Saturday, October 13, 2007

Red, White & Blue Meatloaf

This weekend we are celebrating our friend Eric becoming an American citizen. And what better way to fete Eric, the Frenchman, and his embrace of the good ol' U.S. of A. as his permanent homeland, than with a meatloaf?

Actually, there will be much more to this celebration. But I wanted to get right to the meatloaf because it happens to coincide with our friend Kevin's call over on the Seriously Good blog for a national meatloaf recognition.

I am not afraid to admit that I love meatloaf but rarely think to make it myself. My wife and I are always hoping that friends, who often are too shy to invite professional cooks for dinner, will have us over for their version of meatloaf.

The very name has a clumsiness about it--a loaf of meat, as if we could confer respectability on hamburger by making it look like a brick of Wonder Bread. In fact, meat loaf is a triumph of flavor over design. The notion of passing unloved cuts of meat through an extruder to create something divine is nothing to be ashamed of. This is pure human ingenuity at work, applying mechanical wherewithal to otherwise unappetizing bits of animal flesh.

Meat loaf is singularly American, a hamburger putting on airs, you might say, but too humble to call itself a pate. Because it lacks sophistication, there is a certain shame factor in our love for meatloaf; our embrace of it as "comfort food" has an infantile quality. We prepare it at home for family, rarely for guests. And yet what a thrill to find it on an actual menu, usually at some unassuming roadside diner where it is served with mashed potatoes, gravy and steamed carrots. We love it because we are famished and, like any iconic food, it reminds us who we are.

I do not have a personal meatloaf recipe. In my house growing up, we ate something called "Porcupines"--large meat balls made with uncooked rice and probably one of the hundreds of different Lawry's spice mixes that filled our kitchen cabinets, then baked in a casserole with a tomato sauce. Sorry, no idea why they were called "Porcupines," but they served the same workmanlike purpose as the neighbor's meat loaf.

On those occasions when meatloaf is called for, I've adapted a Tyler Florence recipe he calls "Dad's Meatloaf." Again, no idea how dad figures into this. This is definitely an update of the classic, combining ground beef with ground pork for additional flavor. Hearty white bread soaked in milk is worked into the meat, recalling a rustic Italian meat ball. What sets this loaf apart, though, is a piquant relish of red bell peppers, tomatoes and ketchup that seasons the interior of the loaf, is coated onto the loaf before it goes into the oven (along with strips of your favorite bacon, by the way) and then is served on the side as a sauce.

I would urge you to consider making your favorite mashed potatoes with this meat loaf and a vegetable with some pizazz--perhaps some roasted Brussels sprouts?

To serve 8 - 10:

For the tomato relish:

extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 red bell peppers, cored then diced small
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 12-ounce bottle ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Coat the bottom of a skillet or heavy pot with olive oil, then over moderate heat saute onion, garlic and bay leave until onion is tender. Add red bell pepper and continue cooking until peppers are soft. Add tomatoes, then stir in parsley, ketchup and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking several minutes until the flavors are melded. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

For the meatloaf:

3 thick slices rustic white bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces
1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 eggs
leaves from two thyme sprigs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 slices hickory-smoked bacon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the torn bread and milk in a bowl and mix gently to moisten bread. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef and pork with 1 1/2 cups of the cooled tomato relish, the eggs and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze excess milk from the bread and add the bread to the meat mixture. To test for seasoning, fry a bit of the mixture and taste.

Lightly grease a baking sheet or cover with parchment paper. Dividing the meat mixture in two, form two loaves on the baking sheet. The mix will be a bit moist, but should hold together by itself in a loaf shape. Lay three slices of bacon lengthwise over each loaf. Spread tomato relish over the bacon.

Place in the oven a bake about 1 hour, or until a thermometer inserted into the middle of a loaf reads 160 degrees.


Kevin said...

I'm big fan of meatloaf, but hate the usual ketchup coating. The relish sounds good like a great alternative. In addition to the Greek Meatloaf, I make a traditional meatloaf that I wrap completely in bacon.

Ed Bruske said...

Kevin, I was a bit leery of the ketchup relish at first as well but it's grown on me. You could also just make a tomato sauce--I think the red bell pepper is the prime mover here.