If your freezer is anything like mine, you’re always the proud owner of a frozen banana plantation and an endless vat of leftover red sauce. Due to my boyfriend’s pizza dependency and my near-constant desire for spaghetti and meatballs, we are repeatedly inundated with leftover tomato-based sauces. I realize this is one of those “good problems”, but coming up with fresh takes on the sauce you had last Tuesday can be a bit of a brain teaser. I mean, how many times can you dump it on ziti before you go insane? But sometimes you get lucky. Yes, sometimes your brain takes pity on you and spits out a fully-formed food idea that genuinely makes you excited AND helps you wrangle your out-of-control freezer. These Beanball Parm Subs with Sautéed Spinach are one such idea.
Anyone in the house vegetarian? Probably not because this blog is not always the most vegetarian-friendly. I had two duck recipes nearly back-to-back, which I admit is a little bananas. But just because I apparently have it out for ducks, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy cooking and, yes, eating vegetarian cuisine. Some of my favorite people are vegetarian and I really like to feed my favorite people. Anyway, I thought instead of making the usual meatball grinder, I would make a veg version to mix things up a bit. Plus, let’s be real, this blog needs another meatball recipe like I need another hole in the head.
There is one thing you have to remember when you’re giving traditionally carnivorous recipes vegetarian makeovers: They’re not going to taste like meat. They may approach the flavor profile of your favorite meaty dishes, but the texture will be different. Don’t try to make an “I Can’t Believe it’s not Meat!” meatball; make a beanball. Love it for what it actually is. A beanball is not an imitation, it is its own thing the same way a falafel is its own thing. Take this approach when indulging in all manner of veggie burgers and hot dogs and you’ll never be disappointed by them again…unless they’re really bad, in which case I’m sorry.
Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, let’s spend some time getting to know these Beanball Parm Subs a little better. I initially started with a white bean-based mixture that I fortified with bread crumbs, but the resulting balls lacked the structural integrity I was after. I decided to bulk up the balls by adding quinoa and in the process, I hit upon a texture I quite liked. Because the mixture was so sturdy, I got cheeky and buried a cube of mozzarella in the center of each ball. I further fortified the beanballs by breading them. After a brief fry in 1-inch of oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt, these beanballs would’ve made even the most die-hard meat-eaters weak in the knees. Also, I feel I should mention I have never used the word “balls” more in a single paragraph. I’m so proud.
Garlic bread is universally loved by everyone who can tolerate gluten – and I suspect even they worship it from afar – so I felt pretty safe bedding the beanballs on the garlicky good stuff. But with the richness of the bread, sauce (which was leftovers from this recipe), and the beanballs themselves, I felt the sandwich needed something to break up the carb-a-licious cheesiness of it all. I landed on a sautéed spinach spiked with red pepper flakes and lemon juice. It brought a fresh green flavor and a brightness to what would’ve been an overly rich sandwich. It may have been a last-minute addition but the spinach really elevated these Beanball Parm Subs from random weeknight meal to instant favorite.
These bad boys have serious Meatless Monday potential, so don’t hesitate to put them in your weekly rotation. All the cheesy goodness of a meatball sub with none of the meat, these Beanball Parm Subs are so drop-dead-delicious they’ll have you craving a repeat performance.
Beanball Parm Subs with Sautéed Spinach
- Large Cast Iron Skillet
White Bean & Quinoa Beanballs
- 1 can white beans drained
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs divided
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese shredded
- 1½ tsp dried oregano
- 1½ tsp kosher salt divided
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 cup cooked quinoa
- 2 eggs beaten
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 85g (3oz) mozzarella cut into cubes
- ½ cup canola oil for frying
Garlic Butter Buns
- 4 hoagie buns split
- 4 tbsp butter softened
- 1 clove garlic minced
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 142g (5oz) baby spinach
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- ½ lemon juiced
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups marinara sauce storebought or leftover
- ¼ cup parmesan shredded
For the Beanballs
- Place white beans, garlic, 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of the salt, oregano, red pepper flakes, and fennel seeds in a large mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the bean mixture until it forms a paste. Incorporate the quinoa into the bean mixture using your hands.
- In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together. Pour the flour into a separate bowl and combine the remaining breadcrumbs, salt, and Parmesan in another. Using a tablespoon, portion out the beanball mixture. Place a cube of mozzarella in the center of each portion and form into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Roll the balls in the flour followed by the egg followed by the bread rumb mixture and set aside.
- Heat 1-inch of oil over medium heat in a cast-iron skillet. Fry beanballs until golden brown. Remember to keep rolling them as they cook, so they brown on all sides. Place finished beanballs on a plate lined with a paper towel and sprinkle with additional salt.**
For the Garlic Butter Buns
- In a small bowl, stir the butter, garlic, and oregano together. Spread the garlic butter on the hoagie buns and place them butter side up on a baking sheet. Put the baking sheet under the broiler until the edges are browned. Set aside until ready to use.
For the Spinach
- Heat a quarter-sized amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the spinach, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and salt. Sauté until the spinach is wilted and remove from heat.
- Spread some sauce on one half of the hoagie buns. Add a bed of sautéed spinach and place three beanballs on top. Cover the beanballs with additional sauce. Top the beanballs with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
- Place the dressed halves of the hoagie buns on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Place the naked halves buttered side down next to the dressed halves. Put the baking sheet under the broiler and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the undressed halves are toasted. Remove from the oven and place the naked halves on top of the bubbly cheese and eat immediately with lots of napkins.