Category Archives: Sunday lunch

Vegetable lasagna: chargrilled courgettes with a multitude of greens.

I’m actually on deadline for two pieces as I start on this. But what the hell. I see it as a warm up.

Every day I look for healthy things to make my family. And if the quest for healthy things is satisfied, my children will invariably not be impressed. The reaction to this was “but where is the pasta” followed by “it isn’t actually half bad”. My youngest – the harshest critic and who would, like her nonno, live off bread and Parma ham if she were able to – ate some. I can’t say she was a fan.

But I thought this was delicious and satisfies that urge for something healthy but tasty. And it has almost a kilo of green leafy stuff in it.

It’s adapted slightly from a Donna Hay recipe. I just love Donna.

Ingredients

About six courgettes, sliced lengthways. Not too thick, not too thin. You’re going to chargrill them.

Lots of extra virgin olive oil but not that super expensive stuff

An onion, chopped up so tears stream down your face

2 x clove of garlic, chopped small (I can’t bear to crush them)

A small bunch of oregano chopped up

Salt and pepper

500g kale, trimmed of the big thick stems in the middle – rinsed

About 300-400g spinach – rinsed

500g or thereabouts of ricotta

15g fresh parsley finely chopped (either sort)

Rind of an unwaxed lemon

About 100g of grated mozzarella

90g of grated parmesan

(quantities of cheese don’t have to be super exact but don’t veer off too much. Don’t sweat it if you only have 80g of each, say).

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Before the oven

 

What you do

I do love a recipe you can make in stages and this is one such. First you oil each side of the courgette slices and chargrill them.

[I use a griddle pan which I bought years ago. It’s a Le Creuset one and it’s big and rectangular shaped and you lay it across two rings. I use it for so many things: not just veg but also making toasted sarnies. I also have a griddle ‘press’ that I used to press things down on. I just looked and my Le Creuset griddle costs £160 now! But I bought it nearly 20 years ago and it’s still going strong so it is worth it on a per use basis. The press I have is something like this.]

So griddle the slices until they are marked and a bit cooked through. Put to one side. If you plan to make this later you can just put it in a lidded Pyrex and put in the fridge, otherwise just keep on a plate until you are ready to assemble.

Then you chop the one onion with the two cloves of garlic and gently saute with the handful of oregano and a little olive oil. I add the seasoning at this point:  a good pinch of sea salt and some black pepper which I always angrily grind over food, as if in a fury. When the onion is translucent set the mixture to one side. Or put it in the fridge until needed.

Now you blanch the spinach and kale and you will think “how can we eat all this green veg?” but you can because it will reduce down. What I do is blanch it, drain as best I can, then I whizz the lot up (in batches unless your food processor is ginormous) in a food processor, and then I sit it over a fine sieve atop a bowl and press down with a potato masher. Because I make this in stages, and not in a great rush, I sit it over a bowl and over an hour or so. You don’t have to whizz it up, it’s perfectly fine as it is, but you will need to carefully drain it in some way. You could sandwich it between two tea towels you don’t much care about.

At some point you introduce to each other, via a fork: the ricotta and the lemon rind and the parsley.

So you now have essentially three things: courgettes, ricotta mix and onion mix which you can assemble now or store for later.

It’s hard to say what size dish to use. Within reason you can use a normal family-supper sized dish. But I favour a square one that is about 25/26cm. Lightly oil the bottom, then when you are ready to cook you preheat oven to 220C.

Start with a third of the courgettes. On top of this put a half the ricotta, then half the greens, then sprinkle on a third of the cheeses.  Repeat and end with a layer of  courgettes and the last of the cheese. Mine was crammed to the top so I put it on a baking sheet in case it erupted (it didn’t). Cook for about 12-15 mins until golden and bubbling and crisp on the top. I didn’t taste it during making it and honestly expected something pretty healthy but bland. Well, no. It was really delicious. I served it with a crisp green salad made with a sharp dressing. Half of it fed four of us, but I suspect for people with larger appetites it won’t go so far.

