These are not your average sliders. Stuffing the mini buns with meatballs makes them as fun to eat as they are delicious. The meatballs also have a secret weapon of their own: Spicy pepperoni joins the meat mixture for an unexpected burst of flavor.
Technique tip: If you're nervous about frying the meatballs, you can put them right into the oven and bake them for 15 minutes and then add sauce and bake again for 20 minutes.
Swap option: You can swap in ground turkey or use skim instead of whole milk. Parmigiano-Reggiano works well if you're not able to find pecorino Romano.
- 8 ounces Italian country-style bread, cut into cubes (5½ cups)
- 1½ cups whole milk
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 8 ounces pepperoni, cut into large dice
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed, toasted
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup pecorino Romano cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup canola oil, for cooking
- 8 cups tomato sauce
- 2 cups chicken broth or stock
- 16 slider buns, split into halves
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 16 basil leaves
For the meatballs:
1. In medium bowl, soak bread cubes in milk for at least 15 minutes. The bread will absorb most, if not all, of the milk.
2. Place ground pork into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. Place pepperoni in the bowl of the food processor and process for 2 minutes. Turn off, add onion, garlic, fennel seed and black pepper, then process again for another minute. Pour out contents into the bowl with the ground pork.
4. Move soaked bread to the food processor and run for 30 seconds, until it reaches an oatmeal like texture. Add to the pork mixture.
5. Mix the pork and added ingredients well, by hand. Form into 16 large balls, about the size of a billiard ball, and place onto a sheet tray. Chill in the refrigerator before cooking, at least 30 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350°F.
7. In a large non-stick skillet, heat canola oil on high heat for about 5 minutes, or until oil reaches at least 300°F. Working in two batches, add meatballs to the oil (they should sizzle immediately) and fry until they are completely browned (a very dark color — don't be scared!) on all sides, about 7 minutes per side. Once fully browned, remove to a large baking dish. Repeat with second batch of meatballs.
8. Turn off heat and carefully pour out all hot oil to cool and discard. Cool pan slightly and then wipe with a paper towel. The tomato sauce and chicken stock to the pan. Turn heat to low and stir until combined. When sauce begins to bubble, remove from heat and pour over meatballs in the baking dish. Place baking dish in oven and cook for 20 minutes, then rotate in the pan with tongs and cook for another 20 minutes.
For the sliders:
1. Preheat a griddle or non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Melt the butter on the griddle.
2. Place the slider buns on the griddle and toast until golden and a little crisp on both sides.
3. Place a meatball on the bottom of each bun with a little sauce and then sprinkle each with Parmigiano=Reggiano and a basil leaf. Add the top bun and press lightly so the bread sticks to the meatball.