A Tuscan Take on Meatloaf

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Straight from the Forq Kitchen!
by Daniela Bowker


A Tuscan Take on Meatloaf

This recipe takes the staples of Tuscan cooking: veal, tomatoes, and beans, and turns them into a delicious meatloaf. If it seems a little odd to cook your meatloaf in sauce, in a pan, on the hob, just remember that a meatloaf is no more than a giant meatball. I usually poach my meatballs in sauce on the hob, so it isn’t the biggest culinary leap in the world.

The original idea for this came from Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food–she calls it Hamin Toscano con Pomodori e Polpettone–but it has now taken a life of its own, adapted to my own preferences and, to be honest, for convenience. My parents moved to Tuscany not long after they married, which means that so much of the food that I ate growing up–and subsequently learned to cook myself–bears those hallmarks. Tuscan bean stew is something of a staple, therefore.

When it comes to the meat for this meatloaf, veal really does work best.

When you’re busy, it doesn’t take very long to pull together a meatloaf. Yes, meatloaf takes over an hour to cook, but that’s time in the oven when you can be doing something altogether different. I can have a meatloaf prepared and tucked into the oven in about 20 minutes, and so can you!

This is the simplest and most basic meatloaf recipe around. Barring the ground beef, which you might have in the freezer anyway, it can be made using ingredients that you almost certainly have in your pantry or larder. It’s a perfect store cupboard stalwart and it’s delicious just as it is. However, as it’s so basic, it’s also easy to adapt it, taking account of changing tastes or your growing confidence in the kitchen. If you ever feel like expanding on your meatloaf horizons, start with this meatloaf recipe and use it as your base.

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In the autumn, we make it using fresh home-grown tomatoes and beans. This is a superb recipe for using up over-grown runner beans that are too tough to eat as a fresh vegetable. Pod them, discard the rough exterior and stew the beans. They freeze well, too. At any other time of the year, the tomatoes and beans would come from the store-cupboard. The original recipe calls for dried beans that you soak overnight and then cook. You could always go down that route if you prefer, but for convenience’s sake, I list canned beans. Do use a mixture to ensure some variety in the stew.

Beans are cheap and readily available, not to mention nutritious, which makes this a relatively economical and healthy meal. In the event of not wanting to have meatloaf, you could simply make the stew to serve with a good dose of parmesan cheese and some olive oil drizzled on it. That alone is a heavenly meal.

When it comes to the meat for this meatloaf, veal really does work best. It’s not so strong that it overpowers the stew, but it’s robust enough to impart its own flavours all the same. All veal in the UK is now rose veal, which means that the calves have been reared in conditions far from the grim days of dark milk crates. Should you have any reservations about using veal, beef is the obvious substitute, although a combination of beef and pork might also work.

If you were looking for a meatloaf recipe that you could prepare and start to cook many hours in advance of eating it, this would be it. Rather than cooking the stew and poaching the meatloaf on the hob, fry-off the vegetables, make and fry the meatloaf, and then combine everything in a slow cooker. Go easy on the stock, however, as slow cooking generates far more liquid than hob cooking.You know your slow cooker best, but as a guideline, when using my slow cooker I would cook this for three or four hours on high or six or seven hours on low. That would be an amazing meal to come to on a chilly winter night.

This recipe is sufficient for four people; however, it’s a relatively easy one to extend: another can of beans and a little more tomato if money is tight or you have unexpected guests, or more stew and a slightly larger meatloaf if finances permit. If you do enlarge the meatloaf, you might want to make two meatloaves, rather than one large one. It will be much easier to handle.

Directions

Here’s how to make this delicious recipe

Take a large, lidded casserole and fry the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in a generous tablespoon of olive oil until the vegetables have softened. Add the tomatoes and cook over a medium-low heat for ten minutes. Tip in the cans of beans and coat them in the tomato mixture. There’s not a great deal of the tomato-y mixture, but it’s there to provide a base, not the bulk.

Steadily pour in the wine and the stock to create a stew-like consistency. Season the mixture and allow it to cook for 20 minutes to develop its flavours.

While that is happening, get on with the meatloaf.

In a large mixing bowl, bring together the minced veal with the onion, egg, breadcrumbs, flat-leaf parsley, and salt and pepper. Shape the meat into a loaf and coat it with flour.

Heat some more olive oil in a frying pan and brown the meatloaf on all sides.

Remove the meatloaf carefully from the frying pan (using two large fish slices is a good idea) and place it in the casserole with the bean stew. If you need to top-up the stew with more stock go ahead. I don’t cover the meatloaf completely, and turn it half-way through cooking, but do whatever you feel comfortable doing. Cover the pan and allow the meatloaf to simmer for roughly 40 minutes, during which time its juices will seep into the stew to add depth to the flavour.

Serve hot, having cut the meatloaf into slices. The perfect accompaniment would be some spinach, with yet more garlic, or some buttered cavalo nero. And don’t forget some bread and butter to mop up the juices!

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped (we don’t use the carrot because my mother doesn’t like it, but I would recommend adding it)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 175g (6oz, that’s about half a jar) of passata or half of a 400g (14oz) can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2x 400g (14oz) cans of beans, drained. Choose a mixture from cannellini, haricot, borlotti, or butter beans.
  • 125ml (4 floz or one small glass) white wine
  • 300ml (half pint) Chicken or veal stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 500g minced veal
  • Half a small onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice bread, made into crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Plain flour
  • More olive oil

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Who’s Cooking Today

Daniela Bowker

Daniela Bowker allegedly lives in the UK and supposedly writes for a living. She definitely travels and eats food for fun. She’s tried a sweet bean stew in a backstreet eatery Hong Kong, pad thai on a street corner in Bangkok, and had meroavi Yerushelami at the market in Jerusalem, not to mention reindeer in Norway, caponata in Sicily, and tagine in Morocco.

She often manages to work food analogies into her everyday writing, so do be on the look out for likening self­portraits to lasagne and multiplicitous images to cakes over on Photocritic. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram, and on Flickr, too.

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