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This recipe from the recently published cookbook Carne: Meat recipes from the kitchen of the American Academy in Rome is one of my favorite Chris Behr dishes ever. Polpettone ripieno is stuffed meatloaf, the quintessential comfort food that you’re more likely to find on a home table or sliced and sold by the portion at one of Rome’s many tavole calde (cafeterias) than you are to encounter it on a restaurant menu. For this and all the other ground meat recipes in Carne, Chris says, “it is always better to have your butcher grind fresh cuts of meat, rather than buying pre-ground products, which can sometimes contain unsavory bits of cartilage and sinew. It can cost a bit more, but the results will be better.” His polpettone ripieno uses fresh breadcrumbs soaked in milk instead of the traditional fine dried breadcrumbs because “fresh bread holds more moisture, making the meatloaf juicer.”

Polpettone Ripieno

Serves 8

4 cups (120 grams) spinach, cleaned dried, large stems discarded
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus additional for spinach and seasoning
½ loaf day-old country bread (about 8 oz / 230 g), crust removed, diced into ¼-inch (.5-cm) cubes
1 cup (240 ml) milk
3 eggs, whisked
½ cup (125 g) ricotta cheese
1 lb (450 g) ground beef
1 lb (450 g) ground fatty pork
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
½ tsp dried oregano
A pinch of chili pepper flakes
About 3/4 cups (60 g) grated Pecorino Romano
2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and made into a paste
½ bunch parsley, picked and finely chopped
8 thin slices prosciutto cotto or deli ham
8 thin slices provolone picante or other cheese, such as cheddar or Swiss

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Boil the cleaned spinach in lightly salted water in a medium saucepan until the leaves are tender, about 45 seconds. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and spread out on a baking sheet to cool. Once cool, ball up the spinach and squeeze out excess water. Chop roughly, taste for salt, and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the diced bread, milk, eggs, and ricotta. Mix well and allow the mix to hydrate while you prepare the meat, about 30 minutes.

Thoroughly mix the beef and pork with the 2 tablespoons of salt, then the dried spices, pecorino, garlic, and parsley.

The bread mix should have absorbed most of the liquid. Using your hands, squeeze the bread to remove excess milk, and work the bread into a fine paste. Allow the paste to drain in a colander for 20 minutes. (If the bread holds onto too much liquid, the meat mixture will be loose and sticky and the meatloaf will not maintain its shape during baking.)

Combine the squeezed breadcrumbs in the bowl with the meat mixture. Mix until the bread and meat mixture become homogeneous. Pinch off a small piece of the meatloaf mix and fry it gently in a small sauté pan. Test for seasoning, adjusting the salt and spices if necessary.

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Turn out the meatloaf mix on a piece of parchment paper. Form the meat into a rectangle, about 8 x 12 inches (about 20 x 30 cm) and about ½-inch (1-cm) thick. Layer the cheese, then the ham, then the spinach, evenly over the surface of the meat, leaving about a 1-inch (2.5-cm) border on the shorter sides.

Using the parchment paper, roll the meat into a log, making sure to keep all the cheese, ham, and spinach in the center. Round off the ends with your hands to make sure the filling stays inside during baking.

Transfer the meatloaf to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake in a preheated oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The meatloaf will cook faster than you think because the filling is less dense than the meat. The internal temperature should be around 150–160°F (65–70°C).

Allow the meatloaf to cool for at least 25 minutes before slicing it with a serrated knife. Serve with brown gravy made from the pan drippings, or even a bit of simple tomato sauce.

Reprinted from Carne: Meat recipes from the kitchen of the American Academy in Rome. Copyright © 2016 by Chris Behr. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Annie Schlechter. Published by The Little Bookroom.

Purchase Carne via the Little Bookroom here.

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