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A cross section

A comforting dish of meatballs and polenta

What am I doing, writing this on one of the hottest days of the year? But English weather is so variable that you may need this in a couple of days. You can, of course, eat this when it’s hot, and we do. But it is particularly comforting on a day when you need succour – be it due to weather or weariness. I can’t over play how delicious this is, and how easy if you make it in stages – which I do.

I have also been meaning to write this up for some years, ever since I saw the Chiappa sisters make this on TV. (I have since adapted it slightly.)

After reading about a brilliant piece about the nitrates in our meat, written by the excellent Bee Wilson I realised that I had become really lazy about making meatballs and burgers. Which is shocking given my heritage.

My mother has never ever bought shop bought burgers or meatballs. And although she now allows herself the luxury of buying ready-minced meat, she also – until fairly recently – used to mince all the meat herself. It was the only way she could be absolutely sure of the cut of the meat used for mince.

My mother is a goat farmer’s daughter and when I was growing up and went shopping with her, she would tell the butcher not only exactly how she liked her meat cut, but where off the animal she wanted it cut and he utterly bowed to her expertise – she not only did this in butcher shops but she also used to do it in Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s – back then – used to have a phone over the chilled meat counter and you could ring up and speak to the butcher in the back (oh for those days!). She would pick up the receiver and he would recognise her voice and he would say “coming out Mrs Barbieri” and he would come out and meet her where the back of the shop met the shop floor, where the big plastic curtains were – and she would say, in her heavily accented voice, exactly how he was to cut the meat for our dinner. I used to baulk slightly at the time it all took, but even then, I would be awed at her expertise and the way he listened to her. And this was a time when not everyone did listen, because speaking in accented English – some thought – marked you out as stupid.

You see how far I’ve come, blithely slinging ready made meatballs and burgers into my trolley. All be them from Waitrose and free range and organic etc.

So now I make my own, thanks in no small part to Bee’s piece, in bulk. And I freeze them in vacuum packs. And of a morning when no-one can decide what to eat that night, or be bothered to shop, it is with high levels of smugness that I can then pull them out of the freezer to defrost.

Shall we get on with the recipe?

You can make much of this in advance and bring it all together at time of eating. This is what I do. Note I make double of the sauce and meatballs and freeze for another time. As the recipe stands it makes enough for four modest eaters. You have to make the polenta at the time of eating.

The sauce

2 red peppers, de-seeded, chopped

4 ish tomatoes, of medium size, quartered

3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled (less or more if you hate/love it) – leave whole.

A few sprigs of thyme

Salt, pepper, olive oil

Heat oven to 180C. Put the two chopped peppers, the four quartered tomatoes and the 3-4 whole cloves of garlic in a bowl. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the top and about two tablespoons of olive oil and mix all together, then put on a baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes. I find this is massively variable as sometimes the veg puts out a lot of water, but you’re looking for the veg to be soft and a bit golden in parts.

When done, let cool slightly and then blend to a thick sauce in a blender. Don’t worry about the skin of the peppers, you don’t need to take it off. You can use immediately or keep it in the fridge for a couple of days (or freeze the whole lot). Heat up before using.

The meatballs (or, for another time, burgers)

This is a fantastic recipe, generally, for meatballs (polpette) or burgers and it’s the only one I now use. It makes a very well flavoured meatball/burger, but I do sometimes leave out the parmesan (or put less in) and the fennel seeds if I want something just really simple and plain. I would, however, urge you to make the proper version for this dish however as the polenta doesn’t have as much parmesan in it as some recipes.

I do have a bit of an important note which is – put all the ingredients in a food mixer and pulse together until smooth. Sharp eyed readers will know I do this with my meatloaf, because – if I know what’s in it – I do really prefer a very smooth ground burger/sausage/etc.

You’ll need:

250g of really good pork mince (organic, free range, farm assured)

250g of same quality beef

100g of grated parmesan (I buy mine in bulk, grate it and freeze it grated)

1 clove of garlic if you like it

100g of breadcrumbs

2 eggs, medium sized

a handful of chopped parsley

1 teaspoon of ground up fennel seeds

half a teaspoon of salt

a good grinding of black pepper

Oil to fry.

So I basically bung all the ingredients, bar the oil, into my Magimix and pulse away until it’s all smooth. But if you want, just mix in a bowl with a wooden spoon.

