I don’t like dry meatloaf, no one does.
I make my Italian Meatloaf Parmesan similar in style to a Chicken Parmigiana or a dish called Carne Pizzaiola. Using one of my meatball recipes, I bake the meatloaf smothered in a tangy marinara sauce, topping it off with shredded Fontina cheese. Simmering the meatloaf in the sauce helps produce one of the most tender, moist, and flavorful meatloaves you’ve ever tasted. As far as leftovers go, this makes the most incredible meatloaf sandwiches!
I love this meatloaf recipe, I’ve made it with beef, turkey, bison, pork, and chicken, and every one of them was a huge success with my family. Big on flavor and never bland or boring, it’s an easy recipe that’s fun to make. The hardest part about making it is sautéing the onions and garlic.
This meatloaf recipe can easily be made into meatballs if you prefer. I like to stuff a small cube of fontina or mozzarella cheese into the center of each meatball so that they all have a gooey, melted cheese center.
Why is Meatloaf Dry?
1. The main reason most meatloaf recipes turn out dry is due to overcooking. One of the secrets to a great meatloaf recipe is the instant-read thermometer. Just like grilling a hamburger, once you overcook the meat it will dry out. Know the cooking temperatures for whatever meat you’re using, and don’t go beyond that temperature.
- Ground beef, pork, and bison: you need to cook it to 160°F
- Ground Poultry: 165°F
2. The second thing is to add milk, yogurt, stock, or half & half to your bread crumbs. This technique called a ‘Panade’ and is a combination of a starch and liquid that is mixed into ground meats in order to bind them. By adding liquid to the binder, you keep the cooked protein tender and juicy.
3. The third thing needed to conquer dry meatloaf is to sauté the onions and garlic prior to mixing them into the ground meat. The added fat from the olive oil is especially important in lean cuts of meat such as bison, and turkey. Even with beef, I like to get the leaner ground beef and add my own fat to the mixture, I like to know the fat is actually a good source from olive oil, eggs, and cheese rather than the weird bits animal fats that go into some ground meat.
Ingredients in Italian Meatloaf
A good quality meatloaf recipe needs good quality ingredients, these are the ingredients in my Italian meatloaf recipe:
- Ground Meat: I like leaner cuts of beef like 90:10 for my meatloaf recipe, then the addition of olive oil, eggs, cheese, and half & half doesn’t make the recipe too unhealthy. This recipe works with pork, beef, bison, turkey, and ground chicken. I like it with turkey, but it is white when you slice it which has the tendency to freak children out. And it’s not very pretty for pictures on a food blog either, but that being said, it’s probably my favorite.
- Onions and garlic: I sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil then let them cool prior to mixing all the ingredients together. Meatloaf is only cooked to a low temperature, raw onions and garlic will never cook properly if not sauteed prior to adding them the other meatloaf ingredients. This rest of the recipe is so easy, this is probably the hardest part.
- Eggs: The eggs are what help bind the meatloaf ingredients together.
- Breadcrumbs and dairy: I like half & half, I always have it on hand for my coffee, so it’s a staple in my household. I loved it after the first time I tried it and never went back. Traditionally I believe milk and breadcrumbs are what make up a ‘panade’, but if you’re using a lean cut of meat for your meatloaf, you need a little extra fat in it to keep it from being dry. Regular plain breadcrumbs or Panko bread crumbs both work fine, but I wouldn’t use a preseasoned breadcrumb. For a Gluten-free option, you can use the gluten-free Panko breadcrumbs.
- Cheeses: I mix a good quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated into the meatloaf mixture. The taste difference between real parmesan cheese and the fake stuff in a can is like night and day. On top, I use either grated low-moisture mozzarella or freshly grated fontina cheese. My personal preference is freshly grated fontina, but either will work.
- Fresh herbs: Fresh rosemary and fresh parsley wake this recipe up; fresh basil is a good substitute for the rosemary. I use dried oregano in the sauce, fresh oregano can be a little too intense.
- Canned tomatoes: I use San Marzano crushed tomatoes for the sauce. For Italian sauce recipes, I always prefer to use San Marzano tomatoes. They were originally grown in a small town named San Marzano outside of Naples, Italy. They have the exact taste you want in a tomato sauce that no other tomato seems to match.
- Marinara sauce: This sauce recipe has only 5-ingredients and takes about 3-minutes to prepare. It serves 2-functions here, first, the Marinara sauce tastes amazing with this meatloaf recipe. Second is that after the meatloaf is browned, the sauce is poured over the top, where it covers the meatloaf for the second half of the cooking, locking in moisture and letting it gently simmer until it reaches temperature.
Here is my recipe for Italian Meatloaf Parmesan
Italian Meatloaf Parmesan
- 2 Pounds Ground Beef Lean, 90/10
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Cup Onions Diced
- 1 Teaspoon Garlic
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1 Cup Breadcrumbs Plain or Panko
- 1/2 Cup Half & Half Or milk
- 1/2 Cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Grated
- 1/2 Cup Flat-Leaf Parsley Chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Rosemary Finely chopped
- 1 28-Ounce can Crushed Tomatoes San Marzano
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 2 Teaspoons Dried Oregano
- 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 Teaspoons Olive Oil
- 4 Ounces Fontina Cheese Or low-moisture mozzarella, shredded
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Place a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, add the onions and olive oil and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic for 30 seconds, remove from the heat and add the onions to the mixing bowl to cool.
- Add the breadcrumbs and half & half to the mixing bowl, stir to combine. Then add all remaining meatloaf ingredients to the bowl.
- Wash hands thoroughly after handling eggs, then using clean hands, mix all the ingredients together until combined. Form the mixture into a loaf and place it in the ovenproof skillet. Place the skillet in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
- Combine all of the Marinara sauce ingredients in a mixing bowl. and shred the Fontina cheese.
- After 30 minutes, remove the meatloaf from the oven and pour the Marinara sauce over the top. Sprinkle the top of the meatloaf with Fontina cheese, and drizzle some of the sauce over the cheese
- Set timer for 30 minutes, then using an instant-read thermometer, check the internal temperature of the meatloaf. 160°F for beef and pork, 165°F for turkey or chicken