Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto

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Indulge in a deeply satisfying meal with our Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs. Enjoy slices of spicy or mild sausage and tender meatballs nestled in a soft hoagie, generously slathered with pesto. Topped with rich marinara, smoked provolone, Grana Padano, a sprinkle of fresh herbs, and toasted to golden perfection, resulting in bubbling, melty cheese.

Our full-bodied marinara is easy to get on the stove, the secret is allowing it to cook down so the flavors blend and become one. 

Important: Surprisingly, we’re skipping the browning step for the meatballs! Instead, they cook directly in the sauce, infusing it with incredible flavor. We let the meatballs poach gently, ensuring tender perfection.

Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto Recipe | Mean Green Chef

However, we brown the Italian Sausage! Toss those puppies into a hot saucepan and let them brown about 3-5 minutes a side. The minute you put them in they’ll become stuck to the pan once browned they release easily, turn and repeat the process until your links are golden brown. Remove and set aside.

Use the drippings from the browned sausage to sauté the onions, red pepper flakes, crushed garlic, and tomato paste. Only takes about 5 minutes. This will build flavor step by step, developing a rich sauce. See full directions below. 

Crafting exceptional meatballs involves several key elements that come together to create tender, flavorful spheres of deliciousness:

  1. Panade Perfection: Incorporating a panade—a mixture of bread or breadcrumbs and liquid—into the meat mixture is crucial. This blend adds moisture and tenderness to the meatballs, ensuring they remain juicy and succulent during cooking.

  2. Quality Meat: Start with high-quality ground meat, such as a blend of beef, pork, and veal or your preferred combination. Leaner meats like turkey or chicken can also be used, but be sure to add extra fat or moisture to prevent dryness.

  3. Balanced Seasonings: Don’t skimp on the seasonings! A flavorful combination of salt, pepper, garlic, herbs, and spices enhances the taste of the meatballs. Be sure to taste the mixture before forming the meatballs to ensure it’s well seasoned.

  4. Gentle Mixing: Overmixing the meat mixture can result in tough meatballs. Use a light touch when combining the ingredients, and avoid compacting the mixture too much when shaping the meatballs.

  5. Proper Cooking Technique: Whether you’re baking, frying, or simmering your meatballs in sauce, it’s essential to cook them properly. Be mindful not to overcook, as this can lead to dryness. Aim for a golden brown exterior with a juicy interior.

Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto Recipe | Mean Green Chef

Glad you asked! Moisture is key to a tender meatball. Step away from the dried bread crumbs, I mean it! Breadcrumbs yield a dense dry meatball, think about how dry, dry bread crumbs actually are! 🙂

Let’s create a Panade—a blend of bread and milk—to achieve incredibly tender meatballs. This straightforward technique ensures a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Buttermilk, milk, or evaporated milk are all suitable options; we opt for buttermilk for its flavor depth and ability to reduce meat fat.

Exploring the Culinary Magic of Panade

A panade is a mixture of starch and liquid used to bind ingredients together in various culinary preparations. It’s commonly employed in meatballs, meatloaf, stuffing, and other dishes to add moisture, texture, and flavor. To make a panade:

  1. Choose Your Ingredients: Select your starch and liquid. Common starch options include bread crumbs, stale bread, crackers, or cooked grains like rice or quinoa. Liquids can include broth, milk, cream, or even pureed vegetables.

  2. Combine Starch and Liquid: In a mixing bowl, combine your chosen starch with your liquid. The ratio typically ranges from 1:1 to 2:1, depending on the desired consistency. Start with equal parts and adjust as needed.

  3. Mix Thoroughly: Stir the mixture until the starch is fully hydrated and evenly distributed throughout the liquid. Allow it to rest for a few minutes to ensure proper absorption.

  4. Incorporate into Recipe: Once the panade is ready, incorporate it into your recipe by mixing it with the other ingredients. For meatballs or meatloaf, blend it with ground meat and seasonings. For stuffing, combine it with sautéed vegetables and herbs.

