Meatloaf, Be It Ever So Humble

Growing up, I was never thrilled to hear meatloaf—the humble staple of 1950s and 60s American dinner tables—was being served for dinner. I’d practically run the other way; whereas Russ was one of those odd kids that actually liked meat loaf and things like stuffed peppers! However, as my tastebuds have matured over the ensuing decades, I now look forward to the cooler months when the occasional oblong loaf can grace our dinner table once again—and we both can enjoy it.

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You may have wondered where the American culinary classic meatloaf really came from. Apparently the dish can be traced back for centuries: to an ancient Roman cookbook featuring a budding meatloaf combination, as well as 17th-century French cooking and the culinary works of the 18th century Pennsylvanian Dutch. But key to meatloaf’s longstanding place in our cuisine was the Industrial Revolution, along with the invention of the mechanical meat grinder. The dish then thrived through the Depression and other economically difficult times.

In Ina Garten’s recipe below, she suggests topping the loaf with ketchup. However, both hubby and I prefer tomato sauce, as it is less sweet and, once heated, can be used as a topping for a side of garlic mashed potatoes. We also like to add more sauce to our slabs, once plated.

Over the years, we’ve concocted an assortment of meat loaves from Mini-Meatloaves with Chili Sauce to southwestern varieties and pretty much everything in between—many of which I made prior to the launching of this blog. Often they are comprised of the “meatloaf mix,” a combination of ground beef, pork and veal, although ground turkey is another option. For a more rustic presentation of this one, the onions were given a larger chop.

Here, it is suggested to put a pan of water under the sheet pan to help avoid the loaf top from cracking. In the directions, it mentions to mix lightly with a fork. Well, to be honest, I found that to be nearly impossible, so I used gently used my hands without over mixing resulting in a loaf that was slightly loose, not at all dense, very moist and easily fell apart when “forked.”

When Russ got home from work he commented “I’ve been thinking about the meatloaf all day, I can’t wait for dinner.” Luckily he only had about a 20 minute wait before he could indulge…

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When staging the ingredients, I accidentally propped up gluten-free panko, but actually used the GF breadcrumbs when assembling.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions (3 onions)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup canned chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck (80 percent lean)
  • 1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs (recommended: Progresso; we used gluten-free)
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (recommended: Heinz)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not brown.
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  • Off the heat, add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Allow to cool slightly.
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  • In a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, onion mixture, bread crumbs, and eggs, and mix lightly with a fork (or your hands). Don’t mash or the meat loaf will be dense.
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  • Shape the mixture into a rectangular loaf on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Spread the ketchup evenly on top. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees F and the meat loaf is cooked through. (A pan of hot water in the oven, under the meat loaf, will keep the top from cracking.) Serve hot.
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2010, Ina Garten

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