Ground beef being one of the less expensive beef protein options when I was growing up meant we had it often and cooked in a variety of ways. There was the all American burger; spaghetti and meatballs; in a thick meat sauce for lasagna; made with Mexican chiles, tomato sauce and cubed potatoes for our favorite empanada filling; the occasional salisbury steak; and there was the family favorite, meatloaf.
I grew up loving meatloaf and could never understand why when I mentioned this to school friends they all grimaced. I thought both mom and dad, each with their own slight spin, made the yummiest meatloaf. I didn’t understand, that is, until I ordered it one day at a restaurant sometime in my early 20s. It came as this dry, slice of plain ground beef smothered in a slightly salty brown gravy. Where were the carrots? The potatoes? The slightly Italian flavor I grew up with?
“Ah-ha!” I remember thinking. “This is what everyone else thinks of as meatloaf? No wonder my friends didn’t like it.”
Mom and dad added onions, carrots, celery (a Mirepoix, I would later learn, is the term for this standard aromatic base of ingredients) and potatoes rounded out the vegetables that were cut large enough to be seen in each slice. To this also was added dried marjoram, oregano, sage along with ground black pepper, salt, eggs and day old bread pre-soaked in milk. Packed into loaf pans, it was topped with a generous amount of ketchup before being baked.
Experimenting over the years, I’ve made so many modifications and versions of meatloaf, that I’ve lost track. I’ve made turkey meatloaf (not my favorite). I’ve done a 50% ground sirloin with 50% ground pork. I’ve topped it with bacon. I’ve made it with mushrooms, feta cheese and spinach. And I’ve made it with ground beef and Italian sausage (see recipe below). Taking ground beef as a blank slate, you can customize meatloaf with your family’s favorite flavors. Love Asian? Add teriyaki and shitake mushrooms. Mexican food is more to your liking? How about adding jalapeños and chipotle and topping it with a salsa or a chipotle infused tomato sauce? The possibilities are endless. Just let your imagination run with it for a bit.
And because ground beef is often on sale, once you add in your veggies and soaked bread, it really is a great budget stretcher making it the perfect dinner party entree. Who knows? Maybe you’ll convert someone else out there who thought meatloaf was a boring, bland food that belongs in history books and not on contemporary dining menus.
Hand tear the bread into little pieces and soak in milk.
Sauté the veggies in olive oil for 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a large mixing bowl.
Add the ground beef to the bowl. Add the sausage one at a time, tearing it up into smaller pieces with your hands as you do.
Put the oregano into the palm of your hand and crush over the bowl. Add the mustard, worchestershire sauce, parmesan cheese, parsley, eggs, salt, ground black pepper. Gently fold the ingredients together until incorporated being careful not to overwork the meat.
Now here’s the trick to making perfect meatloaf: tasting it for seasoning. Make a mini patty and cook for five minutes on each side. Remove, let cool and taste. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Take a few minutes to admire and adore your loving companion who fell asleep on the kitchen floor waiting for you to hurry up and finish cooking so you both can play.
Turn the meat out onto a foil lined baking sheet and form into a log. Top with ketchup. Bake for 30min at 425˚. Lower temp to 325˚ and cook for an hour and half or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle reads 155˚ (careful not to touch the pan!).
Ani’s Meatloaf with Italian sausage serves 12
6 slices of bread
1/2 cp milk
2 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium Russet potato, peeled and cubed
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 lbs ground beef (see note)
1 package (6 links) uncooked Italian sausage, casings removed (see note)
1 tbs dried whole oregano
1 tbs dijon mustard
3 tbs worchestershire sauce
1/4 cp grated parmesan cheese
1 tbs dried parsley
1 tbs kosher salt, more to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cp to 3/4 cp ketchup
Preheat oven to 425˚.
Hand tear the bread slices and place in a small bowl. Add the milk and let soak while you work on the vegetables.
Heat a skillet with the olive oil. Add the chopped onions and sweat them for one minute. Add the celery, carrots, and potatoes and garlic. Sauté the vegetables for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and place into a large mixing bowl.
Add the ground beef to the bowl with the vegetables. Add the sausage, one at a time, breaking them up into small pieces with your hands as you add them. Gently squeeze the milk from the bread. Add to the bowl. Measure out the oregano into the palm of your hand, using both hands, crush the oregano by rubbing your palms together over the bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl.
Using your hands, gently fold all the ingredients together being careful to mix just until everything is incorporated. Don’t overwork the meat as you’ll toughen it up.
Take about a small meatball sized amount of the meat mixture and form it into a mini patty. Heat the same skillet used for the vegetables (add more oil if needed) and cook the patty for 5 minutes per side or until cooked. Remove from heat and place on a napkin. Once cooled enough to touch, taste it. Adjust seasoning in the meat mixture if needed.
Wrap a flat baking sheet in foil and turnout the meat mixture onto it. Gently form it into a log. Top with ketchup. Place in the middle of the oven and bake at 425˚ for 30 minutes. Lower heat to 325˚ and bake for an additional 1 1/2hrs or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle reads 155˚.
Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing. Delicious served with a fresh green salad, cauliflower mash and a glass of Pinot Grigio.
Note: I used 85% lean because that’s what was on sale. But a ground sirloin of 90% would be just fine since you’ll be adding the pork sausage. As for the sausage, I used mild because I’m not a fan of spicy food but if you like the heat, use the hot Italian sausage.