Sunday Dinner: Meatloaf in miniature

Traditional comfort food gets a spicy Italian spin with this cheesey recipe

Eric Akis

It rained for hours the other day and all that dampness made me want to make a comfort-food dish for dinner. After considering my options, I decided it would either be Italian-style meatballs or meatloaf.

I had not made meatloaf in a while and chose it. But, to have the best of both worlds, I flavoured it as I do Italian-style meatballs. The process started with blending an equal mix of ground beef and pork with such things as basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese.

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Once the meat mixture was blended, I decided to make four, single-serving mini meatloaves, rather than one large one. And to add one more Italian-style element, I decided to centre them with bocconcini.

Bocconcini is a mozzarella-style cheese formed into small balls that’s surrounded by light brine and sold in tubs. According to the Dairy Farmers of Canada website, dairygoodness.ca, the Italian word bocconcini essentially means “small mouthfuls” or “little bites.”

The cheese is sold at most supermarkets and comes in a range of sizes, from egg-sized to smaller, quarter-sized mini bocconcini, which is what I used, because it’s small enough to be completely encased by my meat mixture.

That meant that after my meatloaves were baked, warm, gooey, melted bocconcini would be trapped inside — a tasty surprise when you cut into it.

Before forming my meatloaves, I lightly moistened my hands with cold water.

That created a barrier between my hands and the meat, which prevented the meat from sticking to my hands while shaping it into a loaf.

Before baking them, I brushed each loaf with passata di pomodoro for another Italian-style taste. This product is sold in tall bottles at Italian-style food stores and some supermarkets. It’s also known as strained tomatoes, because to make it, crushed tomatoes are passed through a sieve, creating a smooth, versatile sauce.

I used it because it has a rich tomato flavour that paired well with the flavours in the meatloaf. That’s why I also decided to serve the meatloaf on a hot pool of passata di pomodoro once cooked.

I served my meatloaves with steamed broccolini and orzo, small rice-shaped pasta. After dinner, I can confirm my rainy-day blues were gone.

 

Mini Italian-style Meatloaves Stuffed With Bocconcini

Two types of ground meat flavoured Italian-style, stuffed with cheese, formed into small loaves and baked until delicious.

 

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Makes: four servings

 

3/4 lb (about 340 grams) lean ground beef

3/4 lb (about 340 grams) ground pork

2 Tbsp milk

1 large egg

1/4 cup dried bread crumbs

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the dried powdered type), plus some for sprinkling

1/4 cup chopped basil or oregano

1 large garlic clove, minced

• pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

16 mini bocconcini cheese (see Note)

1 1/4 cups passata di pomodoro (divided)

Place ground meats, milk, egg, bread crumbs, Parmesan, basil (or oregano), garlic, pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a bowl and gently mix to combine. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 F.

Divide meat mixture into four equal balls.

Moisten your hands lightly with cold water and shape each ball in a five-inch long, 3 1/2-inch wide patty.

Set four mini bocconcini balls down the centre of each patty, gently pressing them into the meat.

Now form each patty into a mini meatloaf, ensuring the cheese is completely encased by the meat.

Set meatloaves, seam-side down (the place where you pressed the meat together) on the baking sheet.

Brush the top of each meatloaf with 1 Tbsp of the passata di pomodoro.

Bake meatloaves 30 minutes, or until entirely cooked through and the centre of each meatloaf registers 160 F on a meat thermometer.

When the meatloaves are almost cooked, bring the remaining one cup of passata di pomodoro to a simmer in a small pot set over medium heat. Thin that sauce with a little chicken stock or water, if the brand you bought is overly thick.

To serve, when meatloaves are cooked, make a pool of the passata di pomodoro on each of four dinner plates.

Set a meatloaf on each plate, sprinkling it with a little grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Note: Mini bocconcini is sold in tubs at many supermarkets. I used Tre Stelle brand and bought a 200-gram tub.

You won’t use all the bocconcini in that tub for this recipe. Save the rest for another use, such as in an appetizer, salad or pasta dish.

Eric’s options: If four mini meatloaves are too many for you, after stuffing and forming them, bake only the ones you need now. Also, reduce the amount of passata di pomodoro you use accordingly.

Wrap and freeze the unbaked meatloaves for another time. When needed, thaw, top, bake and serve as described in the recipe.

 

Stuffing steps

 

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1. To make mini meatloaves, start by forming your meat mixture into four patties. Now set four mini bocconcini down the centre of each patty, gently pressing them into the meat.

 

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2. Shape each patty into a mini meatloaf, ensuring the cheese is completely encased by the meat.

 

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3. Set meatloaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush each meatloaf with 1 Tbsp of the passata di pomodoro and start baking.

 

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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