Deconstructed Meatball Sandwich Casserole Is a Winner

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Garlic Bread Meatball Casserole Recipe. © 2014 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.
    75 mins
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You've probably seen deconstructed recipes discussed on television cooking shows. This is a version of deconstructed meatball sandwiches made into a casserole that works for a crowd.

It's a simple recipe that is easy to throw together, especially if you cook the meatballs and tomato sauce in advance. The recipe includes homemade meatballs and a quick sauce. But you can save time on a busy night by using store-bought meatballs.

The quick sauce recipe is also great for pizza or pasta. It's much better than the jarred versions.

What You'll Need

  • Meatballs:
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (preferably 80/20 ground chuck)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup sweet onions, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup  fresh Parmesan cheese, finely grated 
  • 1/8 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed between the palms of your hands
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Tomato Sauce:
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sweet onion, minced
  • 1 large clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • Garlic Bread:
  • 1 loaf of artisan Italian bread from the bakery, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise or as needed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped.
  • Casserole:
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red peppers, optional
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, finely shredded
  • 1 cup Italian-blend cheese, finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

How to Make It

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a large, shallow baking sheet with non-stick foil.

Make the Meatballs

  1. Using a large dinner fork, combine the ground beef, eggs, breadcrumbs, onions, Parmesan cheese, parsley, milk, 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste (reserve the rest of the paste for the sauce), oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt and black pepper until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Form the mixture into meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
  1. Place the meatballs on the prepared pan, not touching each other, and bake 15 to 20 minutes, until cooked through. Set aside. (Yield: About 54 meatballs.)

Make the Sauce

  1. Place a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the olive oil and minced onions. Cook until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent.
  3. Add the pressed garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 more seconds. Do not let the garlic brown.
  4. Add the remaining tomato paste, the tomato sauce, water, oregano and basil.
  5. Whisk until the tomato paste is incorporated.
  6. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will be a rich, thick sauce. Adjust thickness to your personal tastes by adding water, a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. (Yield: About 4 cups of sauce.)

Make the Garlic Bread

  1. Spread one side of each slice of bread with mayonnaise.
  2. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder and salt and add diced tomatoes.

Assemble the Casserole

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Spread the baked meatballs in the center of a 9- by 13-inch glass casserole dish, leaving space around the perimeter for the garlic bread.
  3. Top with the tomato sauce.
  4. Arrange the garlic bread standing upright on end around the edge of the casserole dish.
  5. Sprinkle the casserole evenly with the crushed red peppers (if desired), mozzarella, Italian-blend and Parmesan cheeses; and finish with chopped parsley. Make sure the cheeses and parsley cover the garlic bread as well as the meatballs.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the garlic bread is toasted.
  7. Serve the meatballs partially covering the garlic bread with extra tomato sauce on the side for dipping.
  8. Serve with a side salad to round out the meal.

Notes:
• Pre-made frozen meatballs can be substituted for homemade. Thaw them first. Jarred sauce can also be substituted for the homemade tomato sauce.

• The meatballs and sauce can be made up to three days in advance and refrigerated until needed. Let them come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

• All mozzarella or all Italian-blend cheese can be used instead of mixing the two.

• If you cannot use mayonnaise, substitute olive oil or butter for the garlic bread. The mayonnaise gives a surprising tang to the garlic bread without a mayonnaise flavor or texture.

• Any leftover tomato sauce can be refrigerated. If you leave it thick, it makes a great pizza sauce. Thin it to use as a pasta sauce.

•Put pasta under the meatballs for an extra-filling meal.