Italian Chicken Meatball Grinders

These Italian Chicken Meatball Grinders with broccoli rabe, roasted peppers and provolone cheese are the color of the Italian flag and full of delicious Italian flavors.

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What is a Grinder Sandwich?

I can confidently say that of the words “Italian Chicken Meatball Grinders”, there’s only one that might need further explanation. A “Grinder” is a New England name for a large sandwich, usually served warm. The name supposedly came from the fact that these sandwiches would require some “grinding” to chew through them. That makes it sound less than desirable and I want to reassure you that there’s nothing undesirable about these delicious sandwiches!

Large sandwiches have several different names in the United States – sub(marine), hoagie and hero. Submarines are usually cold and with a size of 6 to 12 inches long, they resemble… you guessed it, a submarine. Hoagies are a Pennsylvania (among other places) thing and are so called because of the implication that you had to be a “hog” to eat one (“hoggie” morphed into “hoagie”). Similarly, New Yorkers have “heroes” because you’ll need to make a heroic attempt to finish one of their large meat-filled sandwiches. So, you see, the one thing all these sandwiches have in common is the size, or the challenge. These Italian Chicken Meatball Grinders are no small feat to eat and will more than satisfy the hungriest mouth you have to feed. 

Chicken meatballs cooking in a saute pan with tongs resting on the side.

Easy Chicken Meatballs

The fist step in making these large sandwiches is to make the meatballs. You’ll find the recipe for these chicken meatballs here. They are easy to make and a little lighter than traditional pork or beef meatballs, but if you’re not up for the task you can substitute a store-bought meatball and cook them in the oven, on the stovetop or in an air fryer. You can find instructions for how to do so on the meatball recipe page

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A bunch of broccoli rabe spread out on a counter.

How to Cook Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is a slightly bitter member of the mustard or turnip family. It has an earthier flavor than broccoli and despite sharing part of its name and the look of the little florets on its stalks, it is actually not related to broccoli at all (broccoli is a member of the cabbage family). The trick to using broccoli rabe in a recipe is to try to minimize its bitter taste. To do this, trim off the tough ends of the stalks and blanch the broccoli rabe in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes. Then, shock it in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and set its beautiful green color. A quick sauté in some oil with garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and salt brightens it up and turns it into a delicious component of this grinder. 

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Building Italian Chicken Meatball Grinders - one on a cutting board with a bowl of roasted red pepper, some slices of provolone cheese and cooked broccoli rabe next to it.

Italian Meatball Sandwich

Once you have your meatballs cooked and warm and your broccoli rabe sautéed and seasoned, it’s time to build these grinders. The bread roll is an important part of this meatball sandwich. If you’ve made efforts to make the perfect meatball, it’s a shame to have a roll that turns the tender meatball into a tough sandwich. Choose sandwich rolls that are fresh and relatively soft. The crusts of the rolls will toughen up in the oven. A little roasted red pepper and provolone cheese rounds out these grinders and turns them out into not only delicious, but beautiful sandwiches. I didn’t intend to have the colors of the Italian flag represented in this recipe, but look at that! Maybe the Italian flag has these colors because of these Italian ingredients… you never know. 

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A white plate with an Italian chicken meatball grinder, some potato chips and some coleslaw next to a baking sheet with more sandwiches.

Italian Chicken Meatball Grinders

  • Prep Time: 25 m
  • Cook Time: 30 m
  • Total Time: 55 m
  • Servings:
    6

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 18 chicken meatballs see recipe
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe stems removed
  • 2 cloves garlic smashed
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt
  • 1 cup sliced roasted peppers
  • 6 long crusty rolls
  • dried oregano
  • 6 ounces sliced sharp or aged provolone cheese

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little olive oil to the skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and cover loosely with foil.
  3. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil on the stovetop. While the water is coming to a boil, set up an ice bath (fill a large bowl with ice and cold water). Blanch the broccoli rabe in the boiling water for 1 minute and then immediately transfer the broccoli rabe to the ice bath. Remove the broccoli rabe from the ice bath and dry well with clean kitchen towels.
  4. Add the smashed garlic clove, crushed red pepper flakes and a glug or two of olive oil to a large skillet and then pre-heat the skillet over medium heat. When the garlic is light brown and aromatic, remove it from the pan and discard. Add the broccoli rabe to the pan and sauté for a few minutes. Season with salt.
  5. Make a slit in the rolls lengthwise. Place them on a baking sheet and press the rolls open. Place 2 slices of the provolone cheese on each roll. Bake the rolls in the oven for about 3 minutes, just to melt the cheese. Remove the sheet from oven. Add some broccoli rabe to each roll, place three chicken meatballs on the broccoli rabe and top with some of the roasted red peppers. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle some dried oregano on top. Cut the remaining provolone slices in half and place the half-slices on top of the meatballs and peppers. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the sandwich is toasty. Serve immediately.
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Comments (1)Post a Reply


  1. Very tasty I used pepper jack to spice it a little. You always come up. With the best recipes. Also love the dog pictures.

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