Meatloaf is one of those dishes I make by eyeball — whatever ingredients look good in whatever quantities seem right, and rarely the same.
Then came Alex Adams’ request for a meatloaf recipe that made me think about what I put in mine and why. Adams wants one made without tomato sauce and no smear of ketchup on top — “no red stuff.” He remembers this type served in his school cafeteria with brown gravy.
Now, I’ve been using tomato sauce or paste in meatloaf ever since my mother first taught me to make it decades ago — also with an egg (for binder), milk (for moisture) and a handful of bread cubes (for filler).
Tomatoes do a lot of work in a meatloaf. They bring sweetness, tartness and acidity, all important flavor components. Still, many people don’t like tomatoes or can’t eat them because of allergies or heartburn.
What I’m offering today is a mix-and-match meatloaf with ingredients listed by category. Choose from the suggested ingredients that follow the recipe to make your own formula, with or without tomatoes.
MULTIPURPOSE MIX-N-MATCH MEATLOAF
2 pounds ground meat
1 cup filler
1/2 to 1 cup flavor boosters
1 cup chopped vegetables
1 cup liquid
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Mix lightly with hands until well mixed, but do not compress mixture. Place in a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan or divide into smaller pans. Do not pack meat into pans or your meatloaf will be too dense. Bake 45 to 60 minutes, until cooked through in center.
» Ground meat: Use any combination of ground beef, turkey, chicken, pork and veal. I also throw in a couple of Italian sausages, casing removed.
» Filler: Bread cubes, stuffing mix, oatmeal, breadcrumbs (or panko) or crushed vegetable patties. These don’t just extend your meatloaf, they also lighten it up, so it’s not a solid mass of packed meat.
» Vegetables: Bell peppers of any color, celery, shredded carrots, corn, mushrooms, broccoli (use the stems and serve the florets on the side). If you wish, you can saute the veggies, onions and garlic lightly in butter or olive oil before adding to the meat mixture.
» Flavor boosters: Tomato sauce, a 6-ounce can tomato paste, 1/2 cup chopped herbs or 3 tablespoons dried (rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley are all good), minced anchovies, chopped bacon, minced capers, chopped kim chee, sour cream, chopped olives, raisins, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest. Use any combination, but if not using tomatoes pick items with acidity such as capers, lemon zest or kim chee. You can also simplify by just using a packet of onion soup mix or — if you’re adventurous — a packet of powdered kim chee seasoning.
» Liquid: Milk, chicken or beef broth, red wine.
MULTIPURPOSE BROWN GRAVY
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or melted butter
1/2 cup beef or chicken broth
1 teaspoon beef or chicken bouillon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
Whisk flour into bacon drippings or butter over medium heat; cook until smooth and bubbly. Slowly add broth, stirring constantly, then stir in bouillon. Simmer 5 minutes.
Gradually add milk and water while stirring. Return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes until thickened. Makes about 1 1/2 cups. May be used with any meat dish.