Why do meatballs have to be so complicated? Right now, I need you to forget everything you’ve ever learned about how to make a good meatball. What I’ve learned is that there’s absolutely no reason why meatballs shouldn’t naturally be gluten-free—and dairy-free.
Even growing up with a Roman father and Neapolitan grandfather didn’t school me as to why you have to first soak bread in milk before you can even think of forming a meatball. And when you think of what the soaked bread is technically there to do—give the meatball a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness—there are easier, healthier ways.
Plus, you have options. For this recipe, I use gluten-free finely crushed brown rice cereal, but I’ve also used crushed tortilla chips, unsweetened corn flakes and plain instant oatmeal. They all perform the same function: They absorb liquid.
The other trick is to add ingredients that release liquid. Here I’ve used kale. You can swap in any green leafy veggie or if you prefer, finely chopped mushrooms or grated zucchini. The combination will give you a meatball your grandma would be proud of.
And, we’re leaving the grease behind with this recipe by baking the meatballs instead of frying them. When they finish baking, just transfer them directly into the warmed tomato sauce and you’re ready to assemble your sub.
Please come say “hi” over in my online community, Silvana’s Kitchen. I’d love to hear how you’re doing. Thank you, as always, for reading and sharing!
For ingredient substitutions, please see the detailed chart at Gluten-Free 101.
Let’s get cooking,
Swap in your favorite protein, including turkey, chicken or even lamb.
1 pound ground beef chuck
½ pound bulk Italian sausage or more ground beef
2 cups chopped kale or spinach
¼ cup finely crushed gluten-free rice cereal crumbs
3 cloves garlic—2 smashed and 1 chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
½ cup milk or dairy-free milk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
One 24-ounce jar strained tomatoes
6 gluten-free burger buns, split and toasted, such as Udi’s
Shredded mozzarella or dairy-free mozzarella-style cheese, for topping
- Preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, combine the beef, sausage, ½ cup kale, cereal crumbs, chopped garlic, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, milk and egg; shape into 1-inch balls. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet and bake until firm and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season with about 1 teaspoon salt; simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cooked meatballs and remaining 1½ cups kale.
- Preheat the broiler. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the meatballs with sauce and kale onto the rolls and top with cheese, if using. Broil until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.