Polpettone in umido con funghi (Meatloaf in Tomato and Mushroom Sauce)

Polpettone in umido (1)

As the temperatures dip, I find myself seeking out comfort foods. And what says ‘comfort’ more than a good meatloaf? And, yes, meatloafs do exist in Italian cookery, where they’re called ‘polpettoni‘ or big meatballs. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

We’ve already seen Angelina’s southern Italian style meatloaf, stuffed with mozzarella and baked in the oven with potatoes. In this version, the meatloaf is browned and braised on top of the stove, the more usual technique among Italians. The initial browning does require a bit of dexterity to avoid the loaf breaking apart, but from there it’s smooth sailing.  Tomatoes and sautéed mushroom are added to the pot to braise along with the meat, providing a delicious autumnal sauce; extra sauce makes a great dressing for pasta.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 persons

To make the meatloaf:

  • 500-700g (1 to 1-1/2 lbs) ground beef, or a mixture of beef and pork
  • 70g (2-1/2 oz) of prosciutto, finely minced
  • 200-250g (7-8 oz) of freshly made breadcrumbs (see Notes), or store-bought breadcrumbs
  • 100 ml (1/2 cup) of milk
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 or 2 chicken livers, finely chopped (optional)
  • Dried breadcrumbs for rolling the loaf, q.b.

For the braise:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, slightly crushed
  • Red or white wine
  • 500g (1 lb.) or one large can of tomatoes
  • 250-300g (8-9 oz) porcini or other mushrooms, or a mixture (see Notes)

Directions

 Mix all the meatloaf ingredients in a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, spatula or, best of all, your hands. Make sure all the ingredients are very well mixed, then leave the mixture to rest for a good 15 minutes or more.

Polpettone in umido (prep 1)

Form the mixture into a compact, elongated loaf, trying your best to eliminate any creases in the loaf. Then roll it in the dried breadcrumbs until the loaf is totally covered.

Polpettone in umido (prep 2)

Heat a cast iron “Dutch oven” large enough to hold the loaf snugly, preferably oval, and add a generous amount of olive oil. (Don’t be shy, you’ll be able to de-grease the pot later.) Shallow fry the loaf in the oil over gentle heat until it is golden brown on all sides. This is the only tricky part of the recipe; you’ll need to be quite gingerly when you turn the loaf over to avoid it breaking apart.

Polpettone in umido (prep 3)

Add a garlic clove to the oil and, when the garlic begins to give off its aroma, drizzle the wine over the loaf, let it simmer for a minute as the wine boils off. Then turn the loaf over and repeat the procedure. Continue until the loaf has been anointed with wine on all sides. If you’re using red wine, it will turn the loaf a lovely burgundy color.

Polpettone in umido (prep 4)

Now come the tomatoes. Crush them with your hands as you add them to the pot.

Polpettone in umido (prep 5)

Cover the pot and let the meatloaf braise for a good 30 minutes.

While the loaf is braising, sauté the mushrooms separately, in a bit of olive oil, per the recipe for funghi trifolati. Add them, too, to the pot, nestling them beside the loaf.

Polpettone in umido (prep 6)

Cover the pot once again, and let the loaf braise for another 30 minutes.

After that time, take the loaf out of the Dutch oven and let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes. You can even let the loaf cool completely if you prefer. Do not skip this step, however; it is crucial to allow the loaf to come together and firm up a bit. If you don’t, the loaf is likely to fall apart when you slice it.

When you are ready to serve your polpettone, reheat the sauce. (If you find it too fatty, skim off the excess fat with a large spoon and discard it.)

Make a bed of the sauce in a large serving dish. Slice the loaf, or as much as you think you’ll need, and lay the slices and rest of the loaf over the sauce. Serve immediately, with any extra sauce in a separate bowl for those you want more.

