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.
a packet of thinly sliced pancetta, about 20 slices
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.