This really is the ultimate meatball sandwich: juicy pork and fennel meatballs, a rich tomato sauce, crunchy sweet fennel pickles and a nutty, dreamy pesto. My meatballs and tomato sauce are adapted from recipes in The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual, the must-have cookbook from the two chefs behind the popular NYC Frankies Spuntino restaurants.






Skill level

Average: 3.7 (13 votes)


Tomato sauce

  • 125 ml (4 fl oz) olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 × 400 g (14 oz) tinned tomatoes, chopped roughly or crushed with your hands
  • 1 tsp sea salt


Walnut and rocket pesto

  • 100 g (3½ oz) rocket (arugula), washed and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • small handful of walnuts
  • small handful of grated Parmesan
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • sea salt and freshly ground
  • black pepper, to taste



  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) minced (ground) pork
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp chopped raisins
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 1 slice of white bread, torn into very small pieces



  • slices of good-quality sourdough bread
  • 1/2 cup sweet fennel pickles (recipe here)
  • olive oil, to grease
  • butter, to spread

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


You will need 1 x 190 ml (7 fl oz) jar for the walnut and rocket pesto.

Simmering time 3-4 hours

To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until the garlic is fragrant and golden.

Add the tomatoes and their juices along with the salt. Simmer for 3–4 hours, stirring occasionally.

To make the walnut & rocket pesto, put the rocket, garlic, walnuts, Parmesan and lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Blitz to get a rough paste, then add the oil gradually until you’ve reached your preferred consistency. I like it to be quite thick, especially for the meatball sandwich, just to minimise any bits dribbling out.

Season to taste, then pour into a clean jar. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Ensure that the jar is airtight and the pesto is kept covered with oil and it will keep in the fridge for 2 months.

About an hour before your sauce is ready, make the meatballs. Combine the ingredients in a bowl until well mixed.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4).

Form the meatball mixture into golf ball-sized portions. Pat them down slightly and place them on a tray lined with baking paper. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until browned.

Remove the meatballs from the oven and put them in the tomato sauce. Simmer the meatballs in the sauce for around 20 minutes, until cooked through.

To make the sandwich, spread the butter on one side of each slice of bread, and don’t be shy. If using a toastie maker, put 2 slices of bread, butter side facing down, on to the grill. If you don’t have a toastie maker, heat a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat and add a tiny dash of oil. Put 2 slices of bread, butter side facing down, in the pan.

Now add the toppings in this order, making sure every inch of your bread is covered with something tasty: walnut & rocket pesto, sweet fennel pickles, meatballs and 2 extra spoonfuls of tomato sauce. Top the sandwiches with your remaining slices of bread, butter side facing up. If using a toastie maker, press down hard so things don’t start falling out, and toast until done.

If using a pan, put a sheet of foil or baking paper on top of the sandwiches followed by a casserole dish (the weight of the dish will press the sandwich down). Fry over medium to low heat, until golden on one side, then flip over and repeat with the other side. Serve while still hot.


Recipes and images from Pickled by Freddie Janssen (Hardie Grant Books, $29.99, hbk).

View our Readable feasts review and more recipes from the book here.