With all the saucy flavour of a footlong meatball sub, and the family-style ease of a casserole, our Gluten-Free Italian Meatball Slider Tray Bake recipe is sure to be a hit. Let your whole house in on the fun. Roll up a mountain of light, tender vegan meatballs together that stretch your favourite gluten-free veggie ground and a handful of fridge and pantry staples into a seriously satisfying dinner that will earn both smiles and cries for more from hungry teens and picky kids alike. Season the sauce to your liking. Pack your tray with our Gluten-Free Classic Dinner Rolls. Smother with sauce and cheese, and melt your way to a meatball feast.
For the meatballs:
- Make your chia eggs by mixing chia and water in a small bowl, and let it sit for about 10 minutes to gel while you chop your onions and garlic, and complete step 2. (For this recipe, chia seeds or ground chia work equally well. No chia? Make two flax eggs instead (2 tablespoons of ground flax + 5 tablespoons of water)).
- In a small frying pan, sauté onions and garlic in oil or vegan butter until lightly golden, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- Combine all meatball ingredients until well mixed. Using clean hands, roll the meatball mixture into generous golf ball-sized meatballs (2 – 2 1/2-inches in diameter), placing them on a cookie sheet as you make them so they don’t stick together. If you have one, a small ice cream scoop is a helpful tool for portioning the mixture for rolling, but spoons work, too.
- In a large sauté pan or sauce pan over medium heat, season marinara sauce with half the basil and half the garlic from the assembly ingredients. Add a single layer of meatballs, turning to coat. Gently simmer meatballs in sauce for about 10 minutes, turning meatballs occassionally (reduce heat to medium low if sauce starts to spatter).
- While your meatballs simmer in the sauce, pre-heat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a baking dish that fits the number of dinner rolls you need for this meal using 2 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread. Sprinkle the greased baking dish with 2 tablespoons of vegan parmesan-style shreds.
- Remove Dinner Rolls from their package (defrost at room temperature first if frozen), and place on a cutting board, without separating the rolls. With one hand flat on top of the rolls, hold them gently in place and carefully use a breadknife to slice them in half (as you would hamburger buns).
- Combine remaining 4 tablespoons of vegan buttery spread with remaining half of the garlic. Place the bottom half of your dinner rolls into the dish, and spread lightly with half of the garlic butter, and all of the tapenade (or minced olives or pesto, if using instead).
- Sprinkle basil evenly over the bottom half of your rolls, then top with half the slices of vegan mozzarella or provolone, so each roll is covered.
- Top each roll bottom with a saucy meatball, and a generous spoonful of marinara sauce. You want your tray bake to be saucy, but not drowning in so much sauce that the bottoms of each slider will become soggy—it’s okay to have leftover marinara sauce! (It’s great for dipping, or to serve as a side for those who like theirs extra saucy). Top each meatball with sliced cheese until all sliced cheese is used.
- Top meatball layer with the top half of your dinner rolls. Melt remaining garlic butter, and brush the tops of your rolls generously. Sprinkle remaining parmesan-style shreds and parsley evenly over all the rolls in your baking dish.
- Bake until cheese is melted, and buns are lightly toasted. If your rolls are golden before your cheese has melted, cover your tray with a sheet of aluminum foil to keep the tops from over-browning while the cheese melts. Serve and enjoy!
As written, our Gluten-Free Italian Meatball Slider Tray Bake recipe makes 20 – 24 generous golf ball-sized meatballs (your mileage may vary depending on how big you like ’em!). Choose your baking dish—and how many packages of dinner rolls you need—based on how many mouths you plan to feed. Too many meatballs and not enough mouths to eat them all in one meal? We’ve got two equally tasty solutions to that delicious dilemma!
Solution 1: Next-day leftovers of this dish are divine! Save the meatballs you won’t eat tonight in the sauce in the fridge (like a great chili or spaghetti, they’re even better the next day!). Bake on fresh dinner rolls from step 5. Use within three days.
Solution 2: Make your meatballs. Before you simmer them in sauce, set aside the portion you won’t use in this sitting. Freeze those meatballs on a cookie sheet, then transfer them to another container for storage. (They’ll be much easier to separate when you’re ready to use them next!). When you’re ready to make another meal of them, toss your frozen meatballs in a fresh batch of sauce, and let them simmer on low for a little longer before continuing from step 4. Freeze for up to 3 months next to a package of our Gluten-Free Classic Dinner Rolls, and all you’ll need is sauce and cheese for a near-effortless encore.
Like spicy meatballs? Add chili flakes to your sauce while it simmers (adjust spice to taste!)