A Better Meatloaf? Add Tomato Sauce and Cheese

Tomato sauce, cheese and bread crumbs give this meatloaf appeal.CreditCreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Usually I go to the market or grocery store for inspiration, buy whatever looks most tantalizing and head home to make dinner. Other times, I have a more-or-less fixed idea of what I want, but haven’t fine-tuned it.

The other day, I wanted meatloaf, but not any old meatloaf. I didn’t want an American-style version, bland yet comforting. I grew up on that: It was fine, cooked not in the oven, but on a rack in our trusty electric skillet, set on low and covered for an hour and a half. That meatloaf emerged moist, with its signature stripe of bottled chile sauce running end to end down the center. We ate it warm for dinner, or had it cold for lunch on white bread slathered with Miracle Whip.

What I longed for was an Italian-influenced meatloaf (I had just been to Italy for a week’s holiday) but not necessarily an authentic one. I considered making classic polpettone, but that seemed like too much of a project.

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Bay leaves are pressed into the meatloaf.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times
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Tomato sauce is spooned over the meatloaf.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

[For more on making polpettone, go to our “How to Make Polpettone” interactive.]

I had in a mind a meatloaf that conjured the feeling of an Italian-American red sauce restaurant. My fantasy was big, flavorful and not at all subtle: a kind of tasty meatball, but bigger, cheesy, drowned in sauce and baked.

Certainly a recipe exists for such a meatloaf, but I devised my own. The ingredient list began with a pound of ground veal (or beef or turkey), a pound of ground pork, some dried bread cubes soaked in milk and a couple of eggs — so far, so normal.

To this mixture, I added salt and pepper, red-pepper flakes, crushed fennel seed, grated Parmesan, chopped parsley, oregano and cubes of provolone. I also blanched and finely chopped some broccoli rabe — a little voice told me to. The mixture was highly seasoned and delicious (I cooked a small patty to check) and rather wet, which is what you want for a moist meatloaf. I molded it into an oval and placed it in a baking dish.

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Parmesan, provolone and bread crumbs sprinkled on the meatloaf give it a golden finish.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Now it needed a bold red sauce, which I made quickly with canned tomato purée and canned crushed tomatoes, to be poured generously over the loaf. Not stopping there, I topped the whole affair with grated pecorino and provolone and a fistful of dried bread crumbs.

I can report success. This meatloaf is loaded with flavor and has a retro red-sauce essence — so much so, I nearly considered serving it with a side of spaghetti.

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