Polpettone al Forno as it’s known in Italy or Baked Meatloaf with Spicy Tomato Sauce, is a classic Trattoria dish. Rich and full of meaty flavor, topped with a nice spicy sauce. This is not your everyday meatloaf, nope this one has loads of richness and flavor. So read on and see what makes it different as well as such a huge crowd pleaser.
The posting today is based on the “Polpettone al Forno” recipe in “Trattoria Cooking” by Biba Caggiano. This cookbook was game changer for me. Prior to my wife introducing me to the book, my Italian cooking experience was limited. But Biba’s book launched me into a whole new culinary experience that’s still the bases for who I am as a chef today.
As a matter of fact, the book in the image above is a second copy as my first one fell apart from overuse but, I still use it to this day. That way I can keep this one in mint condition.
FYI: This book is out of print, but as of this posting Amazon was showing new and used copies available from various suppliers. If you’re interested in getting a copy, you’ll find they best deal at AbeBooks.com . (Thanks for the tip Eha!)
Let’s make an Italian meatloaf!
One of the things that I believe makes this meatloaf so very good is its richness and juiciness. The inclusion of the prosciutto or bacon gives it another layer of flavor as the Parmesan cheese gives it depth. Please don’t use a dried parmesan cheese. If you can afford it, use Grana Padano or even Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Tip: For you folks in North America, you’ll find that Costco has a great price on their Kirkland Grana Padano as well as the Kirkland Parmigiano-Reggiano. For my Swedish readers, I’ve found the ICA Grana Padano D.O.P. (Lagrad 12 Månader) works very well in this recipe and indeed wherever you’d like to use it.
As mentioned in several of my previous post, use the best canned tomatoes you can find. I have a section regarding this in my “Tomato Soup (Cioppino) Base as they make in San Francisco” posting should you have missed it. As for the meat, we really like a mix in this meatloaf, but using only beef would be fine. Our favorite mix is beef, pork and lamb. You should shoot for a fat content of 18 – 20% for the juiciest meatloaf. Don’t worry about the fat, you’ll be getting rid of most it prior to serving. If you want to go really lean, you should consider adding another egg and one additional slice of soaked bread. But no promises on how it’ll come out. This is a recipe that deserves to be a bit decadent.
This first thing, prep the bread by pulling it apart and adding the milk. It should soak for a minimum of half an hour. If you’re going to make and cook the meatloaf right away, go ahead and begin to preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
After the bread is soaked, drain the milk. Leaving the bread pulp in the strainer, put a weight on top to help press the liquid out. Pineapples work ok, but I think they’re better used in Pineapple-Rum Coolers. A large can of tomatoes works just as well. But the pineapple looks really cute. It should set for at least 15 minutes.After removing the weight, gently press the bread against the strainer to get the last little bit of free liquid out. You should now have a ball of bread pulp, without any big lumps. Set this aside for use later.
I know straining tomatoes is a pain in the rear, but removing the seeds lends to a much nicer sauce. In a pinch, you could use canned crushed, but there is slight a difference.
Tomatoes strained, let’s get that basil and garlic chopped. Also, the prosciutto/bacon, if it didn’t come diced. Grade your cheese on the fine side of the grader. Ok, we’ve got all our ingredients together and we’re ready to cook.
The Polpettone (meatloaf)
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the bread pulp, meat, egg, prosciutto (bacon), cheese and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix this well, using your hands or wooden spoon. I like to use my hands as it seems to mix it together better. At this point, I take a small sample of the mixture and cook/taste/adjust the seasoning if required. Just take a small piece of the mixture and fry or nuke it. Next, spread out the breadcrumbs evenly on a large sheet of aluminium foil or parchment paper.
Now form your meatloaf into a nice elongated oval, sized to fit your roasting pan. Gently roll the meatloaf in the bread crumbs. Press the surface gently to set the crumb on the meat. Next, add olive oil to the bottom of your baking dish. Place the meatloaf in your roasting pan and then brush/drizzle the balance of the oil over the it. Bingo, you’re ready to bake it. It’ll take around about 30 to 40 minutes. It should be nice and golden brown at this point.
The Spicy Tomato Sauce
While the meatloaf is cooking let’s make the spicy sauce. Add oil to a saucepan and heat. When the oil is glistening add the garlic and peppers and cook about a minute. Don’t let that garlic burn. The recipe calls for a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper flakes. That’s about 2 out 5 stars when using my Italian pepper flakes, so adjust this to your liking. Next, pour in the strained tomatoes and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes at a slight boil, then simmer until required. At the end, stir in the parsley.
Here’s an option for you that I’ve used many times. Substitute Basic Marinara (tomato) Sauce for the first two ingredients of the spicy tomato sauce recipe. Go to the recipe! To use, warm the olive oil in the pan and heat up the pepper flakes until they’re aromatic. This will just take a couple of minutes. Now, pour in the Basic Marinara Sauce, heat, adding the parsley at the end.
