I haven’t eaten a meatball parmesan hero in about 20 years. I don’t eat any cheese, and the thought of eating a traditional hero roll really doesn’t make me happy. I saw a picture of a hero the other day and I had to have it, so I made this dish. Essentially, it’s meatball heroes, baked in a casserole dish. I’ve made 2 separate trays. Both are made with whole grain baguettes. Only one has mozzarella cheese; the other is made with Daiya. Daiya is a faux “shredded cheese” that is non-dairy. It is made out of tapioca. It melts like real cheese and works well on anything that needs to be parmesan-ed. The above picture is of the tray made with mozzarella. Here’s the Daiya version…
This is not a fancy recipe. It works well with the easiest possible homemade sauce. In this case, easy is delicious. You will end up making this sauce all the time. I make double the amount I need and put the rest in the freezer for another use. Put 3 ingredients in a pot. Add salt and pepper. Cover and cook. Done.
For the meatballs, mix the meat with some whole grain or whole wheat breadcrumbs. Beef, according to Chinese medicine principles, tonifies your qi. That means it gives you energy and helps your body function properly. It’s also good for bones and muscles. So, even those — like myself — who don’t eat beef too often, can benefit from eating it occasionally. I used whole wheat panko crumbs here because it’s what I had on hand. Usually, I take a loaf of Ezekiel sprouted grain bread, put it in the food processor and whiz it up until I have crumbs. I use what I need, then freeze the rest. This time, I had no frozen crumbs. Any crumb you have will do.
Add ketchup and spices and mix briefly with your hands.
Form the mixture into balls and bake them in the oven.
Next, arrange the bread over the bottom of a baking dish. Spread cream cheese (or, in my non-dairy tray, soy cream cheese with chives, on the bread. Top with meatballs, sauce and mozzarella or daiya. Bake for 20-30 minutes.
Meatball Parmesan Hero Casserole
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 Tbs agave nectar
1/2 tsp (or more) crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
2 lb. ground beef
1 cup whole grain or whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried minced onion
2 long whole grain baguettes
8 oz spreadable cream cheese or soy cream cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese or mozzarella-flavored Daiya
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make the sauce: Put tomatoes, agave, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and gently simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook an additional 30 minutes, partially covered. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
Make the meatballs: Put meat, breadcrumbs, ketchup, garlic powder, oregano, basil, minced onion, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix together with your hands. Form balls, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Place balls on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 8 minutes. Flip meatballs and bake an additional 8 minutes. Remove from oven.
Cut baguette in half as if you were going to make a big sandwich. Cut each half into portion-size pieces and arrange them in the bottom of a baking dish. Spread with cream cheese. Top with meatballs, sauce and shredded cheese. Bake 20 – 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve with any extra sauce on the side.