and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
  6. Shape the dough into batards. For a sesame seed topping, roll the top surface of the dough on a wet towel and then in sesame seeds. Place the rolls, seam-side-down, in a lightly-floured couche.
  7. Proof, covered, for 40 minutes at room temperature, or until they have increased in bulk by 50%.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 500F. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
  9. Just before baking, slash each roll or loaf with a single cut down its long axis.
  10. Once the loaves are in the oven, reduce the temperature to 450F. Bake for 8 minutes with steam, and another 10 – 20  minutes or so without steam, until the crust is  golden brown.
  11. Cool on a wire rack.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Subs, Hero, Grinder, man, that is such a memory flash back it’s scary!!!! And Ayn Rand, I used to read her books in the Army till, two flashbacks in one week…..toooo much!

    Nice Hero, how do you eat that, so huge????

  2. says

    You are killing me! I crave meatball sandwiches all the time, most likely because I never get them. I so want to make this – well, I would really prefer someone else to make them, but what the hey. Those rolls look amazing and the sandwich fantastic!

  3. says

    Mmmm, I love a good meatball sub. I’ve never had one with peppers on it. I always considered peppers a topping for Italian sausage, not meatballs. I’ll have to try it that way next time I make one.

  4. says

    I’m a vegetarian, but those meatballs – I am going to make subbing tofu and what not! And those green peppers look SO good!

    Bookmarked this to do with one of the breads we bake for the challenge! :)

  5. says

    It’s funny (ha-ha), to me that you refer to it as your Ayn Rand Period. Lots of us had one of those, I think.

    The rolls look amazing and I’ll be trying them soon. Thanks for having such an inspiring site.

  6. says

    Great rolls! I love meatballs, never had them in a sandwich, how decadent! :-)

    do you think these rolls would work for “Philly Steak sandwiches”? I’ve been craving those lately.

  7. says

    Oh this is love at first sight! I adore meatballs but haven’t made a meatball sub at home and avoid them in most restaurants due to the sketchy meat quality. Thank you for the recipe!

  8. Anet says

    Oh, I bet these could be used as brat buns (bratwrust) — I’ve been trying to figure out a recipe for a sturdy bun. Thanks.
    I do remember that young teen age when I also was entranced with Ayn Rand.

  9. says

    They look so inviting! I am going to have to make meatball subs soon now.
    I went through a similar period in my youth with Dostoevsky, I don’t think I have the energy for such heavy reading anymore.. ;-)

  10. says

    The rolls and the sandwich look incredible. I actually enjoy eating lunch alone so I can read a book. I finally got a book weight though, so I can use both hands for the meal!

  11. says

    I loved reading about your memories as a 16-year old. Ayn Rand and a meatball sub? Sounds like a perfect combo to me. The sandwich looks amazing. And the rolls even better. Thanks for sharing.

  12. edh says

    Fabric Corner in Arlington- ack! I used to buy fabric for costumes there in high school. My favorite meatball subs came from the Deli in Belmont Center…
    I missed David’s post; thanks for showing it here, we’ll be having subs for dinner soon!

  13. says

    Hi, Susan.
    I’m so happy you liked the rolls! Yours look delicious.
    I never did get around to using these rolls for meatball subs – Smoked turkey, Italian sausage, Toscano salami and Provolone yes. All good.
    I plan to correct my negligence this weekend. The biga naturale is fermenting on my counter as I write.

  14. says

    I love your story about how your first job allowed you so many opportunities to eat out alone. I felt the same way about my first several jobs. Only lately have I become enough of a miser to pack lunch, albeit irregularly.

    Now, about that bread. My husband adores meatball subs, and I really can’t think of a better surprise for him than making homemade meatballs and serving them up on freshly baked bread. Brilliant.

  15. Matt says

    I want to make this tomorrow, but I don’t have any instant yeast handy. Any suggestions as to how much 100% starter I should use in place of instant yeast (in the final dough, that is)?

  16. says

    Hi, Matt.
    I would make the recipe as is but leave out the instant yeast. The effects will be that the dough will take longer to double – maybe 6-8 hours, depending on your kitchen temperature – and the rolls will take longer to proof. You might also find the flavor has more of a sourdough tang due to the longer fermentation.

    Just get an earlier start.

    Hope this helps.

  17. Rachel says

    Just made this a second time and as usual with any formula (for me at least) this batch of rolls blew my first batch out of the water, both in appearance and taste. I was so happy pulling them from the oven that I couldn’t help but dance, yay! Thank you for sharing, we’re using these for oyster po’boys tonight, yummy :).

  18. Alice says

    Just tried these today – absolutely amazing! Every single one of your recipes that I try works beautifully – thank you so much for your blog!

    • Rachael says

      These look outrageously good, can’t wait to give them a try!
      What could I sub for the malt powder? Or could I just leave it out? I’ve never been able to find any in my neck of the woods. Thanks!


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