As a child, I hated meatloaf (sorry, Mom). It always seemed dry, bland, and cumbersome to me, and so to make it palatable, I would drown it in a sea of ketchup (sorry, Dad -- he was always a tad grossed out by my ketchup obsession). Now that I'm a bona fide grown-up, however, I can totally see the upside of meatloaf. Though unfortunately named (because, really, who wants a loaf of meat?), it is an inexpensive, filling dish, generally easy to slap together on a weeknight, and it has all kinds of potential to be healthy and a great source of protein at the dinner table.
My favorite meatloaf incarnation bears little resemblance to the dense, oatmeal-studded loafs of the late 70s. Inspired by a recipe I saw in the New York Times years ago, this meatloaf is equal parts spinach and turkey, making it a true nutritional powerhouse. You start off by simmering garlic cloves in olive oil. They become brown and caramelized, and then you chop these little golden nuggets and mix them into the meat, where they add the most complex, lovely flavor. You also sear the loaf in this homemade garlic oil before baking it, adding more oomph to the flavor profile, as well as a delicious, savory crust. Bonus: you're left with a good quarter cup of leftover garlic oil, which is a phenomenal base for a salad dressing or a veggie sauté for another meal later in the week. And because old habits die hard, I stir together a quick glaze of ketchup, dijon mustard and honey to go over the top. Some things about the late 70s were oh-so-right, were they not? Ketchup and meatloaf are a natural combo, even my Dad would agree.
A few final notes:
1) This is an ideal recipe to make in a heavy, cast iron skillet if you have one.
2) I don't have to tell you this, but the best part of meatloaf is the leftovers. The next day, a slice of this between two pieces of soft bread with a dab of mayo is a total comfort food childhood throwback in the best possible way.
3) Unlike the meatloaf of the 70s, this is not a quickie weeknight meal, unless you prep your garlic oil and spinach ahead of time. But if you have the time to spare, this recipe is worth it. Or make it on a Sunday and let the leftover sandwich make your Monday a little more delicious.
4) No matter how you slice it (ha!), meatloaf just doesn't photograph well. I promise this dish is more appetizing than it appears.
Turkey Spinach Meatloaf
Adapted from Troy and Nancy Dupuy, New York Times, August 2004
6 cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh baby spinach, well rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1. Place garlic cloves in small saucepan, add enough olive oil to cover them, and place over very low heat. Cook about 40 minutes, until garlic is tender but not browned. Drain garlic, and reserve oil. Chop garlic into small pieces.
2. Place onion in a sauté pan over low heat. Cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add spinach leaves and salt, and stir until spinach wilts. Line a small baking sheet with several thicknesses of paper towel, and spread spinach mixture on towel and refrigerate to cool.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine turkey, thyme, pepper, egg, breadcrumbs, cayenne and cooked, chopped garlic cloves; mix well.
4. Remove spinach from refrigerator, and chop. Add to mixing bowl, and mix well by hand or on low speed by machine. Form into loaf shape.
5. Stir together ketchup, dijon mustard and honey in a small bowl. Set aside.
6. Heat a heavy skillet, preferably oven-proof. Add a little of the garlic oil and sear loaf top and bottom until lightly browned. Sides can be seared but only if you have a very large spatula to turn loaf easily.
7. Remove the pan from heat, and use a spatula to cover the top and side with the ketchup glaze.
8. Place skillet in oven or transfer loaf to shallow baking dish, then place in oven. Bake about 50 minutes, until a thermometer registers 160 degrees. Remove from oven and serve, or refrigerate and serve cold. Reserve remaining garlic oil for another use.