Anyone who has traveled and eaten in Tuscany knows that meat loaves in all their glory are a big deal. Tuscan cooks usually made loaves with finely ground leftover braised or roasted meats.
While many of Tuscany’s offerings still are made from cooked meats, others, such as this time-honored loaf, are made from ground raw meat.
Try to find a butcher who will grind raw meat right in front of you or who at least grinds his own meat. If you buy it prepackaged at the supermarket, we suggest a market with good turnover and meat that has not been previously frozen and looks fresh, evenly colored, and moist.
This meat loaf is great hot or cold. Serve on a platter ringed with roasted or boiled potatoes and other vegetables, if you like.
3 to 4 Tbsp. milk
1/2 lb. Ground Pork
1/2 lb. Ground Veal
1/2 lb. Ground Beef
1/4 lb. Mortadella, preferably Italian, thinly sliced and very finely chopped
1 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other grana-type cheese, finely grated
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher or sea salt
3 large eggs
7 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 large fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
Black pepper, freshly ground
- In a large mixing bowl, moisten the bread with the milk and using your hands, repeatedly squeeze and mash the bread until it’s almost a paste. Drain off any excess milk and add the pork, veal, beef, mortadella, cheese, nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons of salt.
- Beat two of the eggs and add to the bowl. Using your hands, work the mixture until all the ingredients are very thoroughly combined.
- Pass the meat mixture back and forth between your hands to form one big, smooth, round meatball without any seams or air pockets. Next, shape the meat into a smooth loaf about 8 inches long by 5 inches wide and 3 inches high. Transfer to a plate, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- In a skillet, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, and sage, stirring occasionally, until the onion is pale gold at the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- In a flameproof casserole large enough to hold the loaf easily, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Salt the chilled meat loaf on top and, when the oil is quite hot, carefully put it in the casserole, salted side down. Cook, undisturbed, until deeply browned, reducing the heat if it threatens to burn, 5 to 7 minutes (see Tips below).
- Salt the side of the meat loaf now facing up and, using a thin metal spatula, very carefully release the meat from the bottom of the casserole. With the help of a second spatula, turn the loaf over. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat so the wine simmers gently and cook until reduced by one-third, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the water. Add the vegetable mixture, spreading some over the top of the meat loaf itself, and baste the meat generously.
- Wrap a 15-inch-square piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil over the top and sides of the meat so that the paper or foil presses gently against its exposed surfaces. Let the excess extend over the vegetables. Cover the casserole and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 155°F.
- Let the meat loaf rest for 15 minutes, covered in the casserole. Transfer to a cutting board and keep it covered with the parchment or foil.
- Meanwhile, rewarm the liquid in the casserole over very low heat. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and whisk a ladleful of the warm cooking liquid into the egg to temper it without curdling it. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the casserole, whisking continuously for 1 to 2 minutes until the sauce is creamy and fluid. Do not let it boil. (If the sauce seems overly thick, thin it with a bit of water.) Remove from the heat and keep warm.
- Spoon about one-third of the sauce onto serving plates or a serving platter. Slice the meatloaf into 3/8-inch-thick slices and arrange the slices on the plate or platter, overlapping them. Spoon the remaining sauce over the slices and generously top with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
It’s important to let the loaf brown well on its first side, undisturbed, before turning; otherwise, it will stick and tear. A thin metal spatula is easy to slip under the loaf to free it before turning. It’s easiest to turn the loaf if the casserole is roomy enough to hold it easily. If the casserole is not too deep, it’s pretty simple to work with the spatula.
When you thicken the white wine-vegetable sauce with egg, it becomes delightfully creamy. If you prefer a denser and more intensely flavored sauce, purée it in a blender or food processor, with or without the egg. The sauce can be served chilled on chilled meat and, if necessary, thinned with a little broth or water.
When testing for doneness with an instant-read thermometer, don’t overdo it. Too much poking releases valuable juices. A remote digital thermometer with a probe is a good alternative, but the best solution is to master the recipe as it cooks in your oven so that you don’t have to rely on any sort of thermometer.
Medium-bodied white wines go well with this, especially if the meat loaf is served cold. We loved a bottle of the Palazzone Orvieto Classico “Campo del Guardino” (from Tuscany’s neighbor Umbria) alongside the cool meat. Young, fresh, light, and medium-bodied reds such as young Chianti or Morellino di Scansano (chilled or not) work well, too. One favorite: Le Pupille Morellino di Scansano, a delicious, berry-filled Sangiovese-based wine from western Tuscany. For an American choice, look for the Le Ferme Martin Merlot, the easy-drinking second label from the Wolffer Estate on Long Island.
What do you like to serve with your meat loaf? Do you prefer your meat loaf to be served hot or cold? What is your favorite meat loaf ingredient?