Notes

To make fresh breadcrumbs, take day old bread, trim it of all crust and cut it into cubes. Add the bread cubes in a food processor and process until you have fine crumbs. In the alternative, using the more typical Italian technique, you can soak the bread cubes in enough milk to cover for a few minutes, drain the bread and squeeze it dry in your hands, crumbling each handful as you add it to the meatloaf mixture.

The meat can be ground beef, or a mixture of beef or pork. If the latter, you can dispense with the prosciutto if you like, which makes for a much more economical dish. Some recipes call for cooked ham rather than cured, but  here in the States most cooked ham is smoked, which would give the meatloaf an uncharacteristic taste—but try it if it appeals to you. The chicken livers, I find, are a nice touch; they lend a paté-like flavor to the loaf.

The mushrooms used for this dish are traditionally porcini, when in season, but if you can’t find them (or can’t afford them!), those packets of pre-sliced mixed mushrooms are a great convenience. If you like an assertive mushroom flavor, try using dried porcini, soaked in water until soft, rinsed and chopped. You need not sauté them; just add them directly to the pot along with the tomatoes at the very beginning of the braise. In fact, you can do the same with fresh mushrooms if you don’t want to dirty another pan, although I find that the sauté adds a certain extra layer of flavor.

For the sauce, you can add peas along with (or instead of) the mushrooms, which would give the dish a more Spring-like flavor. Potatoes are another typical addition. And if you make the dish in summer when they are at their seasonal peak, fresh tomatoes can replace the canned variety.

You will notice that I have been a bit loose with the measurements for the meatloaf mixture. That’s because exact amount do not matter all that much. Obviously, more bread means a softer loaf. The main thing is to make sure you form a compact loaf that will stick together as you turn it over in the pot—make sure you press the loaf together firmly, ironing out any creases with your hands. After the initial browning, there is no need to turn the loaf, but do move it around from time to time, to prevent the bottom from sticking to the pot and burning.

This meatloaf is equally good served fully cooled. At room temperature, the loaf firms up so that it can be thinly sliced and served as you would a pâté, as a starter, perhaps with some pickled vegetables and a slice of crusty bread. It’s great for picnic or in a sandwich, too.

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Polpettone in umido con funghi (Meatloaf in Tomato and Mushroom Sauce)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: Serves 4-6

Polpettone in umido con funghi (Meatloaf in Tomato and Mushroom Sauce)

Ingredients

    To make the meatloaf:
  • 500-7oog (1 to 1-1/2 lbs) ground beef, or a mixture of beef and pork
  • 70g (2-1/2 oz) of prosciutto, finely minced
  • 200-250g (7-8 oz) of freshly made breadcrumbs (see Notes), or store-bought breadcrumbs
  • 100 ml (1/2 cup) of milk
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 or 2 chicken livers, finely chopped (optional)
  • Dried breadcrumbs for rolling the loaf, q.b.
  • For the braise:
  • Olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, slightly crushed
  • Red or white wine
  • 500g (1 lb.) or one large can of tomatoes
  • 250-300g (8-9 oz) of mixed mushrooms (see Notes)

Directions

  1. Mix all the meatloaf ingredients in a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, spatula or, best of all, your hands. Make sure all the ingredients are very well mixed, then leave the mixture to rest for a good 15 minutes or more.
  2. Form the mixture into a compact, elongated loaf, trying your best to eliminate any creases in the loaf. Then roll it in the dried breadcrumbs until the loaf is totally covered.
  3. Heat a cast iron "Dutch oven" large enough to hold the loaf snugly, preferably oval, and add a generous amount of olive oil. Shallow fry the loaf in the oil over gentle heat until it is golden brown on all sides.
  4. Add a garlic clove to the oil and, when the garlic begins to give off its aroma, drizzle the wine over the loaf, let it simmer for a minute as the wine boils off. Then turn the loaf over and repeat the procedure. Continue until the loaf has been anointed with wine on all sides.
  5. Now come the tomatoes. Crush them with your hands as you add them to the pot. Cover the pot and let the meatloaf braise for a good 30 minutes.
  6. While the loaf is braising, sauté the mushrooms separately in a bit of olive oil add them to the pot, nestling them beside the loaf. Cover the pot once again, and let the loaf braise for another 30 minutes.
  7. After that time, take the loaf out of the Dutch oven and let it rest for at least 15-20 minutes. You can even let the loaf cool completely if you prefer. Do not skip this step, however; it is crucial to allow the loaf to come together and firm up a bit. If you don't, the loaf is likely to fall apart when you slice it.
  8. When you are ready to serve your polpettone, reheat the sauce. (If you find it too fatty, skim off the excess fat with a large spoon and discard it.)
  9. Make a bed of the sauce in a large serving dish. Slice the loaf, or as much as you think you'll need, and lay the slices and rest of the loaf over the sauce. Serve immediately, with any extra sauce in a separate bowl for those you want more.

