Slice it -- it's pate! Serve it hot with mashed potatoes -- it's a comfort food! Cut it into squares and dip it in hot sauce -- it's an hors d'oeuvre! Eat it with thin-sliced onions between crusty slabs of rye -- it's a great lunchbox treat! Freeze it for next month! Cut it up into spaghetti sauce and serve it over pasta! Crumble it onto rice! There's no end to the things you can do with . . .
THE RON-CO-MATICCIO ITALIAN MEATLOAF! (Not sold in stores: you have to make it at home and let the delicious fragrance of onion, meat and spices drift through the house.)
Satire aside, the rediscovery of meatloaf by trendy food writers has resulted in the astonishing revelation that it is a savory staple for hard times. A good meatloaf is inexpensive to make, low on meat, high on flavor and capable of infinite variation. It's an excellent "Saturday-afternoon-food" to make with children, especially on a cool, rainy autumn Saturday. Everybody can help chop vegetables. Everybody can help squish the fragrant clumps of meat and bread and tomatoes and pickles (yes, pickles) and eggs to make the glorious disparate elements into loaves.
If I were a solemn sort of person, I'd say See MEATLOAF, 3F, Col. 1MEATLOAF, from 1Fmeatloaf is an object lesson in E Pluribus Unum. Out of the diversity of materials, one subtle taste; out of the diversity of society, one American people. But enough of solemnity and Jeffersonian cracker-barrel philosophy (by the way, meatloaf is great cold on crisp crackers with a dab of French mustard or horseradish, eaten with alternate bites of fontinella and Granny Smith apples) -- on with the recipe:
Makes two loaves, serves 14
1/2 pound fresh Italian hot sausage
1 1/2 pounds mixed meatloaf meat (veal, pork, beef)
4 cups croutons, such as Kellogg's Herb Croutettes*
2 cups finely diced celery
2 cups diced yellow Spanish onion
1/2 cup dry Italian red wine
L 1-pound-2-ounce can chopped tomatoes (about 2 cups, drained)
4 1/2 -ounce can chopped ripe olives
4-ounce can stems and pieces mushrooms
2 large dills pickles, such as Heinz Genuine Dills, finely diced*
2 teaspoons coarse-ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 /8 teaspoon (about a pinch) celery seed
Heaping tablespoon Italian spice mix, such as Sons of Italy Italian Spice Mix (see note)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil two 6-by-14-6-inch loaf pans.
Squeeze the ingredients together repeatedly through your hands and fingers until everything is well mixed. That's the whole instruction for making a good meatloaf. The mixture should be moist, fine-grained, light. The croutettes soak up the moisture -- and keep the meat moist during baking. If the mixture isn't just this side of dripping, add a little of the tomato juice drained from the canned tomatoes.
Pat the meat gently but firmly into the loaf pans. Don't leave air pockets or holes around the edges, that will spoil the appearance of the finished loaf. Bake for two hours. As the loaves bake, the excess moisture will bubble to the top, carrying the spicy elements evenly through the loaf. Remove the loaves ** and let them stand for 15 minutes. Invert onto heavy-duty aluminum foil or a serving platter (depending whether they are to be served at once or frozen for later use.) Refrigerate or freeze as soon as the meat is cool.
The loaf is actually better the second day, after it's been thoroughly chilled. Try having this the next time you have a large family gathering -- either for late-night noshing or luncheon sandwiches, and watch how fast it goes.
Smile in secret glee as your guests, devouring another delicate slice on black bread with butter and capers, ask "Where did you get this marvelous country pate?" Slice it in fat fingers for a toddler. Stuff into grape leaves with rice and raisins . . . the Ron-Co-Maticcio Meatloaf can be 12 meals in one!
(Note: This recipe specifies brand names for some of the ingredients -- a result of trial and error in the recipe's evolution. Though this produces a flavor my family likes, yours may wish to substitute others: Feel free. That's the nice thing about a national dish-- some good cook is always putting a personal spin on the choice of ingredients.)