For the last month, our schedule has been impacted by my husband’s undergoing a 17.5-hour surgery for an hiatal hernia, hence the irregular postings to my blog as well as commenting on others. The surgery has also affected our daily menus with temporary restrictions on what my better half can safely consume.
So far, he’s been home for only a couple of days and, surprisingly, we’ve been able to have enjoyable dinners both nights. On his first night home we had skin-on bone-in chicken thighs over roasted with onions and red bell peppers. Last night, following the surgeon’s suggestion, I prepared a new recipe for a meat loaf from Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen: Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano, or Veal Loaf with Celery. (It’s amazing how almost everything sounds better in Italian. Polpettone, by the way, is Italian for “big meatball.”)
Like many of Hazan’s recipes, this one calls for only a modicum of ingredients. Interestingly, unlike many recipes for meatloaf it does not use a panade, bread soaked in milk and then drained, for added moisture and tenderness. As a result, this meatloaf is denser than most but is nonetheless wonderfully textured and full flavored.
Lightly toasted breadcrumbs are used as a coating for the loaf, which is then browned in butter and then slowly simmered in white wine for about an hour.
Key to both flavor and texture are the celery leaves. The recipe calls for a half cup of leaves “from the tops of a celery heart”; however, these days most celery seems to come with just a few. For this reason, I visited our local farmers market, where I was able to find a bunch of celery sporting a full head of huge, verdant leaves.
I should perhaps mention that before attempting to make this recipe you should have a pair of spatulas, one for each hand, to be able to turn the loaf without breaking, as well as a large enough, heavy-bottomed pot to accommodate a 7×4 loaf with adequate room for turning.
My only variation from the recipe was substituting a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves for the 2 bay leaves. Given the variation both in their size and flavor, I wasn’t comfortable using them. I didn’t want their flavor to overwhelm the dish. Moreover, I wasn’t sure I could grind them fine enough.
If you have the required gear and are able to find sufficient leaves, I highly recommend trying this recipe. The meat loaf tastes more like a moist veal roast with plenty of meaty flavor, complemented nicely by the herbs and buttery, nutty pan juices. I chose to serve the loaf with creamy mashed potatoes seasoned with truffle salt.
Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano, Veal Loaf with Celery (Adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan)
2 ounces pancetta or bacon (These days good pancetta can be found in most supermarkets and I recommend using it rather than bacon.)
½ cup leaves from the tops of a celery heart
2 bay leaves (I substituted 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves.)
1 pound ground veal shoulder
Black pepper in grinder
1 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs, toasted lightly
4 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup dry white wine (I used a generous ½ cup.)
1- In a food processor, or by any other method, chop the pancetta or bacon together with the celery leaves and bay leaves. Chop to a very fine consistency, making sure no long, sharp bits of bay leaf remain. (I substituted fresh thyme leaves.)
2- Combine the chopped pancetta or bacon mixture with the ground meat, adding an egg, about 1 teaspoon of salt, and several grindings of pepper.
3- Knead the meat with your hands to amalgamate all the ingredients thoroughly. Shape the meat into a roll about 6 to 7 inches long and 4 inches thick.
4- Spread the breadcrumbs on a length of wax paper or aluminum foil. Roll the meat over the bread crumbs so that the crumbs will cover it and adhere to it all over.
5- Choose a lidded pot that can subsequently accommodate the veal roll with enough room for it to be turned. Put in the butter and the oil and turn on the heat to medium high.
6- When the butter foam subsides, put in the meat keeping the pot uncovered. Brown it well on one side, then turn it over. Turning it requires care to avoid breaking up the roll. Try using a spatula in either hand and handle int very gently.
7- When the meat has been browned all over, add the wine. Let the wine bubble for about a minute, then turn the heat down to minimum and cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly askew. Cook for about 1 hour, turning the meat gently from time to time. (Be careful not to evaporate the wine.)
8- Transfer to a serving platter. Let the meat rest for for a few minutes, then slice it. Pour the pan juices over it and serve. It is equally good hot, lukewarm, or at room temperature. (I poured the pan juices through a fine sieve to remove the residual bread crumbs, which were quite dark.)
Serves 4 to 6
Wine Pairing: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc