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Recipes / Oat-y Meatloaf (or Meatballs)

Oat-y Meatloaf (or Meatballs)

By Kerri Conan

Published January 23, 2024

Say goodbye to crumbly and dry. Oats soaked in warm milk hold everything together and deliver incredible richness.

Photo: Kerri Conan
Photo: Kerri Conan
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There are as many ways to make meatloaf and meatballs as there are cooks. Milk-soaked or dry breadcrumbs are the most common addition for binding, but oats have a following, too, particularly in the Midwest. Since quick-cooking oats require no further grinding, this recipe is a breeze. For regular, protein, or thick-cut oats, just use a food processor or blender to pulse them into bits before starting. Whether you go meatloaf or balls, they freeze great; so we suggest making the whole batch. The ingredients are easy enough to halve, though, and if you go that route, keep the quantities for the sauce at full volume. You’ll definitely find ways to make the most out of any extras.

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Oat-y Meatloaf (or Meatballs)

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Makes 6 to 8 servings (1 large or 2 small meatloaves or about 32 meatballs) 1x

Time about an hour

Units Scale

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup milk (preferably whole)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic plus 3 or 4 peeled cloves
  • 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Quick Cooking Rolled Oats
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano or Italian seasoning blend
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 2 large (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound ground beef (or other ground meat)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
  • Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Put the milk and 2 teaspoons garlic in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until it’s steaming and starting to form tiny bubbles, 3 to 5 minutes. (Or use a large microwave-safe bowl with a lid to warm the milk and garlic.)
  2. Remove the milk from the heat. Add the oats and the oregano or Italian seasoning; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir until the oats are coated, press them into the milk with the back of the spoon, and cover. Let the oats steep while you start the sauce.
  3. Chop the onion and the garlic cloves. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it shimmers add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables soften and just begin to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaves and bring to a boil; adjust the heat so the sauce bubbles gently but steadily. Stir a couple times, then cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meatloaf (or meatballs) is ready to serve, 25 to 40 minutes, depending on what you’re making.
  4. While the sauce simmers, make the meatloaf (or balls). By now the oats should have absorbed all (or most) of the milk. Beat the egg into the mixture with a fork. Add the ground meat and gently combine with your hands or a large rubber spatula. You want the oats to be fairly evenly distributed without too much handling or squishing. To adjust the seasonings, cook a pinch of the mixture in the microwave or a small pan and add more salt, pepper, or dried herbs if you’d like.
  5. For meatloaf, transfer the meat-and-oat mixture to the center of the prepared baking pan. Shape it into one or two ovals of any size, patting and pressing gently to make them as uniformly thick and wide as possible. Thicker loaves will take longer to bake than thick ones and that’s fine; you just want them to cook evenly throughout. (For meatballs, use two spoons or a small ice cream scooper to scoop and drop clumps of the mixture onto the baking sheet. You want them to be about the same size but anywhere between 1 to 2 inches across is fine.) Gently shaping the meatloaf (or meatballs with spoons) will help avoid overworking so you end up with the tenderest results.
  6. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the meatloaf (or loaves, or meatballs) are fully cooked to the center, 30 to 40 minutes for 3-inch-thick loaves (or 25 to 30 minutes for 1 1/2-inch meatballs. You can turn the meatballs once if you like but you don’t need to. And if you want to transfer the meatballs to the sauce when they’re done baking, that’s always an option to keep them warm for serving. Just be careful not to cook too long or stir them too much that they break apart.)
  7. When the meatloaf (or loaves, or meatballs) are ready, lower the oven to 200°F to keep them warm while you get the rest of the meal finished. (They’ll be fine for 20 minutes or so.) Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning then serve, passing cheese at the table if you’d like.

— Recipe developed by The Bittman Project for Bob’s Red Mill