Prep 45 mins
Cook 1 hr 45 mins
Making a timballo, or timpano, is an event. It becomes the moment in which ordinary ingredients like macaroni, cheese, and vegetables are transformed into an extraordinary, impressive drum of baked pasta that, when unmolded, receives a standing ovation. The region of Campania claims the timballo as its own and the recipe that follows comes from Sorrento. It calls for bucatini, a thicker cut of hollow spaghetti, which neatly nestles and holds the ingredients together. It is customary in Campania to use buffalo milk mozzarella, a cheese with a delicate texture and superb taste, but it is very perishable and not readily available. Fresh cow's milk mozzarella can be used instead. Assembling the timballo is easy when done in stages. Make the sauce several days ahead; cube the cheese and cook the marble-size meatballs 2 days ahead. Patience is the key to the unmolding; you will get much neater wedges by allowing the timballo to cool for about 20 minutes - and the joy of tasting that first forkful will be worthy of the best drumroll.
- 3 large eggplants (each at least 11 inches long)
- 1⁄2 cup toasted breadcrumb
FOR THE SAUCE
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 5 cups chopped chopped fresh plum tomatoes (drained, about 10 medium size) or 5 cups canned plum tomatoes (drained, about 10 medium size)
- 1⁄4 cup dry red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- fresh ground black pepper
FOR THE FILLING
- 2 cups bucatini pasta, broken into thirds
- 1 lb ground veal
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino cheese
- 1⁄2 cup toasted breadcrumb
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1⁄2 cups cubed fresh mozzarella cheese (fior di latte)
- 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1⁄2 cup peanut oil (for frying)
- 1⁄4 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
- Cut off the stems of the eggplants and discard. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
- Salt and layer the eggplant slices in a colander set over a bowl.
- Place a large bowl of water on top of the slices to act as a weight. Let the eggplant "sweat" for at least 1 hour to remove the excess water.
- Butter a 9 x 3 1/2-inch-deep round mold or cake pan and coat the inside evenly with the 1/2 cup bread crumbs.
- Shake out the excess crumbs and refrigerate the mold until ready to fill.
- To make the sauce:
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and cook, stirring, the onions, carrot, and celery until they soften.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic softens.
- Stir in the tomatoes, red wine, and bay leaf.
- Cover the pan and simmer the sauce for 30 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Remove the bay leaf before using.
- Cook the bucatini according to the directions.
- Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a medium-size bowl, combine the veal, egg, white wine, the 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino, bread crumbs, and salt. Mix gently to just combine the ingredients. Form marble-sized meatballs with your hands.
- Note: Instead of frying the meatballs, bake Bake the meatball on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 350ºF until nicely browned, about 20 minutes.
- Transfer the meatballs to the bowl with the bucatini. Add the mozzarella, parsley, and 2 cups of the tomato sauce. Stir to combine the ingredients well and set aside.
- Rinse and dry the eggplant slices.
- Heat the peanut oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant slices a few at a time until they soften, about 2 minutes on each side.
- Drain the slices on brown paper.
- Use additional oil if the pan seems dry.
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
- Line the prepared mold with the eggplant slices, draping them lengthwise over the bottom and overlapping them up the sides of the mold. There should be about a 3-inch overhang over the top edges of the mold. Make sure there are no open spots and that the mold is completely lined with the slices.
- Spoon the bucatini mixture evenly in the mold, packing it down with a wooden spoon all the way around.
- Fold the overhanging slices of eggplant in over the top of the mold; the mixture should be completely encased by the eggplant.
- Spread 1/2 cup of the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the mold and sprinkle with the 1/4 cup Pecorino.
- Bake the timballo, uncovered, for 45 minutes. It is done when the timballo shrinks a bit along the sides and a knife will easily move along the sides.
- Remove the mold from the oven and loosely cover the top with a sheet of aluminum foil. Let the mold stand for 20 minutes.
- Heat the remaining tomato sauce. Remove the foil from the timballo and run a butter knife around the inside edges to loosen it. Place a serving dish larger than the mold over the top and carefully invert it onto the dish.
- Cut the timballo into wedges and serve with additional sauce on the side.
- Tip: Use fresh mozzarella cheese, but if it is not available, substitute pasteurized.