Chicken Meatloaf Marinara

Stuffed with creamy mozzarella, this meatloaf is a little like pizza in a loaf pan!

If you’re a Meatloaf fan, I’m thinking you’d do anything for love, but… I’m more likely to do anything for meatloaf. Fond memories of my own mom’s meatloaf or even of my own sometimes nudge (read that, shove) me into grabbing the loaf pan soooo fast, simmering and mashing up some root vegetables, and then waltzing around waiting for the, “it’s meatloaf night” aroma sailing all over the house. I know sometimes meatloaf gets a bad rap and…I don’t know why. Does it seem cheap? Old fashioned? Silly? Oh-too-simple? Housewifey? Slow? Fattening? Full of dry oatmeal? I have none of those problems; I’ll eat it every which way. My beef meatloaf is one of those dinners I unapologetically still use a couple of packaged, processed ingredients in and couldn’t care less. (Dried onion soup mix and tomato sauce, in case you’re wondering.) Sometimes I make two to make sure we have plenty for leftovers as there is absolutely nothing like a meatloaf sandwich — something I never had until I was once visiting my old college friend Danny Izzo at lunchtime when he casually asked, “Would you like a meatloaf sandwich?” He had no clue what he was starting, but I’ve never since stopped making them. And I am not a sandwich person. (Don’t forget the mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Maybe a thin slice of red onion. Ok, bacon.) Thanks, Danny.

If you really are so fortunate to have leftovers, you are in stupendous luck with lots of things to try besides those addictive, sigh-worthy sandwiches. Breakfast? Well, I guess. There’s nothing like a thin slice of meatloaf heated in a skillet until golden brown and then topped with a runny egg. If you put that all on toast (no avocado, please), you’d be a god in your own kitchen. Want another dinner? My favorite way to heat meatloaf is to grill it crispy in a stovetop grill pan or skillet. Truly have more than you can eat? Slice it and freeze it well-wrapped. Thaw overnight in the fridge and heat in the oven or again in the grill pan. It’s perfect. Different, but perfect. The inventive home cook might chop it up for tacos or quesadillas, crumble it into tomato sauce for pasta,or toss a tasty bite or two into a salad or even an omelet. If you’re an artistic sort, you’re probably already thinking about other options. See why meatloaf is such a good thing?

Years ago, my nail tech Lori kept bothering me for a “better turkey meatloaf.” I did it for her here. If you’re a fan of southwestern flavors, you’re in luck. Lori’s meatloaf, aka “Southwestern Turkey Meatloaf,” is a bit of a taco truck in a loaf pan, complete with lots of pepper jack cheese at the center. (Put it on your list.)

Lately, though, I’m preoccupied with better uses for underemployed ground chicken and I kept dreaming about a chicken version of Lori’s meatloaf. Maybe it could boast similar, but not the same flavors. I began thinking marinara. Mozzarella. Basil. Oregano. This was starting to sound kinda like pizza meatloaf, though I didn’t know that right away. The thing about pizza — and I’ll give you pizza is my favorite food — is that while it’s not necessarily the nutritional disaster some folks claim, it’s often one whole H-E-L-L of a lot of calories and fat for the nutrition you do get. Which is why I love veggie pizza featuring less cheese on whole wheat crust.

Make sure and let the meatloaf rest or the mozzarella will be quite runny.

When the meatloaf came together, I had no idea how handsome and scrumptious it would be. Filled with cheese and spiked with fresh basil, it was definitely company-worthy, but perfect to keep Dave and me in meals for a couple of days plus leftovers. I had notions of skipping store-bought lean ground chicken (in favor of home-ground dark meat for flavor), which were totally put aside in the first test round. Lean ground chicken it was; the panade (a French term used for mixing a starch with liquid for tenderizing and moistening a dish) — in this case whole wheat bread cubes soaked in milk — kept the loaf moist and tender without adding more fat.

A fairly simply main dish, it can be made even easier, slimmer, dairy-free, or less expensive…. You’ll notice how some ideas repeat:

A THRIFTY COOK MIGHT:

  • Omit the mozzarella and the fresh basil (unless it’s summer and basil is abundant in the garden)
  • Stuff the loaf with overlapping pieces of sautéed sliced zucchini and sliced onions in place of the mozzarella
  • Sub another piece of cubed bread for the mushrooms
  • Make homemade, low-salt and sugar marinara

A SLIMMING COOK MIGHT:

  • Omit the mozzarella and sprinkle a tiny bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top of the loaf at serving time
  • Stuff the loaf with overlapping pieces of sautéed sliced zucchini and sliced onions in place of the mozzarella
  • Omit the olive oil and instead use a cooking spray in the pan and on top of the loaf
  • Make homemade, low salt and sugar marinara
  • Not doing dairy? Instead, soak the bread cubes in some of the marinara used in making the loaf itself.

