Hot hero sandwiches never get the love of their more famous Italian cousin, the pizza — but in chef Daniel Holzman’s opinion, they’re just as essential to the fabric of a classic pizza shop menu. In fact, he considers a hot hero sandwich the best way to eat meatballs, and if there’s anyone who knows superior meatball etiquette, it’s Holzman.
As the co-founder of New York’s beloved The Meatball Shop, Holzman quite literally recategorized meatballs as an entree instead of an afterthought in the early 2000s. Now, he’s decamped to Los Angeles to work another angle: bringing the New York-style corner pizza shop to the West Coast. Danny Boy’s Famous Original opened in DTLA a few weeks ago in the long-awaited new Halo food hall, and the slice-and-pie counter is already doing massive numbers, hot hero sandwiches included.
Since the New York pizza requires the use of a perfect, massive pizza oven, most of us are wise enough to not try to replicate it at home. The meatball parm, on the other hand, is much easier for the fledgling chef to pull off, especially with a few tips from Holzman. “A meatball on its own can be a bit dry sometimes,” Holzman tells InsideHook. “But with the cheese and the sauce all crushed up, it’s perfect. The thing people mess up a little when they make a meatball parm is going for the aesthetic of the whole ball. But crushing the meatball is the key, so the meat, the sauce and the cheese all get amalgamated.”
Holzman also has thoughts about bread, a cheese-moisture barrier, and ratios. “Obviously the bread is extremely important,” he says. “We’re using an Amoroso roll, a classic Philly cheesesteak roll. When you toast it, it’s nice and crispy, but there’s still that softness. And the ratio is of paramount importance to any sandwich — the right amount of cheese, right amount of meatball, right amount of sauce.”
Using the Amoroso roll, Holzman places a couple slices of provolone cheese on the bread as a “moisture barrier” to help maintain integrity before putting down meatballs and sauce. Then, mozzarella goes on top to create an impossibly melty top layer that holds it all together, along with a proprietary dusting of pecorino, oregano, and chili flakes. Most important, these meatballs are made with ingredients like ricotta cheese and fennel seed, along with a signature mix of beef and pork, ground to Holzman’s specifications. (Don’t forget to crush them up when building the sandwich).
Armed with a couple of Italian rolls, a classic red sauce, and Holzman’s latest and greatest meatball recipe, pulling off a meatball parm at home is a cinch. Make sure you’ve got a hunk of good mozzarella (though any mozz will do, really), a hot oven ready to broil, and a little bit of time to prep the balls and the sauce.
“Learning to cook is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself,” Holzman says. “It’s so easy — with just the most basic amount of learning, and you can increase the quality of your life so exponentially. What else has that much impact on your life?”
In that spirit, Holzman put together his own cookbook, Food IQ, which is coming to a bookstore/online mega-retailer near you in February 2022. For now, follow along below to try Holzman’s classic meatball parm sandwiches at home.
Chef Danny Holzman’s Meatball Parm
4 soft Italian rolls such as Amoroso Brand
12 slices provolone cheese
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 lb 80% lean ground beef (ideally chuck)
1 lb ground pork (ideally butt)
½ cup plain breadcrumbs
½ cup of ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground fennel seed
½ cup chopped parsley
½ cup ice cold water
7 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup olive oil
1 32-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoon salt
4 basil leaves
For the meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, or stand mixer with the paddle attachment if you have one. Mix thoroughly until completely combined.
Use an ice cream scoop to portion meatballs into 2-ounce, golf ball-sized spheres. Roll them between two hands to shape the balls then arrange on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake at 425° Fahrenheit for 17 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 F at the center. Let sit until cool. Makes 24 meatballs. (Use 12 meatballs to make four sandwiches and freeze the rest for future use.)
For the sauce:
Heat the crushed garlic in olive oil over low flame stirring constantly until soft and translucent, about six minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, salt, oregano and basil. Raise the heat to medium and bring sauce to a simmer stirring constantly. Lower the heat and simmer for 35 minutes, stirring frequently until the sauce has thickened and reduced by 25 percent.
For the hero:
Preheat the oven to broil.
Slice the rolls and drizzle generously with olive oil. Place under the broiler until toasted golden brown, about three minutes.
Tuck and fold three slices of provolone cheese into the sliced opening side of each roll, crush three hot meatballs into each sandwich, breaking them to help absorb the sauce then cover with four ounces of warm tomato sauce. Top with the grated mozzarella and cover with grated pecorino. Arrange the sandwiches on a baking tray, propping them so that the cheese covered opening is facing up. Place the sandwiches back in the broiler, and toast until the cheese is melted, bubbling golden brown, about three minutes. Serve immediately.
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