I mentioned in a previous post that I didn't make it to the Farmers' Market last Saturday for my first visit of the year...and I felt it all day. It was a sunny, unseasonably warm day—perfect market weather. I consoled myself by looking forward to my first visit this week.
But by Saturday morning the weather had turned (again). When I awoke, it was damp and cold (low-30's)...with a driving wind.... I almost rolled back over for another hour of sleep, but knew I would regret it. So I got up and went. And I was so glad I did. Yes, it was very cold. But I saw faces I haven't seen since late last fall...as well as the very beginnings of the new spring crops. No asparagus yet, but I brought home spinach, spring onions, lettuce...and a surprise. Thane Palmberg had sweet potatoes he had over-wintered in his heated cellar from his crop last fall.
Sunday night we enjoyed some of my market purchases in a dinner featuring a meatloaf. I don't usually think of meatloaf as being spring food, but it seemed appropriate for the weather. I substituted spring onions for the yellow onions that I normally put in my meatloaf (once spring onions become available, storage onions pretty much disappear from my kitchen) and added some chopped wilted spinach. Maybe I should dub this "Early Spring Market Meatloaf".
There is nothing particularly unusual about the meatloaf recipe that I use. Cobbled together from several different sources, it changes every time I make it. But it always follows a couple of basic rules. First, I choose a cut of meat that is a bit fatty. If I'm using beef, I use chuck...if chicken or turkey, I use the dark meat...if pork, I try and get some meat from the shoulder. This doesn't fit with the fat-phobic ways or our current food culture, but the meatloaf produced with these fattier cuts is always tastier and moister.
Secondly, I always cook the onions in a little bit of fat before adding them to the mix. I find it unpleasant to encounter discernable bits of crunchy onions in a meatloaf. Cooking them first softens them. It also infuses the fat they have been cooked in with their flavor, which then permeates the whole meatloaf (along with anything else you add to the onions—garlic, herbs, etc).
Since I like the flavor of bacon in a meatloaf, and don't like the effect of raw strips of bacon laid over the top, I render some chopped bacon and then cook the onions in the bacon fat. The bacon then goes into the meatloaf with the onions, rather than in to the trash can (this is inevitably where it goes if it has been put on top since it emerges from the oven looking unappetizingly pale and flabby).
I admit to liking the top of my meatloaf smeared with some ketchup (enhanced with a little Dijon and honey). I actually don't like ketchup very much—I would never ruin a French fry by putting ketchup on it—but it seems to belong on a meatloaf...providing an interesting and sweet tang.
I rounded out our first "market meal" of the season with the sweet potatoes and salad greens. I roasted the sweet potatoes—they were remarkably sweet and tasty—and dressed the salad greens with a creamy vinaigrette. So even though I don't think of meat loaf or sweet potatoes as spring fare, it was a satisfying—and surprisingly seasonal—meal.
Early Spring Market Meatloaf
3 oz. bacon, chopped
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)—or substitute 1 cup diced spring onion (2/3 c. white plus 1/3 of green)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 t. minced fresh thyme
5 oz. cleaned and stemmed spinach (it is not necessary to stem baby spinach), finely chopped--optional
1/3 c. quick oats
1/4 c. milk
1 pound ground chuck
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 t. dry mustard
3/4 t. salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 T. Tomato ketchup
1/2 T. Dijon mustard
1/2 t. honey
In a large sauté pan set over moderate heat, render the bacon until beginning to brown and crisp. Add the onion and cook until tender. Add the garlic and thyme (along with the green portion of the onion if using spring onions) and cook until fragrant. Add the spinach, if using, and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
In a small bowl, pour the milk over the oatmeal and let stand while the onion cools.
In a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, cooled onion mixture, egg, dry mustard, salt, peppers and the oats along with the milk. Using your hands work the mixture just until well blended. Form into a loaf and place in an oiled baking dish or loaf pan.
Combine the ketchup, mustard and honey and slather over the top of the meatloaf. Transfer to a 350° oven and bake for 1 hour—or until an instant read thermometer reads 160°. Let the meatloaf rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 4.
Of course, the best way to eat meatloaf is cold...in thin slices...on a sandwich...