Maybe, though, you’ll bite my happy bullet, make garlic bread, sauté a slew of spinach with crushed red pepper and lemon zest, and yell:

If you have extra marinara, serve some at the table.

chicken meatloaf marinara

This Italian-style twist on old school American meatloaf is tasty leftover hot or cold and makes great sandwiches. It also freezes well. Serve it with sautéed spinach with lemon zest and crushed red pepper, garlic bread, or just a big crispy salad.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Resting Time10 mins
Total Time1 hr 40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Chicken, Meatloaf
Servings: 6
Author: More Time at the Table/Alyce Morgan
Cost: $23.

Equipment

  • 9" x 5" loaf pan

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (1tbsp for oiling the pan, 1 tbsp for the top of meatloaf before baking)
  • 2 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 pounds lean ground chicken
  • 1 ½ cups marinara sauce, divided (1 cup in meatloaf, ½ cup on top at serving time)—homemade or purchased
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1/8 th teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon EACH: dried oregano and basil
  • 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces chopped button mushrooms–can sub a 3rd piece of whole wheat bread
  • Red bell pepper, cut into small dice, divided (use ½ in meat loaf, ½ on top at serving time)
  • 1/3- pound sliced mozzarella cheese (about 4½, 4-inch slices, cut in half lengthwise) — to be used as a stuffing at the center of the loaf
  • Large ripe tomato, diced—garnish
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, shredded—garnish

Instructions

  • PREP: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack at center. Brush the interior of the 9"x5" loaf pan with one of the tablespoons of olive oil. Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir the cubed bread together with the milk. Set aside and let sit 2 or more minutes.
  • MIX MEATLOAF, SPICES, VEGETABLES AND BREAD: To a large bowl, add the chicken, one cup of the marinara sauce, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, onion, garlic, mushrooms, half of the diced red pepper, and the reserved milk-soaked bread cubes. Mix well with really clean hands.
  • MAKE THE MEATLOAF IN THE PAN WITH CHEESE IN THE MIDDLE: Pat half of the meat mixture into the pan and place the slices of cheese overlapping down the middle of the loaf beginning + ending one inch from the ends so the cheese doesn’t ooze out during baking. Gently press the cheese down a little, say ¼ – ½-inch into the meatloaf. Pat other half of the meat mixture on top to create the loaf, smoothing/shaping top evenly and brushing w/ the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. It will fit.
  • BAKE, REST, SERVE: Place loaf pan on lined sheet pan and bake for 70-75 minutes, or until instant read thermometer is at 160 degrees F, turning pan around midway through cooking. Remove from oven to rack; let rest 10 minutes. Run a small, thin knife around the outside of the loaf if needed. With potholders, gently bang bottom of pan evenly on counter to loosen. Turn out onto platter, first pouring out excess liquid if necessary. To garnish, spoon other half-cup of marinara down the center of the meatloaf lengthwise; top the sauce with chopped tomato, the reserved diced red bell pepper, and fresh basil. Slice and serve hot.

Notes

COOK’S NOTES: You can use ½ cup of the marinara in place of the milk if you like or replace the cheese with sautéed zucchini and/or onions. Don’t be tempted to increase the salt. If you use purchased marinara and cheese, they both are already salty. Leftovers? Heat them on an oiled stovetop grill until hot, golden and crispy.
Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2019. All rights reserved.

TURNING OUT THE MEATLOAF ONTO THE SERVING PLATTER or having the courage of your convictions:

To turn out onto a serving platter, you can first top the pan with the upside down platter and, holding it carefully together (use mitts/potholders), turn it over–as seen below– and THEN remove the baking pan. Make sure you have first run a small sharp knife around the edges of the meatloaf, gently banged the pan on the counter, and then tipped the baking pan out into the sink or the sheet pan to allow the extra juices to escape. Still some left on the bottom of the pan? Carefully scrape it out with a sharp spatula, replace it on the loaf from whence it came, and cover with marinara! ( OR: If you’re incredibly brave, just do the knife trick, bang gently, and sling that sucker over onto the platter.)

WINE: You could go all out and buy a little Chianti, but I’d chime in, “Zinfandel,” here as it’s such good pizza wine and will fit here just fine.

DESSERT: I’m still pretty much skipping dessert, but if you have guests, lemon sorbet or gelato and butter cookies would do the trick. Perhaps a tiny glass of limoncello would be even better.


I hope you survived the Super Bowl and the halftime show…maybe you had something scrumptious for snacks. If so, you’ll have to tell me.

My sister Helen and me doing what we do best!

Home from travel to visit lots of family, I had my first Buffalo Hot Wings at friends’ Jeanne and Tony’s house. Not bad!! I think I like Teriyaki Wings a bit better though. Or maybe just the wings off a roasted chicken.

My own thoughts are now turning to cooking at home for Valentine’s Day. If you don’t already have reservations, you can forget going out; it’s a crowded mess anyway. This meatloaf would be lovely, but there might be another recipe coming up…. No partner at your house? Invite a friend for a nice meal and a movie. Why not? While a slow-cooked stew might not be your first thought for the holiday, it’s actually not a bad idea because while it simmers, you’re totally free. Sip wine, play cards, read poetry, listen to music? You could also make it a day or two ahead and have nothing to do but heat it and make a salad come February 14. Look at this and see what you think:

Story and recipe here.

Stay tuned and, in the meanwhile, cook at home for health, wealth, and happiness,

Alyce

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