Love meatloaf. Love meatballs. Since I love them so much, I’m very discerning about the cooking and eating of them. I have my favorites. For meatloaf, it is K-Paul’s Cajun Meatloaf — dubbed the Best Meatloaf of all Time by me back in ought-six — but I’ve been making it since I got his cookbook in 1984. For meatballs, the Polly Dutton meatballs that I learned to make from Polly as an Ensign in the Navy, living in Coronado. That said, I’m always trying new stuff. If the recipe looks good, I’ll give it a shot in hopes that it can topple K-Paul or Polly.
This meatloaf was published in the New York Times Magazine in July, 2009 and called Fancy Meatloaf for Nora Ephron. It looked good enough to make and Sam Sifton’s story made it even more intriguing. I belatedly got around to making it recently. I’ll let Sam Sifton introduce his meatloaf:
“I was invited to cook dinner for Nora Ephron. This is what happens if you hang around New York long enough, writing about food… You end up at ground zero. The invitation was to a potluck. Guests were meant to bring food inspired by Ephron’s career or by the woman herself. It was essentially high-stakes food charades. My draw was meatloaf. Ruh-roh. Ephron is famous for her meatloaf, a version of which is on the menu of Graydon Carter’s new restaurant and clubhouse, the Monkey Bar. And cooking plays no small role in her new film, “Julie & Julia.” Just thinking about cooking for her, I felt sick and wondered if bringing a few bottles of cold Pellegrino or Laurent-Perrier Champagne would do instead. I’ve read widely in the literature. Nora Ephron loves Champagne. But I got down to cooking. I started to grind. What was borne out by my experience I pass along as gospel: Do not make Nora Ephron’s meatloaf for Nora Ephron. This is a sucker’s play and remains true even if you’re cooking for someone’s aunt on a Saturday night in Fort Myers, Fla.: Don’t make a person’s signature recipe for that person, ever. Instead, take it as a starting point. Move the ball along. And practice. A couple of years ago, Ruth Reichl edited a huge cookbook that was built out of the recipe files of Gourmet. In it is a meatloaf recipe that combines beef and veal, pancetta and Parmesan, brightened with lemon zest and white wine. It’s a luxurious feed, and I’d run versions through the oven before deciding to take it on the road.”
I had all the ingredients on hand except the Italian bread and thin sliced pancetta. I was planning to try and recreate rice meatballs served to me at a dacha outside Kyiv, but reading about Sifton’s meatloaf made my mouth water so I usurped the meats. Meatballs next time. The last time I made K-Paul, I mixed the meat with my (sorta) new Kitchen Aid mixer toy. I found it gentle, quick and non-messy, although mixing meat with my hands is fun and sensual in a way. In using the mixer, I threw alternate pinches of ingredients into the mixer bowl — some beef, some veal, some pancetta, some cheese, some parsley and so on — so its almost pre-mixed. Thus, the mixing didn’t take longer than 30 seconds, then about 15 seconds on STIR once the bread was added.
A lot of things about making a meatloaf are sensual, or at least hands-on. Tearing the bread, chopping lots of parsley, grinding lots of pepper. I swung and missed on another Sifton tip:
“Instead of chopping a fine dice of pancetta as I generally do, I went to the store and asked for thin-sliced pancetta that I would roll and cut into chiffonade at home. Pancetta-studded meatloaf is delicious, of course. But I wanted the bacon really to melt into the meats; I was aiming for an ethereal loaf.”
When I bought the thin sliced pancetta, I didn’t bother to refrigerate it when I got home, since I would be using it soon. Big mistake. Had I stuck it in the freezer a few minutes, it would have been a bit stiff and much easier to chiffonade.
Browning the whole loaf in olive oil and butter posed a bit of a problem for me. I’ve never browned a whole meatloaf. Sifton said “shape into a fine meatloaf, shy of a foot in length and 4 inches across… Heat the oil and butter in a large, ovenproof skillet…” Well, I have a 10-inch cast iron skillet, so I made the loaf 10-inches long and a bit rounder. That made it difficult to to turn while in very hot oil; and it took longer to cook in the oven. I coulda shoulda used my Le Creuset roasting pan which is 13-inches long and deeper. Didn’t think of that. Next time.
And there will be a next time. After dinner, I wrote on my recipe, Now this is MEATloaf. Served with sliced baked potato fried in lard, and pan roasted broccoli it made a fine meal. The bits of bread in the mix seemed very sweet and comforting. Two words: Damn. Good.
So does this supplant K-Paul as “the best meatloaf of all time?” Geez… they’re really different; the K-Paul spicy and vibrant, this one mild and succulent. And don’t ask me which of my kids I love most.
The New York Times
July 26, 2009
Fancy Meatloaf for Nora Ephron
by SAM SIFTON Adapted from Gourmet.
1/2 loaf Italian bread, crust removed, torn into small pieces (about 2 cups)
1 cup whole milk
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground veal
2 large eggs, scrambled
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 bunch parsley, cleaned and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1 cup dry white wine.
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Soak the bread in the milk for 10 minutes.
2. Mix the beef, veal, eggs, pancetta, Parmesan, parsley and lemon zest in a large bowl. [Kitchen Aid with flat beater, speed 2 for one minute] Season liberally with salt and pepper. Squeeze the bread to remove excess milk, then chop and add it to the meat. Mix gently until well combined, but do not overmix. Transfer onto a board and shape into a fine meatloaf, shy of a foot in length and 4 inches across. Loosely cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
3. Heat the oil and butter in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatloaf and sear without moving it until it is browned, about 5 minutes. Carefully slide a spatula under the meatloaf, then gently use another spatula to help turn it and brown the second side, again without moving it for 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
4. Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, return the skillet to the stove and raise the heat to high. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits stuck to it with a wooden spoon. Return the meatloaf to the skillet and then transfer to the oven, basting occasionally with the pan juices, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 150 degrees, about 25 minutes. [It took mine 40 minutes, but then, mine was fatter than his.]
5. Transfer the meatloaf to a platter and let stand, tented with foil, 10 minutes. Slice, pour the pan juices over the top and serve.