Italian Meatloaf

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Italian meatloaf is a delicious twist on the family-favorite American classic. It’s a hearty dinner, or with leftovers that make amazing sandwiches, and is always an easy cheesy crowd-pleasing hit!

meatloaf covered in cheese and parsley on a white plate with a fork
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slices of meatloaf baked with melted mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce on a plate with ribbons of basil on top

Easy Italian Meatloaf 

Meatloaf is such a hearty and delicious dinner, especially when you add some Italian flair! Kids love marinara sauce and cheese topped anything, and this simple twist on a hearty homestyle classic will get your family around the table in no time.

Meatloaf as a dish dates back to Roman times, and nearly every culture has some kind of meatloaf recipe in their culinary traditions. This recipe is an Italian take on the classic American meatloaf from the 1950s. 

This is a great dish for game day or to make ahead for a weeknight. It’s hearty and sure to please all your diners!

meatloaf with basil on it on a white plate with a fork

How to make Easy Italian Meatloaf

To make this recipe, you’ll need:

Ingredients 

  • Ground Beef – I used 80/20 ground beef for this meatloaf because the extra fat provides flavor and moisture that will keep the meatloaf tender and delicious.
  • Italian Sausage – Italian sausage brings pork flavor and depth of flavor to the ground beef in the meatloaf. I purchased loose ground Italian sausage, but you can’t find that at your store, you can buy sausage links and remove the casings.
  • Saltine Crackers – The crackers provide a light filler for the meatloaf. They absorb the fats and the liquids as the meatloaf cooks, helping it to retain flavor and remain juicy. If going gluten free or for a lower carb version, swap for crushed pork rinds.
  • Milk – Milk brings richness, flavor, and fat to your meatloaf. Use whole milk to make sure you get the most flavor out of the milk.
  • Salt and pepper – Salt enhances the flavor of the lamb and the other spices, while the pepper brings a mild heat that pairs well with the earthy and acid flavors of the other spices. 
  • Eggs – The eggs are a key ingredient as they bind the whole mixture together. They also provide proteins that help keep it juicy.
  • Italian Seasoning – This blend of oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram is a staple of Italian cooking and flavors that complement the beef and ketchup in the meatloaf. 
  • Parmesan Cheese – Parmesan cheese is a quintessential Italian cheese, made from cow’s milk and aged for 12 months. Its salty, nutty, and umami flavors are a delicious accompaniment to the meat and vegetables in this meatloaf.
  • Onion  –  Onion, when minced raw, provides both flavor and moisture to a meatloaf. As the onion cooks in the meat, it puts off a liquid that both flavors the meat and keeps it juicy.
  • Garlic and Garlic Powder – Garlic in powder form is a lot less “hot” or “spicy” on the palette. It has a rich umami flavor that brings depth to the meat. The raw garlic brings a tangy bite to the sauce. 
  • Worcestershire Sauce – W sauce is the other key, traditional ingredient for this dish. The sauce is believed to be a British and Indian adaptation of fish sauce. It was originally developed in 1876 by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins in Worcestshire, England. They went on the form the Lea and Perrins company.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – All the rich ingredients in this dish need some heat and spice to balance out the richness. Crushed red pepper flakes bring a pleasant heat to the meatloaf.
  • Mozzarella Cheese – Mozzarella is a fresh cheese originating from southern Italian and was originally made from the milk of Italian buffalo. It is more commonly made from cow’s milk in America. 
  • Basil – Basil’s sweet and slightly anise flavor provides a lovely counterpoint to the rich and earthy flavors in the meatloaf.
  • Olive Oil – Olive oil is the oil of choice for Mediterranean foods, and it brings a mild and nutty flavor to the sauce.
  • Crushed Tomatoes – Crushed, tinned tomatoes are the easiest way to bring traditional Italian flavors to the sauce, without the work of seeding or skinning fresh tomatoes. 
  • Tomato Sauce – Canned tomato sauce provides the acidic and tangy backbone for the meatloaf sauce. 

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, we will use the following method: 

  • Prep – Prepare your sauce. In a saucepan, sauté your fresh, minced garlic for 1-2 minutes. Then add the olive oil, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce to the garlic and simmer for 5-8 minutes. 
  • Mix – Prepare your binder. In a large zip-top back, crush your crackers into fine dust. Combine the crushed crackers with the eggs and milk to create a paste. Set aside and let them stand for 5 minutes. Mix and shape your meatloaf. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients, except the mozzarella and basil. Add the cracker-egg–milk paste to the meat mixture and mix thoroughly with your hands.
  • Bake – Place your meatloaf in a loaf pan lined with parchment paper or heavily greased. Bake at 400oF for 45 minutes. Add the sauce to the top of the meatloaf and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165oF.
  • Cheese & Serve – Melt cheese and serve. Sprinkle grated mozzarella cheese on top of the meatloaf and place under the broiler for 5-10 minutes to melt and brown the cheese. Be careful not to burn the cheese. Remove from the oven and let the meatloaf rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting. Serve the slices with additional tomato sauce and a garnish of freshly chopped basil. 
meatloaf covered in cheese on a white plate

Tips and Tricks:

This Italian Meatloaf recipe is incredibly easy to make, here are a few tips and tricks to make it even easier. 

