A really good red-sauce Italian American joint is Sophie’s and my happy place. But sometimes it’s hard to commit to a full-size meatball hero—it’s a lot of sandwich! That’s why I came up with these sliders when I had ground beef and bacon left over from making bacon cheeseburgers the night before. Bonus, they don’t require a nap afterward.
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped to a paste with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup plain dried bread crumbs
4 ounces thick-cut bacon (about 3 slices), finely chopped (about ½ cup packed)
½ pound ground chuck (80% lean)
½ pound ground pork
4 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (see below)
12 crusty sourdough dinner rolls (about 2½ inches across), split apart
12 slices (⅛ inch thick) fresh mozzarella cheese
¾ cup lightly packed baby arugula (about ¾ ounce)
1 In a small sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until soft, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
2 In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sautéed garlic, parsley, and ½ cup of the Parmigiano. Season with salt and pepper and whisk until smooth. Add the bread crumbs and whisk until combined. Add the bacon, ground chuck, and pork and use your hands to mix until combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
3 Form the meat into 1½-inch balls. You should get about 12 total. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
4 In a large deep sauté pan, heat the remaining ¾ cup oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the meatballs and fry until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the meatballs to the paper towels to drain.
5 Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the used oil into a heatproof bowl (once cooled, discard the oil). Pour the tomato sauce into the sauté pan and heat over medium heat until the sauce starts to simmer, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, add the meatballs, turn to coat in the sauce, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.
6 Preheat the broiler. Arrange the slider buns on a large baking sheet, cut side up. Toast under the broiler until lightly browned and crusty, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the top buns to a plate. On each of the bottom buns, spread a spoonful of sauce, add 1 meatball, and top with a slice of mozzarella. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup Parmigiano, then return to the broiler and broil until the mozzarella is melted and lightly browned in spots, 2 to 4 minutes.
7 Transfer to a large platter, top with the baby arugula, and add the top buns. Serve immediately with any remaining tomato sauce on the side.
Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes 5 to 6 cups
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes with their juices
Pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes (if using) and cook until soft, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the sugar. Cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour, using a potato masher to lightly crush the tomatoes as they cook.
2 Stir in the parsley and basil. Use immediately, or let cool completely, transfer to airtight containers, and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.