The legendary Meatloaf Sandwich, Piemonte-style (with Terre da Vino La Luna E I Faló & Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2003)
I missed my friend Alex's birthday on the weekend. I was out of town. I was out of town last year during this period too. So this year I thought I would pick up something nice while away and make sure that I made Alex and a couple of our friends dinner before I left.
Then I thought I would publish an entry about it all on her birthday. If I couldn't be at her party in person, Doktor Weingolb could at least manage a shout-out during the festivities.
Well, two out of three ain't bad. This post is belated. Happy birthday Alex!
For you Alex, a souvenir of my travels to the Ontario Fruit Belt is on its way: delicious and pure black currant preserves (well what do you expect from a foodie?) harvested from the Moss Berry Farm in Embro, Ontario (which, being near Woodstock, is a bit farflung from the fruit belt -- the beginning of June is still too early for good Niagara tenderfruit).
I hope you will enjoy it and this retrospective of our Italian-themed meal in your honour...
(Because Alex is Greek, Northern Italy was the mode of the evening, both in terms of food and wine: A Venetian Maculan Pino & Toi to get our juices flowing and then Barbera-based Piemonte wine for an authentic match to the main course, which was a scrumptiously easy meatloaf, seasoned with fennel and nutmeg.)
A Meatloaf, dressed to impress (even its leftovers!)
So as to not insult your guests by serving them ground meat shaped into a log by your bare hands, insert hard-boiled eggs into the centre of the meat mixture before baking. Meatloaf is such an imprecise and forgiving dish that adding the eggs lifts the low standards of the creation and makes for a nice visual feast too. When you slice into it later, your guests will have "I can't believe my eyes" looks on their faces and then follow it up by blurting out questions like "How did you do that?" and "Where did the eggshells go?"
In another twist on the standard, cook the loaf as per tradition on the stovetop in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy, covered pan, which should already be lined with browned onions and carrots -- a kind of Italian mirepoix. Slow-cooking your meatloaf over low heat helps generate a nice gravy that you can serve with it. To determine doneness, use a meat thermometer after you've turned the loaf a few times while it is simmering.
Grilled zucchini and tomatoes are nice garnishes to this dish because they ooze Italiano. While they may be a nice pairing, they're not nearly as essential as celery root (celeriac or céleri rave). When mashed with a little butter and some cream, this celery side will want to cozy right up to the meatloaf.
Except for the zucchini, I served these dishes hot, but they do not need to be. In fact, at room temperature this food really sings. Which means that you should make big batches while you're in the kitchen to ensure you have leftovers when you are done. It's a great idea for summer since it offers a respite from the heat.
WHAT'S "THE ALEXANDRA"?
An even better reason to let your Italian creations cool a bit is so you can make what I call the "Alexandra" -- an incredibly fantastic meatloaf sandwich. What's great about an Alexandra is its meatiness -- the meatloaf is sliced like bread to go on either side of your leftover celery root mash, which, playing the usual role of the meat, is on the inside of the sandwich you've formed. Who says the best part of a sandwich has to go in the middle? It ain't called meatloaf for nothing. Take out your best bread knife and slice away. If you do it right the finished sandwich almost looks like egg salad on rye. Though the taste is entirely something else!
Yet another good reason for leftovers is better gravy. Meat juices, when they sit around refrigerated for a few days, intensify in flavour and thicken in consistency. The extra time also builds up your appetite, or at least I find it does. Then when you are desperate, sprinkle in a little more nutmeg to taste and some sherry. Boil it down to reduce the sauce further. The result is like liquid gold.
CANNOT LEAVE THE CANOLI ALONE
To cap off Alex and the gang's Italian menu, we had ricotta-filled canolis. Summer comfort food is best followed by more comfort food and these fine pastries, when done right, are a perfect way to end the meal. I'm not sure whether these Italian canoli delicacies originate in the north of Italy or not. I can say for sure where they are going though. To the stomach, via my mouth.
WHAT ABOUT BARBERA?
Some tasting notes on the wines that went the dinner. Like Monica, Barbera is a lovely red Italian grape named for a woman. Also like Monica, Barbera, especially Barbera D'Asti, makes for a tremendously food-friendly, fruit-filled wine. Barberas are usually more elegant and less rustic than other regional Italian grapes. Notes of chocolate can bolster fruit flavours and strong acidity punctuates every mouthful. I found that it married particularly well with our rich and flavourful dinner.
Two expressions of Barbera, both from the same strong 2003 vintage in the Asti region of Piemonte are affordable and recommendable:
La Luna E I Faló from Terre da Vino is an oaked and dense red with noticeable chocolate notes. Le Orme by Michele Chiarlo is zestier, lighter, and more simple in style.
Nizza Monferrato, Barolo, Italia, 14%. Calamandrana, Italia. 13%