When the meatloaf done, carefully remove the meatloaf from the oven and skim/drain about 75% of the accumulated watery liquid and fat from the baking dish. Be careful here!
You can now pour the spicy sauce over the meatloaf, making sure to cover all of the meat loaf’s surface. Now, place the meatloaf back into the oven and continue cooking for 15 more minutes. An instant read meat thermometer should read a minimum of 160°F (71°C). Let the meatloaf rest for a minimum of 5 minutes prior to slicing.
We usually serve this with soft or fried polenta, but it’s darn good with pasta as well. You can even omit the polenta or pasta and serve it with cauliflower rice. Less carbs, and great flavor.
Tip: If serving with polenta, pasta or cauliflower rice consider doubling the sauce recipe to have plenty to go around.
Chloe says, “bag that mushy polenta stuff, I’ll have pasta any day!”.
So, Cloe says. “Which way would you go, Polenta or Pasta???
This recipe has been tasted and approved for human and dog consumption and has earned Chloe’s 5 paws rating. 🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾
Happy Polpettone (Meatloaf) Cooking
Baked Meatloaf with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Polpettone al Forno as it's known in Italy, is a classic Trattoria dish. Rich and full of meaty flavor, topped with a nice spicy sauce. This dish is wonderful served with soft polenta, fried polenta or as a sandwich the next day.
For the Meatloaf (polpettone)
- 2 pounds (900g) Ground sirloin, lamb and or pork. See note 1.
- 1/4 pound (.120g) Finely chopped Prosciutto. Note 2.
- 1 cup (2.4 dl) Grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese.
- 4 slices Italian bread slices, broken into small pieces. Soaked in 1 cup (2.4 dl) of milk.
- 2 large eggs , lightly beaten.
- ¼ cup (.6 dl) Fresh Italian parsley, finely minced.
- 1 cup (2.4 dl) Fine Italian bread crumbs.
- 3 tbsp (msk) olive oil.
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.
For the Spicy tomato sauce
- 4 cups (.946 l) Canned whole tomatoes of a superior quality, pressed through food strainer to remove seeds. See Note 3
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp (tsk) Italian red pepper flakes, to taste.
- 2 tbsp (msk) Fresh Italian parsley, fine chopped.
- Salt to taste.
Putting it all together.
Get your oven heating up to 375°F (190°C).
Begin by draining the milk off the bread that has been soaking. Once drained, squeeze as much milk as possible by pressing the pulp against a strainer with your hand.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread pulp, meat, egg, prosciutto (bacon), cheese and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix this well, using your hands or wooden spoon. (See note 4)
Spread out the breadcrumbs evenly on a large sheet of aluminium foil or parchment paper.
Now form your meatloaf into a nice elongated oval, sized to fit your roasting pan. Next, gently roll the meatloaf in the bread crumbs. Finish by pressing the surface to set the crumb on the meat.
Next add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the bottom of your baking dish. Place the meatloaf in your roasting pan and then brush/drizzle the balance of the oil over your meatloaf.
Bake your meatloaf in the middle of the preheated oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. It should be nice and golden brown.
While the meatloaf is cooking let's make the spicy sauce. Add oil to a saucepan and heat. When the oil is glistening add the garlic and peppers and cook about a minute. Don't let the garlic burn. Next pour in the strained tomatoes and lightly boil for about 10 minutes, then stir in the parsley. Simmer the sauce until needed. (See Note 3 for a substitution for this step.)
When the meatloaf is done, carefully remove the roasting pan and meatloaf from the oven and skim/drain about 75% of the accumulated watery liquid and fat.
Pour the spicy sauce over the meatloaf, making sure to cover all of the meat loaf's surface. Place the roasting pan back into the oven and continue cooking for 15 minutes. An instant read meat thermometer should read a minimum of 160°F (71°C). Let the meatloaf rest for a minimum of 5 minutes prior to slicing.
- Feel free to mix the meats to your liking. We find a beef/lamb/pork mixture works well.
- If Prosciutto is not available, substitute minced lightly smoked bacon. Here in Sweden we would use Tärnat bacon.
- Basic Marinara (tomato) Sauce can be substituted for the first two ingredients of the spicy tomato sauce recipe. Go to the recipe! To use, warm the olive oil in the pan and heat up the pepper flakes until they're aromatic. This will just take a couple of minutes. Now, pour in the Basic Marinara Sauce, heat adding the parsley at the end.
- I find that mixing the meatloaf by hand produces a nicer texture for the loaf. Also, once the meatloaf ingredients are mixed, I prepare a small patty and either fry it or nuke it and taste for seasoning. I can then adjust the seasoning as needed.