Meatloaf is very trendy right now - don't be surprised to find it on restaurant menus. They typically will give it their own special twist, like this recipe. I know the term "artisan" is over-used but it's the best term I can think of to describe this meatloaf. It's the best meatloaf I've ever tasted and definitely worthy of company. What makes it so special? For one thing, the amazing variety of ingredients - everything from spinach to rosemary to parmesan. For another thing, it uses a mixture of mild bison and spicy Italian sausage as the meat base. It's stuffed with mild creamy fontina cheese and finished with a homemade tomato herb sauce. The combination of flavors is absolutely irresistible. It cuts beautifully and the leftovers make great sandwiches.
So let's talk about bison. That probably gave some of you pause when you read it in the sentence up above, but it shouldn't. Bison is a very mild meat that tastes almost identical to beef but it's better for you. The animals eat grass for food, spend almost no time in feedlots, and are not given drugs, chemicals or hormones. Bison is higher in iron and vitamin B-12 than beef but has much less fat, cholesterol and calories. It's even lower in fat and calories than chicken! Check out this handy little chart that I found online. I knew bison was lean but I didn't know it was THAT lean.
I don't eat beef but I love (and eat) bison. We often use it as a substitute for beef in recipes. This particular recipe is made even healthier by substituting turkey Italian sausage for pork sausage. Even though the proteins are lean, the result is still very moist because of all the other ingredients that are added to the meatloaf. If you're still not convinced, you could certainly make this recipe with ground beef but I would still save the fat and calories in the Italian sausage by using turkey sausage. You can find spicy turkey Italian sausage links with the other turkey products in your grocer's meat case, and you can find ground bison next to beef in almost every meat case these days. It costs a little more than ground beef but I really think it's worth it.
If you have leftovers and plan to make sandwiches, think about adding something crispy or crunchy for texture variation since the meatloaf is relatively soft. I had tomato slices and fresh spinach in addition to the meatloaf so I added texture by grilling the Italian roll until crispy. You could also add crunch by layering sliced radishes or fresh zucchini into the sandwich.
Tip of the day: next time you're at the grocery store pick up a package of plastic gloves like the ones that doctors use - they're usually by the cleaning products. They come in handy for recipes like this where you need to mix raw ingredients by hand. That way you know you aren't contaminating the ingredients or vice versa, espcially if you happen to have a cut or scratch on your hands. Plus they protect your manicure. Very important.
Cheese-Stuffed Meatloaf with Tomato Herb SauceMakes 4-6 servings
Like all good meatloaves, the leftovers make great sandwiches, especially in a French or Italian roll.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/3 cups chopped onion
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (not dried or packaged)
1/3 cup milk
1 lb ground bison
1/3 lb spicy turkey Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 eggs, beaten
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and moisture squeezed out
2/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/3 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
5 ounces mild fontina or provolone cheese, cut into 3” long, ½” by ½” strips
Tomato Herb Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup carrots, finely chopped
¼ cup celery, finely chopped
¼ cup shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups Italian-style diced canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh basil
Salt and pepper
For meatloaf: Preheat the oven to 350d. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook 5 minutes until soft. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Spoon mixture into a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool.
Combine bread crumbs and milk in a small bowl, and soak 5 minutes. Squeeze any excess milk from bread and discard. Add bread to mixing bowl along with all the remaining meatloaf ingredients except the fontina cheese. Using clean hands, mix until well blended.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread half of the meatloaf mixture onto the paper to form a rectangle 4 to 5 inches wide and approximately 9 to 10 inches long. Lay the cheese in 1 or 2 rows down the center of the rectangle, leaving a 1 inch border on all sides. Cover rectangle with remaining meat mixture, ensuring edges are well sealed.
Plump up loaf with your hands to be 3 to 4 inches thick. Bake 60 to 75 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 150d.
Meanwhile, make the sauce while the meatloaf bakes. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and add carrot, celery, shallots, and garlic. Turn down to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Chop basil and add to the sauce; simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool 10 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if too thick.
Remove meatloaf from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Cut into ½” thick slices and serve with sauce.