Meatloaf with Ricotta

Source: Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, by Lidia Bastianich
adapted by http://theresalwaysthyme.blogspot.com

1 cup milk
3 cups day-old bread, in pieces, from a loaf of country bread
3 pounds ground beef
3 large eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt
1 pound (about 2 cups) drained ricotta, plus more for the sauce if you like
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or similar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut in 1/2 -inch cubes (about 2 cups)(I used tiny fresh mozzarella balls)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 5 cups tomato sauce (Marinara)

Equipment: roasting pan or loaf pan

Preheat oven to 375°.

Pour the milk over the bread pieces in a bowl, and let it soak for a few minutes, until the bread is saturated with the milk. Squeeze the soft bread a handful at a time, pressing out the milk, then tear bread into small piecess and put it back into the bowl. Mix the ground beef into the bowl with the bread, and add the eggs, ricotta, scallions, grated cheese, parsley, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Fold and mix everything together, then add the mozzarella and mix with your hands to distribute all the ingredients evenly into the mix.

Brush the pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Gather the meat mixture in the bowl, turn it into the pan, and shape it into a fat oval loaf. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Tent the pan with foil, and cover it so it doesn't touch the meat and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue to bake until the meatloaf is browned all over and completely cooked through, about one hour and 30 minutes or until it reaches a temperature of 160°. Remove the loaf from the oven, and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Heat the tomato sauce to a simmer in a saucepan as the meat rests. Turn off the heat, and stir 1/2 cup or so fresh ricotta into the sauce, if you like (or not!) Cut the loaf crosswise in slices as thick as you like. Serve on dinner plates, topped with a spoonful or two of sauce, and pass more sauce at the table. For family-style serving, arrange the slices on a platter, topped with some of the sauce.

Notes: If you plan on making this ahead, omit the mozzarella and add an additional cup of ricotta to the mix.
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