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Food: This Vegetarian Italian Sub Is The Ultimate Meat-Free Game Day Win

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Growing up in New Jersey I, like most of my NJ compatriots, developed a deep love for heroes. No, not the ones clad in capes and spandex, but the huge sandwiches (or subs as they’re called out of state) that you would order from your local Italian restaurant. The king of all the various filling options was the eponymous Italian Hero, a sandwich filled to the brim with all manner of cured meat, cheese, and refreshingly crisp vegetables. They’re also the ultimate party food, perfect to pair with wings, chips, and a cold beer.

A Vegetarian Italian sub is the meat-free alternative to the classic. It is filled to the brim with things like eggplant, zucchini, peppers and olives. © Justin Sullivan A Vegetarian Italian sub is the meat-free alternative to the classic. It is filled to the brim with things like eggplant, zucchini, peppers and olives.

As much as the meat was a huge part of the enjoyment, I always came back to the fact that it was truly the veggie toppings, the olives, peppers, ice cold shredded lettuce and paper thin onions, that had me craving the sandwich over and over again. With this in mind I set out to make a veggie version of this classic sandwich. We sub the meat for planks of zucchini and eggplant seasoned two different ways to represent the different types of meat you might find in your Italian hero.

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The most controversial thing about this recipe might be my addition of mayo. I know for some this might be a heretical addition, but something about that extra bit of creamy, richness helps to bind the sandwich together both in flavor and in structure. Another tip is to keep all of your toppings cold! This is a huge part of the appeal of this sandwich.

Want to make this sandwich vegan? Either omit the mayo and cheese or swap in your favorite vegan alternatives. And if you made this sandwich, let us know how it came out in the comments below.

Yields: 4-5 servings

Prep Time: 15 mins

Total Time: 1 hour 30 mins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c.

    pitted green olives, such as castelvetrano or manzanilla

  • 1/2 c.

    pitted dark olives, such as kalamata or niçoise

  • 1/3 c.

    canned artichokes, roughly chopped

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  • 1/3 c.

    roasted peppers (fresh or jarred), roughly chopped

  • 3

    cloves garlic, roughly chopped

  • 3 tbsp.

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 tbsp.

    capers

  • 1 tbsp.

    red wine vinegar

For The Sandwiches
  • 2

    medium eggplants (about 1 ½ lb), sliced into ¼” planks

  • 2

    medium zucchini (about 1 ¼ lb), sliced into ¼” planks

  • Kosher salt

  • 1/2 c.

    plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1 tbsp.

    soy sauce

  • 2 tsp.

    oregano

  • 1 tsp.

    garlic powder, divided

  • 1 tsp.

    smoked paprika

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2

    foot long (or four 6’) Italian style sub rolls

  • 1/4 c.

    red wine vinegar

  • 1/4 lb.

    provolone cheese

  • 2

    tomatoes thinly sliced

  • 1

    small red onion, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 c.

    jarred peppers, such as banana, Calabrian or sweet peppers

  • 1

    head iceberg, thinly sliced

  • 3 tbsp.

    mayo, optional

Directions

For The Olive Salad
  1. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until ingredients are broken up into similar-sized small chunks. You can accomplish the same results without a food processor by finely chopping all the ingredients then stirring in the olive oil and red wine vinegar.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper then refrigerate until ready to use.
For The Sandwiches
  1. Set a wire rack into each of 2 baking sheets. Place the eggplant slices on one, and the zucchini on the other. Salt both eggplant and zucchini slices with about 1 tbsp salt on all sides. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Then pat dry vegetables thoroughly with a paper towel.
  2. Adjust oven racks to lower and center positions, and preheat to 425º.
  3. In a large bowl, combine 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 teaspoon oregano, ½ tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp black pepper. Toss the salted zucchini in the mixture until fully coated then return to its sheet tray.
  4. Wipe out the bowl and combine 3 tbsp olive oil, soy sauce, remaining 1 smoked paprika, remaining ½ tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp black pepper. Toss the salted eggplant in the mixture until fully coated then return to its sheet tray.
  5. Transfer sheet trays to their own racks and roast, switching the racks halfway through, until the veggies are tender and have browned slightly, 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  6. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup olive oil, red wine vinegar and remaining oregano. These ingredients can also be added to a squeeze bottle and shaken.
  7. Assemble the sandwiches: Slice the bread and scoop out the inner bread of only the top half of the bread. Sprinkle both sides of the bread with the oil and vinegar mixture.
  8. Begin the layering with the roasted vegetables followed by provolone. Next add the tomatoes, onions, desired peppers, and iceberg. Spread a layer of mayo to the top half of the bread (if using) then fill the divot left by scooping out the bread with olive salad.
  9. Slice the sandwiches into equal portions, stab with toothpicks and serve.

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