Our family discovered this meatball sub casserole during the height of summer. Our boys were hosting a cousin from Detroit at our remote lake cottage where they frolicked in the lake during the day and toasted marshmallows around the bonfire every night. That was one of my best weeks of the year and this easy casserole quickly became my favorite summer recipe.
I will never forget the first time I made this and the look on the kids’ faces when they tasted it. Read on and as I show you how to make this unforgettable family dinner.
What is it
Imagine a meatball sub. Topped with a thick and savory sauce, gooey cheese, and fresh summer herbs. Now, imagine that same sub, sliced up, placed in a skillet or baking dish, and baked in the oven for a family casserole.
There’s a twist to this recipe though. The meatballs are made from ground chicken, giving them a lighter taste and a perfect match for summer. If the photos and description don’t have your mouth drooling by now, please check your pulse immediately to make sure you have one. This summer recipe is seriously that good!
🥘 What’s in it
The main players of this chicken meatball recipe include:
- Chicken meatballs
- Ground chicken, mixed with grated onion, dried bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, and more.
- Parmesan cheese
- You’ll grate and then add this to the chicken meatballs for an Italian flavor boost.
- Crushed tomatoes
- Look for low sodium and make your heart even happier!
- Tomato paste
Pro Cooking Tip:
Brown the tomato paste for a minute or two, while you are sautéing the onion for the sauce. This caramelizes it and adds a natural sweetness to your tomato sauce. We try to do this with all of our recipes that use tomato paste. You can taste the difference!
- Artisan bread
- A store-bought baguette works well or we show you how to make homemade artisan bread.
- Provolone cheese
- This goes on at the end and wraps up the entire casserole under a blanket of melted creamy goodness.
🔪 How to make it
There are two parts to this meatball sub casserole. The meatballs, and the sauce. You’ll start by making these two things and then putting it all together.
Start by making the chicken meatballs
These balls of ground chicken are rolled in fresh grated Parmesan, herbs, and aromatics – all before being browned in olive oil and then baked in a bath of basil marinara. As an added bonus, my favorite kitchen tool carried – our ancient and indestructible cast iron skillet.
- Use a mixing bowl to combine all of the meatball ingredients, except for the olive oil.
- Mix the ingredients until well combined.
- Use a scoop to make 1″ meatballs, and refrigerate them for 30 minutes.
- Seal them in kitchen wrap before placing in the fridge.
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet or Dutch oven and brown the meatballs on all sides for about 2 minutes. Then set them aside.
Make the Sauce
- Saute the veggies.
- Add the tomato and basil.
- Reduced to desired consistency.
- Place the meatballs in the sauce.
Putting it all together
You’re going to brush slices of bread with olive oil and garlic and then toast them in the oven while the meatball sub casserole is baking.
Just before serving, you’ll top the skillet with the toasted bread. Then, you’ll cover it with slices of Provolone cheese and set the dish under the broiler for a few minutes.
The composition of these meatballs lends a light and non-greasy taste to both the accompanying sauce and slices of provolone-blanketed bread, which has been flavored and hand-rubbed with garlic and then crisped in the oven.
What kind of ground chicken should I use?
You can use ground chicken breasts or thighs for this meatball sub casserole.
- Chicken thighs will be more flavorful because of their higher fat content. The fat also keeps them from drying out.
- Chicken breasts have a milder flavor and less fat. They also are easier to dry out because they are leaner.
- If buying ground chicken breast, it should be light pink in color and odorless.
Are chicken meatballs healthier?
Chicken meatballs are comparable to beef or pork in nutritional value, depending on how fatty the meat is. Most of the time, beef will have more saturated fat than chicken. By the same token, fattier hamburger and chicken thighs are both more flavorful and also have higher fat content.
The bottom, when it comes to health and nutrition for meatballs, it’s a matter of fat vs. lean meat.
Can I use frozen meatballs?
Use your favorite frozen metaball for this meatball sub casserole. Just make sure they are thawed before going in the oven.
What do I do with leftovers?
Seal the leftovers from this meatball sub casserole in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to five days.
- To reheat in the oven:
- Place in an oven-safe dish and reheat at 300° for 15 minutes.
- In the microwave:
- Use a microwave-safe dish and reheat on 50 percent power for 4 minutes.
Can I freeze the leftovers?
You can freeze any leftovers for up to three months. Be sure and wrap them airtight and allow to thaw in the refrigerator before reheating, as above.
💬 Readers’ tips
- For a softer meatball sub casserole, don’t toast the bread slices beforehand.
- Use Texas-toast for a little zing to the finished dish.
- Serve this with a green salad.
- We suggest our Italian-style, hero sub salad. It’s a perfect complement to this easy Italian family dinner!
Give this meatball sub casserole a try, without delay! I want you to taste for yourself why this instantly became one of my favorite summer recipes! And, leave a comment below. (This lets us know that someone is trying our food!) Thank you for reading Platter Talk and no matter what season this finds you in, I hope it is delicious.
More Popular Meatball Recipes
- Large skillet
for the meatballs
- 8 oz 250 g. ground chicken
- 1/4 cup grated onion
- 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
- 1 egg beaten
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for browning
for the sauce
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated onion
- 2 cloves fresh garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
- small handful of fresh basil leaves coarsely torn.
- 5 slices baguette Italian or artisan bread works well
- additional cloves of garlic for the bread if desired
- 4-5 slices provolone cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Coat shallow 9 x 11 shallow casserole or baking dish with nonstick spray.
for the meatballs
- Combine all ingredients except olive oil.
- Use scoop or round spoon to make into 1 inch diameter meatballs.
- Place in freezer for 10 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in saute pan over medium heat.
- Cook meatballs until browned, about 2 minutes on each side.
- Set meatballs aside.
for the sauce
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large saute pan, over medium heat.
- Add onion, garlic, and tomato paste, saute for 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes and basil, continue to stir and reduce to the desired consistency.
- Place meatballs in prepared baking dish.
- Evenly distribute sauce over meatballs.
- Brush each side of bread with olive oil.
- Place meatballs dish in oven, along with bread slices directly on oven rack.
- Turn bread slices after 8 minutes, bake bread and casserole for another 7 minutes.
- Remove meatballs and bread from oven.
- Set broiler on high.
- Place bread in single layer on top of meatballs.
- Cover each slice of bread with provolone, cut to fit bread if necessary.
- Broil casserole until cheese melts.
- Add 1/4 cup red wine to the sauce for enhanced flavor and character.
- If you don't have tomato paste, stir while heating and reduce the sauce to desired consistency
- Stewed or diced tomatoes may be substituted for crushed tomatoes. Use a wooden spoon to mash tomatoes to desired texture while cooking.
- Brush bread with whole garlic cloves prior to placing under the broiler.
Updated from the original recipe of August 27, 2014