Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Italian-Style Meatloaf with Mushroom and Fennel Sauce

Old-fashioned, classic comfort food is always a welcome sight on the dinner table, and meatloaf is a prime example. But there’s nothing “old” about it when you dress it up with flavors from one of the world’s most inviting cuisines: Italian.

In this recipe, the ingredients say Italy. A bit of ground fennel seed with fresh basil and flat-leaf parsley make the beef and pork mixture extra floral and flavorful. Pan-seared mushrooms and fennel in a simple fresh tomato and red wine sauce add a rich, slightly earthy, slightly sweet complement to a not-so-old-fashioned favorite.

Fennel Seeds 
Ground Fennel Seeds
Note: Like meatballs and other baked ground-meat dishes, meatloaf needs a binding agent (or two) to help it hold together and stay moist during cooking. In this recipe, fresh bread cubes soaked in milk provide that soft, gluey element to give the ground beef and pork and vegetables a tender, juicy finish. I used sourdough but any small-cubed white bread will do.


For the Meatloaf
  • olive oil, for oiling baking dish
  • 1 cup small sourdough bread cubes
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2/3 lb ground chuck
  • 2/3 lb ground pork
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree (from a 10.75 oz. can)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp crushed fennel seed
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
Small Sourdough Bread Cubes
For the Mushrooms and Fennel
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 8 oz. crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced lengthwise (reserve portion of frond)
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree (from a 10.75-oz. can)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 4 large basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 tsp chopped fennel frond
Sauce Vegetables
Cored Fennel and Frond
Sliced Fennel

For the Meatloaf
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 11 X 7-inch baking dish.
  2. Place the bread cubes in a bowl and cover with milk, pressing down to cover all. Soak for 15 minutes.
Milk-Soaked Bread
  1. Place the ground chuck, ground pork, and next 7 ingredients (through fennel seed) in a large bowl. Squeeze the excess milk from the bread cubes and add to the meat mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Combine the ingredients, mixing gently with your fingers. (Don’t overwork it—try to keep it light and airy.) Form the mixture into about a 9 X 4-1/2-inch rectangle and place in the oiled dish.
Ingredients without Bread
Soaked Bread Added 
Meatloaf Ready to Bake
  1. Bake uncovered until browned and just cooked through, 50-55 minutes. Remove and let rest 5 minutes.
Baked Meatloaf
To serve, cut the meatloaf into 8 slices and place 2 slices on each of 4 plates. Spoon the mushrooms and fennel in tomato sauce (recipe follows) on top and alongside and serve right away.

For the Mushrooms and Fennel
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and fennel and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Cook until some of the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, 7-8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Do not wipe out the skillet.
Mushrooms and Fennel Beginning to Cook
Cooked Vegetables
  1. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add the fresh tomatoes and garlic and cook, stirring and mashing lightly, until they begin to break down and release juices, 5 minutes.
  2. Add the tomato puree and wine and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook 10 minutes.
  3. Return the mushrooms and fennel to the skillet and stir in the basil and fennel frond. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning before serving.
Tomatoes and Garlic Beginning to Cook 
Cooked Tomatoes 
Cooked Tomato Sauc 
Mushroom and Fennel Sauce
Italian-Style Meatloaf with Mushroom and Fennel Sauce

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