The joys of meatloaf
Use leftovers, make it ahead, put it in the oven. Then loaf.
It often seems that some most delicious meals were developed out of frugality. Day-old bread is transformed into decadent and hearty French toast by simply soaking in a mixture of milk and egg before frying. Cold rice fried up with random leftovers, frozen veggies and eggs can have a satisfying dinner on the table faster than ordering takeout. Even something as elegant as an English trifle is really nothing more than just gussied up day-old cake.
I think meatloaf is perhaps the king of mealtime efficiency. Like many beloved classic recipes, it was a recipe that was developed to utilize leftovers and stretch a small amount of meat to feed a large group of people. The key to this delicious strategy is the panade. Panade is a mixture of some kind of starchy substance, usually bread, that has been soaked in liquid, often milk or broth. It can be used to thicken soups or baked into a casserole like a bread pudding. When it comes to meatloaf, the panade not only helps a little protein to go a long way, it is the secret to a tender and flavorful finished dish.
This meatloaf recipe includes a healthy quantity of vegetables which are finely chopped (this is a great time to break out the food processor if you have one) and sautéed before adding them to the bread and milk mixture. The sautéed vegetables not only add flavor, moisture and nutrition to the meatloaf, they help to significantly reduce the cost per serving because carrots and celery are cheaper than meat.
Over the years I’ve added more and more vegetables to the panade. In the summer I add grated zucchini and diced eggplant and sometimes in the winter I omit the peppers if they are too pricey at the store. The recipe is very flexible and can be easily tailored to suit individual tastes. I’ve even made a delicious vegetarian version that substitutes a can of drained and lightly mashed chickpeas for each pound of meat.
This recipe is a bit time-consuming to prepare, but it’s not difficult. Plan to make it one lazy afternoon and you’ll thank yourself later on. Nothing feels more like winning than serving up a Norman Rockwell-esque dinner on a Tuesday night when you’ve been stuck at work all day. The meatloaf can be cooked from frozen in just over an hour, giving you time to throw together a salad and maybe even relax for a minute or two!
Mrs. Meyer’s meatloaf
This is a large recipe, yielding two substantial meatloaves – one to cook for dinner and one to stash in the freezer. Feel free to freeze the loaves in any size you choose – you could even freeze them in individual muffin cups (you will need to adjust the cooking time). The recipe can also be halved if you don’t want to commit the freezer space.
2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat
4 yellow onions
8 cloves garlic
4 stalks celery
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
16 oz mushrooms
1 bunch parsley
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon granulated onion
½ teaspoon each thyme and oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs
2 cups milk or plain yogurt
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup soy sauce
4 large eggs
4 pounds ground meat of choice (I like to use a mixture of lamb and pork)
Make the vegetable panade: Peel the onions and garlic. In a food processor or by hand, mince the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, red and green peppers and mushrooms. Heat olive oil or bacon fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add half of the minced vegetables. Season lightly with salt and sauté until most of the juice from the vegetables has cooked out and they are slightly caramelized and soft. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, then cook the rest of the vegetables and add them to the mixing bowl. Let the vegetables cool to room temperature.
Chop the parsley and add to the vegetables along with the garlic powder, granulated onion, dried herbs, salt, breadcrumbs, yogurt or milk, ketchup, soy sauce and eggs. Mix well until thoroughly incorporated. Add the ground beef or lamb and pork and mix gently with your hands.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the meat mixture in half and shape into two loaves on the baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer to harden.
Once the meatloaves are frozen hard, peel them off of the parchment paper and wrap them well in plastic wrap before returning to the freezer.
To cook: Unwrap the frozen meatloaf and place on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 75-85 minutes. Thawed meatloaf can be cooked at 350 degrees for 55 minutes.
To cook a complete meal on one baking sheet place some russet or sweet potatoes on the baking sheet alongside the raw meatloaf. They should bake in about the same amount of time as the meatloaf. When the meatloaf has 25 minutes left to cook, remove it from the oven and scatter prepared vegetables around it on the baking sheet, making sure not to crowd the pan. (If the pan is too crowded put the remaining veggies on a separate sheet and bake them on the rack above the meatloaf.) Return the pan to the oven to brown the vegetables and finish cooking the meatloaf.