FOOD FOR THOUGHT
By Wanda A. Adams
Recovering from surgery over the past few weeks, I regressed to the point where my regimen included Cream of Wheat and nap-time. But a chilly spell early this month got me up and into the kitchen, at least briefly.
Still on soft foods, I had a yen for meat loaf. I also had "Classic Italian Cooking: Recipes for Mastering the Italian Kitchen" (MQ Publications, hardbound, $20), a book whose vintage appearance and '50s-looking illustrations had charmed me, and whose recipes appealed with their simplicity.
There I found Il Polpettone, Italian meat loaf in the style of Naples, in which the mixture is the same as for Italian meatballs (polpette) and the loaf is simmered in its sauce on top of the stove, rather than baked in the oven.
This dish, indeed, re-established my kitchen cred with my family (hard-to-please Daughter described it as "grubbin' " — high praise) and made for several satisfying meals, including cold meat loaf sandwiches for my husband's lunchbox. The secret ingredient, which brightens the flavor without openly declaring itself, is a mere half-teaspoon of grated lemon peel. (Grated fresh and very fine.) A mixture of half ground beef, half pork made the best meat loaf I've ever tasted.
The recipe specified "soft, fine, white bread crumbs" but I used dried bread crumbs because I had them on hand.
IL POLPETTONE: In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/4 pound ground veal, beef and/or pork, 2 cups bread crumbs, 1 1/3 cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, 2 large eggs (beaten), 6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, 1 finely chopped large onion, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel, 1/4 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg and 1/4 cup cold water. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and shape into a loaf. Spread 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs on a plate and roll the meat loaf in them to coat.
Thinly slice 1 large onion. In a large, heavy-bottomed dutch oven or skillet, heat 6 tablespoons olive oil and lightly fry half of the thinly sliced onion until soft. Gently place the meat loaf on top of the onion, fry briefly, then turn (using two spatulas) and brown thoroughly on the other side before turning right-side-up again. Add the remaining sliced onion and 1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree, pouring over and around the meat loaf. Cover and cook over low heat 2 hours, frequently sliding a spatula under the meat loaf and turning it to prevent burning. (If edges break off or the meat loaf splits while cooking, no matter; the dish might resemble an odd lumpy sauce, but it tastes heavenly.)
Serve thickly covered with sauce, and with buttered pasta or mashed potatoes.
Reach Wanda A. Adams at email@example.com.