You then shape into meatballs/burgers and either cook immediately or freeze/fridge until needed. They keep in the fridge for as long as the sell-by date is on the meat. I make the meatballs into walnut size and the burgers I have a burger press for and they are, I guess, quarter pounder size.

What I do with the meatballs is fry them gently, but then finish them off in the sauce when I’m reheating it. This stops them having a super hard crust which I don’t like. But if you fry them super gently they should be okay. About ten minutes frying should do it for the meatballs. 12 minutes for burgers.

For the polenta

200g of fast cook polenta – for the love of God don’t use any other kind.

A knob of butter

800ml of cold water

2 handfuls of grated parmesan

a pinch of salt if you really want (but I find the parmesan salty enough)

Put the 800ml of cold water, the 200g of polenta and the butter into a large pan and bring to the boil. When it comes to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for another minute. You do need to be present and whisking, but don’t be intimidated as the whole process takes minutes. As it simmers for that last minute and finishes its thickening, stir in the parmesan and salt if you want. Then it’s ready!

To serve, dollop spoonfuls of the polenta onto a plate, top with the hot sauce and the cooked meatballs. I serve with broccoli.

If you have any polenta left over, and no chickens to serve it to, then you can persuade it into a flat tin (it will get harder to handle as it cools), put in the fridge, then cut into finger shapes and shallow fry to make polenta chips.

But I have never done this.

I made burgers from this and served it in brioche buns made from this recipe (obvs leae out the chocolate chips) and they were, hands down, the best burgers I have ever eaten.

 

Un tiramisu che ti tirasu

A few years ago, when we fancied making a tiramisu (it means pick me up, or pull me up), I looked at loads of recipes. I was quite shocked (I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to Italian cooking) at the variations. I mean, Nigella, whom I love, had one, in How To Eat, using no coffee or chocolate and meringues instead of sponge fingers. It caused me to  to slam the pages of the book shut in mock horror.

It is the coffee, and the chocolate that is supposed to act as a ‘tiramisu’. Anything else, to my mind, ti spinge giu (pushes you down).

I have hundreds of cookery books, and a world of recipes at my fingers tips, as do you, on the internet. But nothing was really saying Italian tiramisu to me. Then I thought of looking in my Italian cooking bible: The Silver Spoon.

In these days of celebrity cookbooks, stuffed full of photographs, the recipes in this book are easy to overlook: simple, very few pictures and the list of ingredients for each recipe is short. But don’t overlook them because not only is this a fantastic cookery book, the recipes are accomplished – some of them go back fifty years. As you may expect, some of the recipes are as good as they’re ever going to get.

And the tiramisu recipe is no exception. It is one of the few with a photo which I admit helped…I made it and it is the only way we make tiramisu now. It’s simple, anyone can do it (my bambine frequently do) and once made sits in the fridge for a good few days, yielding to your spoon just when you need a…pick me up.

It has no alcohol – so if you feel the need for some after dinner, serve that separately – which means children can easily eat this. Although beware of eating it too late as there’s quite a caffeine punch.

My friend Tamsin doesn’t like coffee, so she doesn’t include it in her tiramisu. Of course I have told her it’s not really a tiramisu, but more of a creamy pudding. Don’t even think of using cocoa powder (other than, maybe, on the very top but I don’t) instead of grated chocolate. The chocolate shavings make this stand out and allow for some bite in what is a wallowy pudding which offers little resistance: you could easily eat aged 98, when all your teeth have fallen out.

And use icing sugar, not caster, which can result in a runny mess.

Here it is:

2 egg whites, 4 egg yolks (freeze the 2 extra egg whites)

150 icing sugar

400g mascarpone

200g sponge fingers

175ml espresso coffee

200g plain chocolate, grated (grating chocolate is one of my least favourite jobs but I do it for this)

What to do:

I make this in a rectangular Pyrex, which also has a handy lid so I can save it for a few days. Mine is about 17cm x 25cm and it makes two layers. But of course you can make it in a different shape so you get more layers, or even make it circular or in individual portions, just break the sponge fingers up to fill the spaces.

It would, I think, easily serve eight people depending on the size of portion.

