Italian Meatloaf, Meatballs or Burgers

Are you hungry for pizza but don’t want to make a crust? This meatloaf combines the classic pizza flavors of tomato, mozzarella, basil and oregano with the juiciest meatloaf around. The meat is seasoned with Romano cheese and pancetta so there’s no need to use garlic or onions to get a savory depth of flavor. You can easily double or quadruple the recipe and cook or freeze the extra for future meals. Use the beef mixture to stuff bell peppers, make meatballs or whip up the best burger on the block. Or crumble it in a skillet and use the cooked meat in place of sausage in your favorite recipe.

I think you could substitute this for breakfast sausage as well. Based on another sausage recipe of mine, I would try adding 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon thyme, and a dash of marjoram, then refrigerate the mixture overnight to let the flavors develop. If anyone tries this, let me know how it turns out.

The recipe calls for gluten-free bread crumbs, so either drop a couple of slices of commercial gluten-free bread in a food processor or make your own bread. My recipe for gluten-free pizza crust makes excellent bread crumbs. Although the recipe calls for cooking the batter on a panini press, you can cook it on a waffle iron or make pancakes (just don’t try eating them with syrup –  this is a crusty flat bread, not a tender breakfast treat). Cool the bread on a wire rack before putting it in the food processor to make the crumbs. The extra bread crumbs will keep indefinitely in a zip lock bag in your freezer.

If you’re lactose intolerant, use aged mozzarella instead of fresh, as it has almost no lactose in it. Romano cheese also has very little lactose, so it’s also safe to eat. Most people with lactose intolerance can handle about 4 grams of lactose per serving of food without experiencing problems, according to “Food Intolerance Management Plan”, by Sue Shepherd. As always, only eat what your body can tolerate, and only you know what that is.

Guiuliano Hazan, the son of famed Italian cook Marcella Hazan, included the meatloaf part of the recipe in his cookbook, “Every Night Italian”, along with a handful of other recipes that are suitable for fructose malabsorbers. Most Italian food calls for lots of onion and garlic so I was pleasantly surprised to discover more Italian recipes that don’t. If you have a copy of the book, I  particularly recommend “Chicken Braised with Tomatoes and Black Olives” and “Turkey Breast Fillets with Lemon and Olives” for minimum time and maximum flavor.

Italian Meatloaf, Meatballs or Burgers

Serves 6, adapted from “Every Night Italian”

Meat mix:

1/4 cup (60 ml) gluten-free bread crumbs
2 tablespoons (30 ml) whole milk (lactose-free or regular)
1 pound (450 grams) ground beef, 85% lean makes the juiciest mix
1/2 cup (120 ml) or 2 1/2 ounces (68 grams) pecorino romano cheese, shredded
2 large eggs
2 ounces (56 grams) pancetta, thinly sliced and chopped
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425° F (220° C).

Stir the bread crumbs and milk together in a large bowl until a smooth paste forms. Add the beef, cheese, eggs, pancetta and a dash of salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix everything together thoroughly.

Meatloaf topping:

3/4 cup (180 ml) chopped, canned tomatoes, drained
4 ounces (112 grams) mozzarella, sliced into thin strips
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) dried basil
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) dried oregano

Butter the bottom and sides of a 10″ pie plate. Put the beef mixture into the pie plate and spread it evenly with your hands. Spread the tomatoes on top and arrange the mozzarella strips in a wagon wheel design. Sprinkle the basil and oregano over the cheese and bake for 20 minutes. Let the meatloaf rest for 5 minutes, then use 2 spatulas to transfer it to a serving plate.

For meatballs:

Form the beef mixture into 1 1/2 inch meatballs and place them in a oven-safe pan. Bake for 5 minutes to firm up the meatballs. Transfer the meatballs and the pan drippings to a sauce pan and cover with tomato sauce (I like Italian brand Pomi the best). Season the sauce with fresh or dried basil and oregano, and let it simmer for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with gluten-free pasta and freshly grated Parmesan.

For burgers:

Form the beef mixture into patties and cook on the grill or in a skillet over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes. Turn the patties once while cooking.

20 thoughts on “Italian Meatloaf, Meatballs or Burgers

  1. This I like … there is more to mince meat than – meatballs and burger. Thanks for this. A good meatloaf is hard to beat.

    • Meatloaf is the king of mince meat- my mom used to make great meatloaf, which she varied by changing the toppings, so I have lots of fond memories.

      • I love mine with bacon and cheese. My grandma’s meatloaf was SO good. I think it was the only way we ever had it … meatloaf belongs to our national dishes in Sweden. We call it “Köttfärslimpa” – Minced Meat Loaf.

      • I think I must have been Swedish in a former life- I adore everything you’ve told me about Swedish food. It sounds irresistible. Bring on the bacon and cheese!

      • Swedish food .. is comfort food .. well cooked and it takes time.
        I have never had a bad meal on a restaurant in Sweden, even the small lunch places serve great food. Welcome to … visit.

  2. I always hated my mom’s meatloaf. It had bell peppers in it, she always said I’d like them more when I was older, well I’m much older and I still don’ tike them. : )
    This meatloaf sounds wonderful, and reminds me of one I made when I first went out on my own….I should dig up that recipe. I loved it, the meatloaf was stuffed with the Ricotta mixture.
    But this sounds delicious!
    Thank you for the recipe(s)!

    • For me it was celery- I couldn’t stand it when I was a kid, no matter how my mother used it. I’m still not fond of it it raw. Your meatloaf sounds great- ricotta does wonderful things for food.

    • Thanks! Though honesty forces me to admit that I made it a second time (no complaints from the family) so that I could retake the photo. The first time I left it in the baking dish, which didn’t look as nice.

  3. Wow! I thought my meat loaf was good…but that photo takes it to a new level. I will diffidently try this. Thanks for sharing.

    • My husband was thrilled with this- he’s been asking for pizza toppings without the crust ever since he started Atkins.

  4. Wow, this looks amazing! Although I have no food intolerances, I am excited to try out new and different approaches to “the usual” fare. Thanks!!!!

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