I will be the first to admit it. Before this pandemic, I hadn’t made a meatloaf in years. Perhaps I think of this dish now because I long for the comfort food of my youth and the memories that surround it.
I used to love a good meatloaf for an evening dinner, along with mashed potatoes, fresh peas, and carrots. As if that weren’t enough, a good meatloaf sandwich for the next day’s lunch was an added reward. Simple and delicious.
These days, sophisticated foodies swap recipes for maple glazed salmon and high cuisine magazines never mention such humble food. My friend, things are changing. Meatloafing is a topic I’m starting to see featured now. I can’t believe it either. Are we just wanting the nostalgic feelings that meatloaf evokes?
When I was a child, Sundays were reserved for the long-awaited ragù, even in the summer. During the week, anything would go. Friday nights were meatless. We would visit Chiodi’s outdoor garden, where Poppa and his older widower friends played bocci. I can hear them bragging, almost yelling about their great ball skills and maneuvers. I loved their passion.
By June, or as soon as the season allowed, Chiodi’s served Maryland soft-shell crabs on toast points, which were the highlight of my young life. But mostly the kids were excited to eat margarita pizza, while the elders ordered clams on the half shell, oysters, calamari, and shrimp, exotic foods the youth would sample. I think this is how I developed into who I am today—someone with great taste experiences.
Less than three city blocks away was a German outdoor beer garden. My parents knew the owners, and we’d go there for huge plates of roast pork and sauerkraut served family style, along with tall, ice-cold lemonades and beers.
As a child I never gave any thought to the cost of dining out at the neighborhood restaurants. I cannot recall any of the adults ever mentioning the cost, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. But I know that everyone in our neighborhood supported local businesses, including the newspaper and comic-book stand, three different ethnic bakeries, the pork store, and the milkman who made early-morning deliveries of milk, cream, butter, and eggs to every customer on his route. Needless to say, everyone made a living and fed their families.
In this pandemic, will we go back to this special time of yesteryear? The thought lingers with me now that this was a time I never thought would end.
Of course, those who know me know that I grew up on Long Island Bay. We often dug our own clams. We visited the jetties with fishing line and a piece of bacon to catch snapper for breakfast and blue claws for dinner. Water surrounds all of New York (it’s an island, after all). City Island, Jones Beach, Glen Cove, College Point are all unique coastal towns nearby.
In my youth, my mom served meatloaf Italian-style every Wednesday evening, although I didn’t know there was a difference until years later. Under the shade of Poppa’s grape arbor, our summer meatloaf was served cold with white bean and kale salad (another post of mine that you should see) as well as arugula and dandelion greens dressed in oil and vinegar.
Here’s the recipe from my great, great grandmother, who came from the hills outside of Vesuvius.
Chef’s note: In my opinion, on a hot summer night, this is best served cold (even on chilled plates). Growing up, we sliced the meatloaf right at the table, family style. Place the white bean and kale salad all around the meatloaf and dot with green and black olives. Enjoy.
1 lb. ground chuck or ground sirloin (I recommend 80/20 or 85/15)
½ lb. each ground pork and ground veal (or ½ pound ground beef instead of veal)
1 cup bread crumbs (or use quick-cooking oatmeal to keep it gluten-free)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 eggs, divided
1 small onion, chopped or diced finely
½ cup marinara sauce
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1½ cups ricotta cheese (alternatively, you may use 1 cup sliced or grated mozzarella or 3 hard-boiled eggs)
4 tablespoons melted butter
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine meat, bread crumbs, parley, grated cheese, 1 egg, onion, marinara sauce, salt, and pepper. Mix well, but do not compact the ingredients.
- Mix the ricotta, if using, with the other egg. Set aside.
- Use some of the melted butter to grease a loaf pan. Place half the meatloaf mixture in the pan. Spread the ricotta mixture over the top. If you wish, you may substitute the mozzarella or hard-boiled eggs (laid length-wise) here.
- Add the other half of the meat mixture. Press the edges of the meat together so the cheese does not seep out. Brush the remaining butter over the top.
- Bake 35–45 minutes or until done.
- Rest before slicing at the table. May be serve at room temperature or cold. Place the meatloaf on a platter and decorate with parsley.
Image from iStock/Maria_Lapina.