First you whisk the egg whites until stiff, set them aside for a moment whilst, in a separate bowl you beat the egg yolks with the icing sugar, then you fold/whisk the mascarpone into the egg yolks and sugar and finally, into this you gently fold in the egg whites. This is your creamy bit.

Lay the sponge fingers onto the base of your dish and brush or pour the coffee on top. Because I know mine makes two layers, I pour half the coffee on now. Then spoon on a layer of the cream and sprinkle with the grated chocolate. Repeat this, ending with a layer of mascarpone/sprinkling of chocolate. I usually end up with more chocolate than I need for this, for some reason, so if so just keep it in a jam jar for next time.

It is better the next day, but can be eaten within a few hours of making it and chilling it to allow the ingredients to meet each other, and mingle.

 

 

 

 

Lovely leek and broccoli fish pie

This is, hands down, the tastiest fish pie I’ve ever had. It is more of a work-day dinner than a dinner-party piece, but it is just tasty-gorgeous. It is from the Donna Hay magazine which is worth every penny of the £5.20 an issue I pay for it.

Ingredients

200g fresh sourdough crumbs (I keep a bag of left-over sourdough pre-grated in the freezer then you can use it when you want)

Half a bunch of tarragon (so about 12-15g)

150g unsalted butter, melted

salt and pepper

2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

300g broccoli florets, cut into smaller florets

800g of thereabouts of firm fish (fresh not frozen as in it can’t be cooked from frozen!). I have used all cod, or a combo of cod and salmon and smoked haddock. See what you like. Cut it into 3cm pieces – this is important as it gets only 10 mins in the oven.

1 tablespoon of plain flour

250g sour cream

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

125ml water

Method

Oven to 200C. Place the breadcrumbs, half the tarragon, half the butter, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix to combine. Then place on a large oven tray and cook for ten minutes – until golden.

While the breadcrumbs are toasting, heat the rest of the butter in a large ovenproof pan over a high heat – the pan will eventually go in the oven with the whole fish pie in it. Add the leek, garlic and broccoli to this pan and cook, uncovered, for about five minutes or until the veg is softened.

In a separate bowl, place the fish, flour and more salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add this fish mixture, the remaining tarragon, the sour cream, mustard and water to the pan and stir to combine. Top with the breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for another ten minutes in the oven until golden brown and the fish is cooked through.

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I serve this with peas. It is so much tastier than you think it’s going to be.

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I want to say “my children lap this up.” But they pretty much hate it. But I still make it.

(Don’t forget how good leeks and garlic are for gut bacteria!)

 

 

 

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Pressure/Slow cooker

Earlier this year, just as we were emerging from the shuck of winter and blinking in the spring sunshine, with thoughts turning to light, easy lunches involving salads and grilled things, I decided to I needed to buy a slow cooker to cook stews in.

A slow cooker is actually a very good idea for someone like me, because I am a natural early riser and I am at my best, my most industrious, early in the morning. It’s all down hill from there. I am often too tired of an evening to cook, or think about cooking. In Italy, at least in my family, it is customary to largely prepare the main meal of the day (whether that be taken at mezzogiorno or a cena) in the morning. This is when people visit and the cook can chat, catch up with the latest gossip and prep a substantial meal. I would watch many such occasions as a child and marvel at how organised and easy it seemed.

(I would also marvel at just how much bitching would go on.)

But, I never managed this level of organisation and I thought the slow cooker would help. As these things go, I started looking at entry level slow cookers and before I knew what I was doing, I had ordered a top of the range slow cooker and pressure cooker combined – a huge hulk of a stainless steel beast, the Fast Slow Pro by Heston for Sage (before anyone thinks I am on a salary from them, I am not, this is literally only one of two Sage appliances I own, the other one being an insanely priced waffle maker which is brilliant but I don’t recommend anyone buy because no-one can like waffles that much.)

It is an electric model, so you can use it anywhere there is a plug (no need for a stove top).

Of course, the purchase of lots of books on slow cooking and pressure cooking followed and I realised that most people were either evangelical about one type of cooking, or another. But you can be a fan of both and this lets you be.

