My literary empire is expanding. The last few weeks I have been contributing short pieces to The Spleen (www.the-spleen.com) called Mad Menus, that are essentially sidebars to Claire Moshenberg’s and E.C. Fish’s erudite recaps of recent Mad Men episodes. I’ll start posting these here as well.
Mad Menu #3: Loaf of Meat
If you start thinking and don’t just take it for granted, it’s a weird mash-up of a name: meat and loaf. “Hey hon, how about whipping up a loaf of meat tonight?” It just gets weirder if, like me, you can’t think of it without recollecting the image of the jowly “rock star” of the same name. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”? Actually, yes, it is.
A ’60s staple, meat loaf keeps making trendy comebacks as comfort food, especially at restaurants that are anything but comfortable. The whole notion of ordering comfort food at a restaurant, no matter how updated, leaves me cold (Exhibit A: lobster mac and cheese). When I want comfort food, I want to eat it at home. Also, I don’t want to pay $16.99 for a single slab.
Nevertheless, your basic meat loaf can be improved immeasurably with a few simple updates, which involve both addition and subtraction. On the minus side are eggs and breadcrumbs. If you use a recipe ripped from the pages of The Betty Crocker Cookbook, you’ll want to cut both those ingredients by half. One egg will give you binding action without glueiness. As for breadcrumbs, half a cup is easily enough. Replace traditional breadcrumbs with Japanese panko, or toast and crush your own. By all means, do not use store-bought regular breadcrumbs, which have the flavor and consistency of sawdust.
The addition side is where you can exercise a bit of creative license. I find that meat loaf improves dramatically by combining two kinds of meats. Your mother’s meat loaf was made out of hamburger, but I suggest that you cut that with an equal amount of ground pork. A recent experiment of mine that replaced the beef altogether came out with satisfactory results.
Gianni’s Italian-Inspired Meat Loaf
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground pork
2 Tbs minced fresh rosemary
Zest from 1 lemon, finely grated or chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
1 medium bunch parsley, minced
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
½ cup panko crumbs
Lightly sauté shallot, garlic, celery, red pepper, and rosemary until shallot is just softened and rosemary gives off aroma. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
Combine lamb, pork, the shallot mixture, and remaining ingredients; mix thoroughly. Form into mound and place in shallow pan with plenty of room, so that fat drippings don’t spill out. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour.
Serve this with a side of creamy garlic polenta and a succotash made of white beans and corn. A simple Italian red wine would be fine with this.
Eat well and enjoy the show.