Meatloaf, shown here with mashed potatoes, squash and gravy, is a versatile dish that yield three or more meals. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

One great solid meatloaf can make three to four days of rather wonderful meals.

Summer neighbors Dave and Rita Hanslik got in touch right away responding to my query a couple weeks ago about your favorite leftovers strategies. Simply put, Dave wrote, “Meatloaf to spaghetti sauce to chili (add beans + chili powder + cumin) 3 easy meals!”

There. I asked if he had a favorite meatloaf recipe and he recited a simple burger, bread crumbs, egg, milk, onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper mix baked with ketchup on top, cooked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until done.

Of course, if you want to get into the weeds on this, meatloaf can be as plain as possible or incorporate all kinds of stuff like condensed mushroom or onion soup, chopped olives, various herbs, grated carrot, wheat germ, and ground nuts. And it can be seasoned with chili sauce, capers, garlic, horseradish, blue cheese, thyme, tarragon, parsley. Well, you name it.

One recipe I saw called for hard boiled eggs lined up inside the middle of the loaf so a slice sawed off would yield an eye-shaped slice of egg staring up at you.

Probably, though, for a loaf that will go on to become tomato sauce for spaghetti, then graduate to chili, the simpler the better.

The usual meat is ground beef, part of which can be ground pork or turkey. Instead of bread crumbs, you might use crushed saltine crackers. If fresh bread crumbs, use less liquid; if dry bread crumbs, enough liquid to moisten them. And you can substitute broth for the milk. You’ll need an egg for a pound and a half of meat, two eggs if you get up to two pounds. Nearly all meatloaf recipes call for onion, usually a small one, which can be incorporated raw or be sauteed lightly before it’s added.

After that, whatever you add will suit your taste. I made a loaf with a half-cup of freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, crushed dried basil and oregano, about a tablespoon total, and a sprinkle of dried garlic powder. I baked it at 365 degrees Fahrenheit in a mound topped with slices of smoky bacon. Yum.

In a couple days, break up the leftover loaf, add tomato sauce or even a jar of prepared pasta sauce. Consider adding oregano, or more chopped onion. Boil your spaghetti and serve a portion of sauce on it. Follow up later with the addition to the remaining sauce some kidney beans, chili powder and a dash or two of cumin to taste. Mmm.

Of course, because I adore meatloaf sandwiches, I would insert at least one lunch between the loaf and the pasta sauce. Or maybe a slice warmed in a pan with a bit of ketchup on it and some cheese on top, even if it meant never getting to chili.

Your Basic Meatloaf

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs or crushed crackers

1/3 to 1/2 cup milk or broth

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 small onion, finely chopped, sauteed or raw

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Ketchup, optional

Bacon slices, optional

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put all the ingredients into a wide bowl and mix together with your hands or a masher until everything is completely incorporated.

Put into a lightly oiled loaf pan, or form into a mound in a baking pan.

Spread the top with ketchup.

Bake for 75-90 minutes until the interior temperature on a meat thermometer is 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...