Thorough mixing is key. Thoroughly mixing the meat mixture is key. Its best to use your hands to do this. I recommend using food-safe gloves to keep your hands clean and prevent cross-contamination. I like these gloves

Use parchment paper in your pan. Using parchment paper inside the loaf pan guarantees your meatloaf will not stick to the sides of your pan. Additionally, if an inch or more of the parchment paper sticks up out of the pan, it will help your remove the meatloaf more easily from the pan once it’s cooked. You can take all the guesswork out of this by using these pre-cut parchment paper sheets

Slice instead of mince. Using a garlic press to mince your garlic is a very American activity. Traditional Italian cooking almost always slices the garlic, which makes the pieces bigger and easier to avoid for those concerned about their breath or potential indigestion.

Use pork rinds for a gluten-free swap. Want to make this recipe gluten-free, or lower your carb count? Swap the crackers for crushed pork rinds.

2 slices of meatloaf on a white plate with a fork

FAQ:

How long can I keep this meatloaf in my refrigerator?

You can keep your easy Italian meatloaf in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. If you don’t think you’ll finish it before the 5th day, go ahead and freeze it for up to six months. 

Can I make this dish keto?

Tomatoes have a high sugar content, and will make this dish hard to fit in a strict keto diet – but swapping the tomatoes and tomato sauce for a low-carb tomato sauce you love, and swapping the crackers for crushed pork rinds, will save you enough carbs to make this recipe keto-adjacent if you’re in a maintenance or relaxed eating plan with a few more carbs to spare.

Can I make this dish cheesier?

We love to add mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan right into the meatloaf as it bakes, so you get more cheese in every bite! You can add shredded cheese into the meatloaf itself, or layer slices into the middle of the meatloaf so when you cut into it, it oozes out.

slice of meatloaf on a white plate with a fork

What to serve with Easy Italian Meatloaf

This easy and delicious Italian meatloaf can be served traditionally with crusty, freshly baked bread, pasta, or homemade salad. I recommend all three!

My easy, no-knead bread is a great place to start for crusty bread. My family loves my traditional Greek village salad which is a great Mediterranean culinary neighbor to this meatloaf. 

You should try these great vegetable sides:

If you want a more American-style side, I recommend roast or mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese.

This meatloaf is also delicious as leftovers. I like to make meatloaf sandwiches with leftover slices, particularly if I have homemade bread left over to use

For more beef recipes click here

meatloaf covered in cheese and parsley on a white plate with a fork

Italian Meatloaf Recipe

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slices of marinara topped meatloaf with mozzarella cheese and basil on top on a white plate

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meatloaf slices baked in marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese with shredded basil and parmesan on a white plate
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Italian Meatloaf

Italian meatloaf is a delicious twist on the mid-century American classic. It’s a hearty dinner, or with leftovers that make amazing sandwiches.
Course Ground Beef
Cuisine Italian
Keyword best meatloaf recipe, easy meatloaf, ground beef recipes, italian meatloaf, meatloaf
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 8
Calories 634kcal
Author Courtney O’Dell

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 28- ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 15- ounce can of tomato sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • One full sleeve of saltine crackers use 1 1/2 cups crushed pork rinds for low carb
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 pound 80/2 ground beef
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup finely diced onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil to garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Start with the sauce by heating olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add your minced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper, and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside.
  • Place saltines in a large ziptop bag and crush with your hands or a rolling pin to fine dust.
  • Mix the crushed saltines, milk, and eggs in a large bowl into a paste and let sit for 4-5 minutes to combine.
  • In a large bowl, mix all remaining ingredients (except the mozzarella cheese and basil), together with the cracker past. Mix thoroughly.
  • Transfer mixture to loaf pan linked with parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes
  • Add sauce to the top of the meatloaf and cook for another 15 minutes 
  • When meat reaches an internal temperature of 165oF, sprinkle it with mozzarella cheese, and broil for 3-4 minutes until cheese is melted and browning. Allow meatloaf to rest for 10 -15 minutes. Slice meatloaf and serve with tomato sauce and a sprinkle of freshly chopped basil to garnish.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 634kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 57g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 18g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 204mg | Sodium: 1332mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 9g

About Courtney

Courtney loves to share great wine, good food, and loves to explore far flung places- all while masting an everyday elegant and easy style at lifestyle blog Sweet C’s Designs. Sweet C's devoted to finding the best food and drinks you'll want to make or find, around the world!

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