To make fresh breadcrumbs, take day old bread, trim it of all crust and cut it into cubes. Add the bread cubes in a food processor and process until you have fine crumbs.

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18 Responses to “Polpettone in umido con funghi (Meatloaf in Tomato and Mushroom Sauce)”

  1. 14 December 2013 at 07:09 #

    I am really impressed! You cook that in sauce and manage to keep it from breaking apart! What is your secret?

    • 20 January 2014 at 14:24 #

      Prayer…. ;=)

  2. 3 December 2013 at 09:55 #

    That looks divine. This is a post that should NOT be read right before lunch!!!

    • 5 December 2013 at 12:58 #

      Hahaha! Thanks so much.

  3. 25 November 2013 at 18:47 #

    Ciao Frank, your meatloaf looks absolutely lovely. You are right have to be sure of the compactness of meat to be able to turn when braising. My question to you please would be what would you serve it with. Don’t forget I’m in Greece and would like something Italian, original. Thanks for your help.
    Please send me an email at [email protected] as I am not familiar with the answers on the blog. Cheers and Grazie.

  4. 18 November 2013 at 20:28 #

    I’ve never used that technique of covering it with breadcrumbs and browning, but I’m loving the idea. When I make an “Italian” meatloaf, I usually use mortadella, but the prosciutto is intriguing too.

    • 21 November 2013 at 23:39 #

      I’ll have to try the mortadella version some time soon. I’m sure it lends a lovely flavor!

  5. james hazan
    18 November 2013 at 14:56 #

    marcella hazan uses mortadella ,not prociutto.this makes it sweeter, the sauce is pungent .enough To avoid the polp from disintegrating bang the polp on a flat surface a few times to get rid of the air bubbles, buon appetito Jiacomino

    • 21 November 2013 at 23:39 #

      Grazie, James…

  6. 18 November 2013 at 13:26 #

    I love the meatloaf. SO true, as weather changes so do food longings. Meatloaf is right up there with favorite comfort foods and yours is a beauty.

    • 21 November 2013 at 23:40 #

      Thanks, Deana!

  7. Phip
    18 November 2013 at 07:14 #

    Bravo!
    Mushrooms are going into my next polpettone.

    Did you get that oval shaped pan in Italy?

    Is it really iron (ghisa) or the non stick stuff I see everywhere?

    • 21 November 2013 at 23:42 #

      It’s cast iron with a non-stick interior from Staub, a French firm. I really love their products. You can order Staub cookware online at http://staub-italia.it. There is also a store in Senigallia, if that’s anywhere near you. Not cheap, but well worth it!

      • Phip
        24 November 2013 at 15:11 #

        Isn’t it odd that Oval pans in the USA are sort of hard to find? They are everywhere up and down The Boot.

  8. 17 November 2013 at 23:47 #

    I love meatloaf! This one looks amazing!

    • 21 November 2013 at 23:42 #

      Thanks, Kath!

  9. 17 November 2013 at 23:24 #

    uno dei miei piatti preferiti in assoluto, splendida ricetta Frank, buona settimana !

    • 21 November 2013 at 23:42 #

      Grazie, Chiara!

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