  5. Cook as Directed: Follow the cooking instructions for your recipe, whether it involves baking, frying, or simmering. The panade will help retain moisture and create a tender, flavorful finished dish.

By mastering the art of making a panade, you can elevate your culinary creations, adding richness and depth of flavor while ensuring moist and tender results.

TIP: Be sure not to over blend the meatball mixture! I always mix with my hands, you can always wear disposable gloves if desired. Hand mix until everything is just incorporated. Over mixing causes many a dense meatball!

Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto Recipe | Mean Green Chef
Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto Recipe | Mean Green Chef

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Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto Recipe | Mean Green Chef

How to Make Meatball & Sausage Subs with Pesto

Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto Recipe | Mean Green Chef

Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs with Pesto

Pesto Meatball and Italian Sausage Subs make for a super satisfying meal, tender meatballs and sliced spicy (or mild) Italian Sausage wrapped in a soft hoagie that’s been slathered with pesto. Topped with a rich marinara, smoked provolone, Grana Padano, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and then toasted until golden brown with bubbling melty cheese. 
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 8 people
Author: Mean Green Chef


Easy Red Sauce w Italian Sausage

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
  • 1 lb Spicy or Mild Italian Sausage
  • 1 cup yellow onion diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon basil leaves dried
  • 1 teaspoon oregano leaves dried
  • Kosher sea salt + freshly ground black pepper


  • 2 slices white bread crusts removed torn into pieces
  • 1/2 4-ounces buttermilk


  • 24 ounces ground chuck
  • 16 ounces ground pork sausage
  • 4 Tablespoons red wine
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 cup shallots (sub yellow onion) minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 Tablespoons basil snipped fresh (1 Tbsp dry)
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning dried
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan grated
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 8 soft hoagie rolls
  • 1 8-ounce jar pesto
  • 1/2 lb smoked provolone sliced
  • Grana Padano or Parmesan grated


Easy Red Sauce w Italian Sausage

  • Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add olive oil and reheat 30 seconds. Add Italian sausage and brown allow to brown on all sides. Once browned remove from pot and set aside. About 10 minutes.
  • Add the onion and red pepper flakes, stir with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon. Cook for about 15 minutes carmelizing the onions until golden in color, Toss in the crushed garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook until it begins to brown about 30 seconds. 
  • Carefully pour in the red wine to deglaze, stirring to lift the browned crusty bits from the bottom of the pot.
  • Add the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, basil leaves, oregano leaves, Kosher sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Stir and bring the sauce back to a bubbling simmer, add the sausage back to the sauce and cover. Reduce heat to medium, so you can hear a gentle bubbling. 


  • Take the crusts off of the white bread and tear into small pieces, add the buttermilk and mash up and allow the buttermilk to absorb. Once absorbed mash again until a paste is created. 


  • Place the bread, ground chuck, ground pork sausage, red wine, eggs, shallots, garlic, basil, Italian seasoning, Parmesan, Kosher sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Mix by hand until just combined. 
  • Form meatballs by rolling meat mixture into 2 tablespoon-sized balls set meatballs on a plate as they are formed. (Tip: If your hands are slightly damp, the meatballs will roll more easily without sticking.)
  • Place the meatballs into the simmering sauce 1 at a time. Allow the sauce to return to a simmer, and cook, partially covered. Let the meatballs to rest undisturbed for 25 minutes before stirring. When the meatballs rise to the top, stir gently. 
  • Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Allow the sauce to cook down at least 1 hour, the longer the sauce cooks the better the flavors will build. You could easily allow this to cook on low for the day. 

Make the Subs

  • Turn on the broiler, slather the hoagie rolls with pesto (if using), add sliced sausage, meatballs, red sauce, top with smoked provolone and grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler and toast for about 5 minutes, watching to make sure subs don't burn. 


  • Prep time is approximate. 
  • Store up to 3 days in the refrigerator. 
  • Freeze up to 4 months in covered airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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