Italian Meat Loaf (Polpettone)

We first saw this gorgeous meatloaf (named Polpettone) in Tuscany, when we came across one of those big glass storefronts you find on the main streets in Florence, and the hill towns, with endless mind boggling dishes of food stretching from the doorway all the way across the wall, behind glass cases, with the whole store a dizzying aroma of umami goodness. When I tasted the amazingly complex flavors of this meatloaf, I instantly realized this was not my mom’s meatloaf.

You know the one, made with hamburger and tomato paste, with some onions and bell peppers. This is not in the same Earthly dimension. This meatloaf consists of ground pork shoulder or turkey thighs, pancetta or bacon, fresh meaty mushrooms (we use Porcini), red bell peppers, sweet onions, Dijon mustard, Italian parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, paprika, and cooking oats and Panko to hold it all together. Inside and on top is marinara sauce, and several intense umami Italian cheeses like Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano. This is, by the far, the best meatloaf we have ever had. Here is the classic authentic recipe from Tuscany, a feast for the whole family. Mangiamo!

Ingredients

2 pounds ground turkey thighs and/or pork shoulder, (Italians often use both in the same loaf), if you use already prepared Italian sausages, you need very little or no additional salt in this recipe
2/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1/2 pound smoked bacon, fried and finely chopped
2 cups fresh Porcini mushrooms, sauted until slightly toasty… or 1 cup reconstituted dried porcini, simmered lightly in its own reconstituted water, (not fried), cooled and chopped (or you can also use baby portobello, black trumpets, king oyster, shiitake or any meaty mushroom)
1 heaping tablespoon Porcini powder (if you don’t have fresh porcini mushrooms)
1 large red bell pepper or 2 smaller ones, roughly chopped into small 1/2 inch sized chunks
1 large onion or 2 small ones, roughly chopped into small 1/2 inch sized chunks
5 to 6 large cloves garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons virgin Italian olive oil (4 for the onions and peppers, 1 for the fresh mushrooms)
2 eggs, whipped
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce, 3/4 cup to be brushed on top of EACH loaf (we use Mezzetta brand)
4 tablespoons marinara sauce for the meatloaf mixture, in addition to the above topping sauce
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 cup Panko or dried bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped, loosely packed
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
6 stems fresh thyme, leaves removed, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon sea salt for the ground turkey or pork, 1/4 teaspoon salt for the onion and bell peppers (If you use already made Italian sausages, they come with salt inside them, and the cheese has lots of salt, so you won’t need to use any salt at all.)
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground, 2/3 for the turkey, 1/3 for the onion and bell peppers

You will need 2 glass, tin or cast iron bread pans.

Prep Work

If you are using dried Porcini, place them into a bowl and reconstitute 1 cup of dried mushrooms with 1 cup of warm water. After being fully reconstituted, you should have almost 2 cups of rehydrated mushrooms. Gently simmer this porcini in the reconstituted water until thickened. Allow to cool and cut into bite sized pieces. They do not need to be fried, just simmered. When you add the porcini, add the darkened water as well. That’s where the umami flavor is.

Pan fry the bacon until crispy, allow to cool, chop into small pieces and set aside.

In a large 12 inch pan, add 4 tablespoons olive oil and saute the onions and red bell pepper until opaque and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute together for another 2 minutes. Remove, set aside and allow to cool.

In the same pan, saute the fresh mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until toasty, sprinkle on the dried porcini powder if you have it. (Not necessary if using dried porcini.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using your hands or a spatula, spread out the ground turkey and/or pork on the butcher paper it probably came in, or parchment paper, add the salt, black pepper, oregano, paprika, thyme, basil and Italian parsley.

Roll the meat into a cylinder, then mix together well, and place in a large bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients to the meat (except for the 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce, which you will brush on top of the 2 loaves). Add the liquids first, the dry ingredients second, and the 2 whipped eggs last, as a binder. Using a large mixing spoon or big spatula, blend all the ingredients until fairly uniform. It should be wet enough to hold together but still be open and airy.

Cooking

Place this mixture into two already lightly oiled glass, tin or cast iron bread pans. Spread the 3/4 cup of marinara sauce over the top of each meatloaf and place into an oven preheated at 400 degrees.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the marinara sauce on top is toasty and the center of the meatloaf is 160 degrees. Remove, cover and allow to cool, about 10 to 15 minutes. We like to serve this umami packed meat loaf with mashed potatoes. This feast also provides fabulous leftovers, lunches, and picnic snacks… and is just as good at room temperature.

This is a family feast that is fun to make together, with all hands on deck, each person taking on a certain handful of ingredients… it goes much faster and the entire family will be enjoying tasty leftovers for days. Enjoy!