As the weather grows colder, my carb cravings grow stronger. I inevitably turn to classic comfort foods, like the Southern classic of meatloaf, green beans and mashed potatoes. Is there a better way to carb out than hiding carbs in a loaf of meat and serving it with a side or two of carbs? Oh, I suppose you might select Panera Bread’s “Pick 2” meal, and order a starchy potato soup with a sandwich and get a side of bread. (Not that I do that … too often.) But still, when you want some comfort you can’t beat home cooking, or at least home style cooking.
As with many of my recipes, Almost Italian Meatloaf originated because of what was and wasn’t on hand. I wanted to make something Italian. I thought I had Italian style bread crumbs, but the container—sitting on a shelf like a respectable container of actual product—was empty. Who does that? Puts an empty container in the pantry? (I do, apparently. I do.) The closest thing to bread crumbs was matzo meal. I was firmly committed to meatloaf by now, so …. Almost Italian Meatloaf.
I keep matzo meal on hand for making matzo ball soup and latkes, which is usually about once a year—matzo ball soup in the dead of winter, and latkes for Hannukkah. Incorporating matzo meal into meatloaf worked out really well, because it’s a great way to ensure I use it up before it expires.
If you’ve ever had matzo ball soup, you will understand how matzo meal adds a certain density to meatloaf that’s just not possible with regular bread crumbs. Just like a day’s worth of lamp oil lasted 8 days in the miracle of Hannukkah, matzo meal seems to go further with less.
The meatloaf holds together very well, and a single slice is pretty filling, even if you don’t load up with a side (or two) of carbs. Throw some Italian seasoning into a side of green beans and add a side of Garlic Smashed Potatoes, and Southern comfort goes Italian. And if you really need that extra carb, throw in a slice of Italian bread. When it comes to carb loading, why “Pick 2” when you can pick 4?
I have never tried this dish with a vegetable-based protein, but I imagine it’s possible. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out. For a lower sodium version, eliminate or substitute salt. Matzo meal is sodium and fat free, but it’s made with wheat flour, so you’d have to use a gluten free meal if you need a gluten free dish.
Switch out Italian seasonings for cajun seasonings, use corn meal instead of matzo meal, and you’ve got a gluten free cajun meatloaf. Mmmm ….. my carb craving mind envisions cajun meatloaf with a side of gumbo over rice or—better yet—over yellow potato salad, along with a side of cornbread. I think I’m up to pick 5 now. Am I taking things too far?
“We parked in back and walked down the stairs with their polished brass railings, past the old-fashioned kitchen. We could see the chefs cooking. It smelled like stew, or meat loaf, the way time should smell, solid and nourishing.”— Janet Fitch
1 lb lean ground beef
1 TBSP Italian seasoning
1 TBSP dried or finely chopped fresh basil
1 tsp coarse ground salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 C black olives, sliced
8 oz tomato paste
1 C matzo meal
1/2 C shredded Italian cheese
Prep time: about 1 hr 30 minutes, including cook time
Yields: 1 standard loaf
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except for the cheese. Place into an ungreased standard loaf pan or 9 x 9 square casserole dish. Bake for about 60 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with shredded cheese.
Serve warm with salad or soup and a vegetable side with Italian bread and dipping oil or bruschetta. Also good with traditional meatloaf pairing of mashed potatoes, especially garlic smashed potatoes and green beans. For lighter fare, pair with a Caesar salad or a platter of sliced tomato and onion drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Also good with a side of bean or potato soup. Serve leftover slices warm or cold in a sandwich.