My Italian Style Meatloaf – Polpettone, is classic comfort food all the way. With Italian ingredients like pancetta, basil and Parmesan, this meatloaf tastes like the best giant meatball bathed in delicious marinara sauce!

Slices of meatloaf topped with tomato marinara sauce

This is an all beef meatloaf also made with added carrots, celery, onion and garlic. I have found that it is best to partially cook the vegetables before adding them to the raw meat and before baking. 

I have found they just don’t cook all the way in the meatloaf when it’s roasting in the oven. The vegetables tend to stay a little crunchy.

How to keep your meatloaf from drying out

Use a higher fat content of beef. At least 15% fat, because fat is also flavor. Another meatloaf tip – don’t overcook! Use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature has reached no less than 165°F/75°C. 

Getting the right moisture level in meatloaf is a balancing act. Too much liquid and it will fall apart, not enough and it will be dry, so keep this in mind.

A rectangle shaped meatloaf viewed from overhead garnished with fresh basil leaves

Marinara Sauce for Italian Meatloaf

In keeping with the Italian theme, I covered the top with homemade marinara sauce. Make sure you save extra for pouring over the sliced meatloaf. It’s just like Italian gravy!

Do they eat meatloaf in Italy?

Well, yes. It turns out they do eat meatloaf in Italy as their second course (their second course is the meat course). Polpettone literally translates to meatloaf.  

Meatloaf is very popular in my house at this time of year and another go-to is my pork, apple and sage meatloaf (pictured below).

Pork apple and sage meatloaf right out of the oven with fresh sage leaves

Bolognese sauce and cheese stuffed meatballs are also in regular rotation for dinners (can you tell my husband is Italian?) and these were all inspiration for this Italian style meatloaf.

Why add milk to meatloaf?

It helps tenderize the meat, better than any other liquid. It also hydrates the breadcrumbs adding more moisture to the meatloaf.

Best Pan For meatloaf

I like a high-sided casserole dish that is larger than the meatloaf. The air can circulate around it when baking and it also produces more crust. (Gotta have that crust!)

Sliced meatloaf on a serving board

Italian Meatloaf Serving suggestion

You could melt mozzarella over the top right before it is done baking. In my kitchen, I like this dish served simply with a side of vegetables and roasted potatoes.

If you’ve tried this Italian Style Meatloaf – Polpettone or any other recipe on the blog then don’t forget to rate the recipe and let me know how it turned out in the comments below. I love to hear from my readers!

Yield: 8 slices

Italian Style Meatloaf - Polpettone

Slices of meatloaf topped with tomato marinara sauce

With Italian flavors like pancetta, basil, Parmesan and lots of marinara sauce, this meatloaf tastes like the best giant meatball.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes


  • 1 slice of bread lightly toasted then ground into breadcrumbs in the food processor (to yield ⅔ cup of breadcrumbs)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta
  • 6 ounces onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces celery, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 ½ ounces Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups marina sauce, divided in half


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C.
  2. Lightly oil a large rectangle, high sided casserole dish. I use a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm).
  3. To a sauté pan add the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Cook until the vegetables soften and the pancetta slightly crisp. 
  4. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
  5. To a mixing bowl add the breadcrumbs and milk, and leave for until all the milk is soaked.
  6. Once the pancetta mix is cool, add the ground beef, bread and milk mix, Parmesan, oregano, basil, egg, salt and pepper and half of the marinara sauce. Mix until everything is well combined.
  7. Add to the casserole dish and mold into a meatloaf shape, about 10 x 5-inches  (25 x 13 cm).
  8. Top with the remaining marinara sauce.
  9. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a thermometer when inserted into the center reaches 165°F/75°C.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve with extra marinara sauce

Nutrition Information



Serving Size


Amount Per Serving Calories 165Total Fat 9gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 5gCholesterol 50mgSodium 611mgCarbohydrates 10gFiber 1gSugar 3gProtein 10g

This nutrition calculation is provided by Nutronix that is only a guideline and not intended for any particular diet.