You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

lunedì 20 settembre 2010

Meat Loaf (in this case): you took the words right out of my mouth

“In the kingdom of comfort food, meatloaf is royalty.” So say the folks at Good Housekeeping.[1] In a 2007 poll they conducted at the magazine, meat loaf was number seven on top favorite foods in the U.S. (I was unable to find out what the first six were.) At any rate, meatloaf makes for a tasty Sunday lunch on a semi-warm, semi-wettish day in Tuscany. (It’s sometimes one word, sometimes two, meat loaf, and today inconsistency prevails.)

Meat loaf has a long history in the western world: Apicius provides a recipe for it.[2] They call meatloaf/meat loaf “polpettone” in Italy. Fifteenth-century Italians may have availed themselves of a variation on this recipe from Maestro Martino: take good-quality veal thigh, cut it in long thin pieces, and pound it, add mortar’d and pestle’d fennel seed scattered on top of the pounded meat, add parsley, marjoram, buon lardo (good lard; white prosciutto as it's euphemistically called in the United States), add uno pocho di bono spetie (a pinch of good spices; unspecified – perhaps this is the genesis of cooks withholding a key ingredient when giving out recipes?), roll them up, and put them in a pan making sure that they do not dry out. (This sounds much more like involtini, but Maestro Martino referred to this as Polpette di carne vitello.)[3]

Bartolomeo Stefani, celebrated chef to the Gonzaga (sonnets were written praising his food), published his recipes and strategies for dining in 1662 .[4] One recipe calls for strips of veal thigh, dusted with dried basil and salt, stuffed with fresh ricotta, grated cheese, pounded lardo, parsley, pine nuts, raisins, various spices (see above), marrow from two or three veal bones, two fresh eggs; when it’s halfway cooked, you add a lemon/cream sauce. Doesn’t it sound terribly good and quite a business?[5]

He also provides an entertainment menu for a meal to be consumed on meat-eating days in August, September, or October “che si potrà fare in giorno di grasso nelli mesi d’Agosto, Settembre, & Ottobre”: polpettone appears midway through the “Primo servito di Cucina.” Sandwiched between minestra di granelli (a soup made from seeds?), goose liver (prepared with an equally improbable list of ingredients), a soup made with Spanish bread, calli vitello (?), it’s the ante-penultimate course. Pigeon follows the loaf, and the grand finale (at least, of this part of the meal) is un pasticcio brodoso fatto in forma di Castello (a pastry number stuffed with minced veal, latticini (dairy products of some sort), little birds (perhaps of the type being shot at this morning as I write), veal marrow, pistacchi, vaghi d’agesto mondi (?), chicken wattle (not as disgusting as you might think), other ingredients, shaped in the form of a castle (presumably, one belonging to the Gonzaga) and il pasticcio agghiacciato di spora con ghiaccio di zuccaro (this is some sort of sugar icing, but even the Scallion – who claims Italian as one of his native languages – is stumped). Two other serviti, equally lengthy, followed.

Laurie Colwin writes warmly about meatloaf: “I myself love meat loaf and find even ones that have been lying around on a steam table palatable.” She continues, “Meat loaf ranges from the sublime (the one in Marcella Hazan’s first volume that contains funghi porcini and is cooked in white wine) to the pedestrian …” [6] Even The King (Elvis Presley) loved it – a straight ground-beef concoction served with mushroom gravy.[7]

So, too, do Jane and Michael Stern. They have quite a few recipes for meatloaf, including Ann Landers’. They write: “We are told that Ann Landers runs the recipe in her column every year, presumably because its very goodness can miraculously cure almost any sick marriage.”[8]

As usual, the late, great Alan Davidson nails meat loaf brilliantly: “[its] visibility is considerable higher in real life, especially in N. America and Britain, than in cookery books. This situation might be changed if it had a French name (paté chaud de viande hachée, préalablement mariné dans du vin de pays et des aromatiques), but it does not.”[9] His statement is borne out: curiously lists only 62 meat loaf recipes.

What follows will make too much for two people, which is exactly the point, as you’ll have leftovers to see you through rest of the week and/or trying times still ahead. It’s best to start the tomato sauce first thing, as the longer it sits on a low flame, the more flavorfully thick the sauce will be.

We have been making meatloaf in bain-marie for ages; memory does not serve who gave us this idea, unfortunately.

Salsa di pomodoro (tomato sauce)

1 small red onion, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1 small celery rib, minced
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3 c. pomarola (your own homemade, in an ideal world: if not, best-quality bottled tomato sauce)
¾ c. black olives, minced
Generous handful each of flat-leaf parsley and basil, parsley chopped, basil chiffonade’d
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, and add the battuto ingredients (onion, carrot, celery). Cook until well softened. Add the pomarola, olives, salt, and pepper. Cook on a decidedly low flame for at least two hours, stirring from time to time. About halfway through the proceedings, add the herbs.