Slow cooking, in case you don’t know, is just like cooking something on a stove top or in an oven at a very low temperature for a very long time. The difference is, because the slow cooker is sealed, no moisture gets out so things stay very moist. I have done the best ‘roast’ chicken in this ever, you then reduce down the gravy, in the same slow cooker pot, using the reduce function which is the equivalent of a pan on the hob simmering away.

Moist is not a bad word.

Pressure cooking cooks things under, er, very high pressure so it cooks things very very fast. It is particularly good for cooking dried pulses etc.

The beauty with either is that you just put it in the pot, turn the lid and leave it. I can’t comment on other appliances but mine is all digital and you set a timer and it does it all for you.

I mostly use mine for making stock and bolognese, which is brilliant cos I chuck everything in and do it on a slow cooker 12 hour timer overnight. I use the pressure cooker for things like ribs (does them in an hour * they are literally falling off the bone when they come out which may not be to everyone’s liking) and pulses.  But you can cook loads and loads of things in it, I am only just starting.

*The pressure cooker takes time to come up to pressure and also to release the pressure so if it says it does it in an hour remember to factor in these things.

It’s also brilliant at reducing (you leave the lid up) as you can reduce, say, a stock on a timer and leave it whilst you do other stuff. Obvs you can do this with an ordinary sauce pan, on the hob, but you don’t have to worry about going back and switching it off.

It has a ‘keep warm’ function so once it has finished its main cooking, it will keep things warm for two hours. Great if you are a bit nebulous about a coming home time.

In short this is a brilliant bit of kit – huge so think about where you’re going to put it – and I’ve had it for several months now and I really rate it.

Post script, summer 2017. I have had this for about 18 months now and it is easily one of the best bits of kitchen kit I’ve ever bought. I use it loads and it is a marvel. Buy it.

Roast sea bass, with lovely potatoes and vegetables, all done in one tray

This is a deceptive recipe, taken from the BBC Good Food magazine last year. Deceptive because, despite the relatively simplicity of ingredients, everything mixes together to produce something rather good, rather, as my friend Linda would hate me to say, lovely.

(She is not keen on the word lovely, and now, every time I use it, I think of her and the disdain she must hold me in for not thinking of something better, but, to me, when you need to say something is lovely there is no better word.)

Anyway. The price of seabass doesn’t make this a cheap dish*; nevertheless, what you get is something very tasty and that needs very little further accompaniment, save for some green vegtables. So it’s not the world’s most expensive dish, either, and, I would suggest, you can make this for an alternative to a ‘big roast’ for someone who doesn’t eat meat, or is gluten free, and they wouldn’t feel in any way cheated.

You can, and I have, substituted sea bass for cod – as you can see in my picture where there is a mix of the two – but the bass has the edge here in delicate flavour.

This recipe is for two, but you can double or treble it at will.

300g of red skinned potatoes. Important, the flavour of the potatoes is a valuable scaffold to this dish. Wash and dry the potatoes, you don’t peel them, and then slice them very thinly (don’t be a wuss, you don’t need a mandoline) into rounds.

1 red pepper cut into slices

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 rosemary sprig, you’re meant to remove the leaves and chop finely. I go into the garden, pick two or three sprigs and shove them in. This does, however, mean that when I made this recently, my youngest asked why I’d put the Christmas tree in the dinner.

2 sea bass fillets

25g pitted black olives, sliced or halved

half a lemon, thinly sliced

basil leaves to scatter (don’t fret if you don’t have them, the dish can survive without)

You need a large baking dish. Note that if you are making this for lots of people, you need lots of oven capacity, and more than one baking tray, as it’s important you space out the potatoes so they crisp up. This doesn’t mean each and every slice needs its own zone, but they shouldn’t be crammed together – gently overlapping is what you’re aiming for. The more crammed together they are, the less the moisture can evaporate and the soggier the potatoes will be. You want something that’s crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and for this to happen the potatoes need space, man.

Oven to 180C.

Lay the sliced potatoes onto the baking tray with the pepper slices. Drizzle over one tablespoon of the oil and scatter over the rosemary, add a pinch of salt and a good grinding (snigger) of pepper. Toss everything together, rearrange so that they take up the maximum amount of tray space and aren’t all bunched together and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Turn over half way through. If the edges aren’t brown, give it a bit longer than 25 mins.

