There are times when we do want to have those little (or big) meatballs to serve with pasta and sauce. But, sometimes, there just isn't enough time for the rolling, browning, and completing the cooking-in-sauce steps. Besides, the convenience of having a couple or three loaves of cooked, succulent meat in the refrigerator to use later in other recipes is a great advantage. Nonna didn't follow a recipe, so this recipe began more as a process that we followed than a strict adherence to measurements. Over time, it evolved into my go-to meat loaf that I use first as is, sliced on a plate with more sauce as an entree. Later, I may chop it for eggplant parmigiana, stuffed peppers, baked lasagne, sandwiches, you name it!
I vary the type of meat, too. While Nonna used ground beef, veal, pork and/or some combination, I sometimes use duck, duck sausage and, often, that in combination with other meats. Bison is good, too, but it definitely needs to be mixed with a fattier meat such as pork. You will use the type of meat that suits your taste and wallet. It's really all about the flavor you like and keeping everything moist.
Lastly, I normally work with a couple of pounds of meat or more, so that I have plenty to share and freeze, as well. For this post, I listed ingredients for one pound of meat to accommodate the cook who doesn't want lots of leftovers. It is simple to double or triple the recipe, as needed. So here we go. . .
Two slices stale sour dough bread - crusts removed. (I sometimes use whole grain sourdough)
1 large egg at room temperature, slightly beaten
1 pound ground meat (beef, veal, pork, bison, duck, or some combination, according to your preference). Just be sure to combine bison with a fattier cut of meat or the result may be too dry). Veal and pork is a good combo, as is beef and pork. All three are wonderful together, too!
1 Yellow onion chopped and sautéed in 2-3 tablespoons of good quality olive oil, and cooled to room temperature
2- 3 minced or smashed garlic cloves lightly sautéed with onions
1/3 C chopped parsley
1/3-1/2 Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano (Imported Romano or Imported Parmesan) - according to your preference and taste, grated
1/2 t fresh ground pepper, and light salt only, depending upon how much cheese you have added. If you have added 1/2 C pecorino, you probably won't need more than 1/2 t of salt. If you are unsure, you can try taking a small lump of the mixture out once all ingredients are mixed in, frying it and tasting for salt. (I don't recommend tasting it raw).
Tomato Sauce for topping
Oil a loaf pan or two or three small ones. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Place sliced sour dough in pie pan and cover with milk. Let soak while preparing other ingredients.
In a large bowl, place meat, egg, sautéed onion and garlic along with the olive oil remaining in the pan, chopped parsley, cheese, pepper and salt. Now, you are ready to add the soaked bread. First, gently squeeze the bread, allowing the excess milk to fall back into the pie pan to be used elsewhere or fed to the pets, if appropriate. You don't want the bread too dry. A little moisture is good here.
Once the bread and other ingredients have been added to the meat, we have the fun of mixing it all together! I use plastic gloves here, because I have found it easiest to mix this with my hands. It should be very fluffy and light - not stiff. If necessary, you can add more egg or olive oil.
Bake loaf for 20 minutes. Top with tomato sauce and cook for 15 minutes longer or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.