Polpettone di pollo (chicken meatloaf)

1 lb. ground organic chicken breast
1 lb. ground organic chicken thigh
1 t. fennel seeds, mortar’d and pestle’d
1 c. fine dried breadcrumbs
½ c. fresh ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
2 T. butter
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Shot of hot sauce
2 T. fresh marjoram, chopped (use thyme if m. unavailable)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the first five ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 425° F/230°C. Heat the butter and olive oil in a saucepan, add the onions, and cook ‘til completely softened (this meatloaf should not crunch). Let cool, add to the mix in the bowl, add the shot of hot sauce, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Mix gently and shape into a loaf.

Place the meatloaf in a pan large enough to contain it, and place that in another, larger pan. Fill the containing pan with water halfway up the sides of contained. Cook for about 45 minutes.

You will have leftover tomato sauce and, undoubtedly, leftover ricotta. These can be combined, perhaps tossed with some hot pepper (either fresh or dried), and used to sauce polenta or pasta on a Monday evening when you’ve just gotten off a hot, crowded train jam-packed with talkative Italians nattering loudly on their cell phones when you really couldn’t be bothered.

[2] Book II, called “Minces,” lists seafood minces (seasoned with sea-onion, either lobster, crab, cuttlefish, scallops, or oysters, with lovage, pepper, cumin, and laser root added; a “kromeskis” of minced/pulped pork ground with winter wheat diluted with wine, peppered, crushed myrtle berries and nuts. The mixture’s then shaped into small rolls, wrapped in caul, and fried. He suggests serving it with a wine gravy. (Apicius, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome, trans. Joseph Dommers Vehling, Chicago, 1936.) Several Apicii were noted cooks, but it’s probably the one who lived during the times of Augustus and Tiberius (80 b.c. to 40 a.d.) who authored these recipes.
[3] He provides two versions, (Rub. 18 and Vat. 18) but both are just about the same. You can find these recipes in Claudio Benporat, Cucina Italiana del Quattrocento, Firenze, 1996.
[4] l’Arte di ben cucinare (La cucina ai tempi di Gonzaga, Milano, 2002).
[5] He then provides a recipe for polpettone nella maniera Romana: lardo beaten with odiferous herbs, like persa (untranslatable; no idea), mentuccia (mint), fagrizzola (this is apparently the same word in English; who knows what it means?), garlic, veal marrow, marzapane (imagine! -- and his translator's spelling, too), pomo d’Adamo tagliato in boccoccini (we really have no idea) , pine nuts, raisins, cloves, pepper, grated cheese, two eggs, cooking it, and adding a sugo di naranci (which were probably bitter oranges -- think marmalade -- as they were all the rage in 15th century Italy). He provides other recipes as well, all equally teeming with to our 21st-taste sensations seemingly improbable combinations .
[6] “The Same Old Thing,” in Home Cooking, New York, 1988. She is 100% right about that recipe; the loaf is slowly stove-top cooked. You can find it in The Classic Italian Cookbook, London, 1973.
[7] Are You Hungry Tonight? Elvis’s Favorite Recipes, compiled by Brenda Arlene Butler, Bluewood Books, printed, inexplicably, in Singapore in 1992. A highly questionable source, but source nonetheless (the author saw him at least 30 times in Las Vegas and, as far as I know, never lunched/dined with him).
[8] Square Meals, New York, 1984. The recipe’s the standard beef-veal-pork combination, with a package of dry onion soup mix.)
[9] The Oxford Companion to Food, New York, 1999. His point's made clear by the equally-late, great, francophile Richard Olney, who provides a recipe for Caillettes or, to our ears, Pork and Herb Meatballs. Makes me wonder what the difference is between a paté and a terrine and a meatloaf given that, according to Olney, if the caillettes mixture is poured into a fat-lined terrine dish it becomes a terrine aux herbes. Hmm. (Richard Olney, Simple French Food, New York, 1974.) Epicurious lists 62 recipes for meatloaf (as noted above); 46 for terrine; 53 for pate. Terrines and pates are terribly similar, so let’s say 62 meatloaf recipes bested by 99 very similar creations with French names. (The Scallion's most savvy brother once ate our caillettes and remarked something to the effect of "Nice meatballs." At the time, I was appalled: so much work! To be reduced to the mere appellation of meatballs! (Meat balls?) Rectitude prevailed: they were, in fact, nice meatballs. Nothing more, nothing less.)
Photo of Waldo en couch/divan thanks to treasured pal Heather Souvlaki.

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