Then, arrange the fish fillets on top of the potatoes, scatter over the olives, and place lemon slices on each fillet. Drizzle the fish with the remaining oil.

Roast for a further 7-8 minutes and you’re done.

*Waitrose sells frozen farmed seabass fillets for £4.39 for two (at time of going to press).

My meatloaf

My mother’s meatloaf is the stuff of legend. In the past, whenever we had meatloaf at my house my children would look up, all eyelashes and downy cheeks and say “is this Nonna’s meatloaf?” and I would have to say that no, no it wasn’t, it was mummy’s. And they would look down and  eat it, making approving, encouraging noises but they would know, and I would know, that it wasn’t comparable. Every meatloaf I’ve tried, until this one, was just not right.

The thing about my mother’s meatloaf is that she minces her own meat, so it’s silky smooth and sublime. I like my meatloaf like I like my sausages: not coarse. I want it to be an easy transaction. And all the meatloaves I’d made before were too coarse, too dry, trying too hard.

Last year I bought Donna Hay’s Simple dinners, from whence this recipe comes.  It’s a great book. Her recipes are genuinely tasty, pretty healthy, made from a clever combination of not too many ingredients and easy to follow. She is, to my mind, just about the best cookery writer of the day (for meals ‘n’ stuff. Dan Lepard is still my man for bread). I’ve adapted it here because I’ve been making this meatloaf for over a year now and I’ve made it my own: I’ve adapted it slightly to suit our needs.

As such, this is now my meatloaf recipe, in that it’s the one I use as my go-to meatloaf recipe. I can’t imagine it will ever be made better by anyone else’s meatloaf recipe. Except, naturally, my mum’s.

(What I also love about it is, if you make this for a Sunday lunch, and it’s very good at Sunday lunch, you can make it in advance or the day before, keep it in the fridge and put it straight in the oven. Just give it 5-10 mins more in the oven at the lower temperature i.e. the first round of cooking.)

This is great served with the usual stuff, but I particularly like it with mash for a real comfort, fork-only meal.

You need:

a packet of thinly sliced pancetta, about 20 slices

110g breadcrumbs

60ml milk

400g rose-veal mince (all veal sold in Europe is non-crated, but I only buy higher welfare British veal, if you are not sure, substitute beef mince)

500g free range pork mince (I never, ever buy any other sort of pork)

1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

1 large egg

a tablespoon of thyme leaves, stripped from the stem

salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

What you do:

Oven on to 160C if you intend to cook it straight away. Get a loaf tin which is about 22cm by 8cm and line the bottom with the pancetta (line across the width, not length if you follow). If you imagine that the meatloaf will be turned upside down on serving, this will be the top of it. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have enough pancetta to cover the whole bottom/sides, and ditto if you have a bit too much, I also line the side/sides not just the bottom. If you have very long slices then don’t worry, you can just overlap them when the tin is full of the mince. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Because I rarely have properly stale bread, and even if I did I hate grating bread (my mum always, always has properly stale bread which she grates), I put some day or so old bread into a food processor and whizz it up. Take it out then pour the milk over it and give it a little stir.

Now, what I do to make it all super smooth is this. I put the milky breadcrumbss back into the food processor with all the mince, the mustard,the thyme leaves and the egg. Add a bit of salt and black pepper. And then I whizz it all in the food processor. It comes out looking like awful meat slurry.

Don’t worry. You know it’s not.

Now, pack this into the loaf tin. It will seem like too much but keep the faith, pack it in, press it down, tuck over any overhanging pancetta slices if you have them. Then, either put in the oven or cover with cling film and put in the fridge for a day or so (obviously not over what the sell-by date of the meat is).

When you are ready to cook it put it in the preheated 160C oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until the meat is just cooked through. (If you’ve had it in the fridge then increase this time to 35-40 minutes maybe a tad longer, use your common sense.)

Now, take it out and onto a baking tray, invert the meatloaf. Obviously the tin will be hot so take care with oven gloves, etc. Onto the inverted meatloaf brush with the maple syrup. Turn oven up to 180C and now bake for 15-20 minutes.

Serve. It’s delicious.