Is Valerie Bertinelli the mother of reinvention? Her life (and her fans) can be divided into several constituencies (many of which overlap): the “One Day at a Time” crowds, the I-Can’t-Believe-She-Married-Eddie-Van-Halen curiosity-seekers, the Jenny Craig true believers, the devotees of “Touched by an Angel” and, more recently, " Hot in Cleveland.”
She is also a mom (on Twitter she’s @Wolfiesmom) and a cook and no stranger to the kitchen. Both her cookbook, “One Dish at a Time,” and her new cooking show for Food Network, “Valerie’s Home Cooking,” draw from childhood memories of the kitchen and cooking for her family and friends.
A family favorite? “Wolfie’s Thursday night meatloaf,” named after her son Wolfgang with Van Halen, to whom she was married for more than 20 years.
“Thursday nights seemed to be the nights with the most homework,” Bertinelli said during a recent visit to the Times Test Kitchen. “I wanted to be in the kitchen with him while he did his homework.” Besides, “meatloaf is the perfect comfort food.”
Bertinelli was raised in a family of cooks — and strong women.
“My great-grandmother Maria was a chef at a summer home in Italy,” Bertinelli said. She also ran a gelato cart, saving money to come to the United States after her husband passed away. “She came in 1915, boarding a ship just a week after the Lusitania was sunk. That didn’t stop her.”
Bertinelli recalls her mother, aunts and grandmother gathering in the kitchen to cook for extended family, watching the women make dishes like gnocchi and cappelletti. “I’ve loved cooking since I was a little girl. This is totally natural for me.”
Today she continues to gather with friends and family to make many of the same dishes, savoring traditions — and passing them on. “Meatloaf can be seen as old-fashioned, but it brings back so many good memories,” she says.
Her meatloaf is turkey-based, but she likes to fold in chopped pancetta for added richness. She places the meat in a large bowl, adding grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, onion, garlic, ketchup, breadcrumbs and spices. Bertinelli also includes chopped fresh parsley, which lends bright color and flavor. Finally, she likes to add a touch of balsamic glaze or vin cotto to lend a little tang to counter the richness.
Bertinelli mixes the ingredients together by hand. “I like to feel my food. Eventually you’re going to have to get your hands in there, so you might as well do it now.” She smiles with a Barbara Cooper-worthy smile.
“There’s something about food,” Bertinelli says. “Serving it to the people you love, with the love you put into it. There’s nothing like it.”