A timballo is an Italian molded dish, typically of pasta or rice, with a filling of meat or vegetables. Although there are many versions of timballo Siciliano, it’s typically a pasta dish containing eggplant, similar to Greek moussaka. The name timballo (like the French timbale) derives from an ancient percussion instrument, the drum or tympanum, so by analogy, a cylindrical mold. It probably began with Middle Eastern or Mediterranean meat-filled pies. Arabic influences pervade Sicilian cuisine. It’s really hearty and makes for a great comfort food, It’s also something of a unique dish if you’re looking for something different than your more traditional Italian dinners.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 green onions, diced
1 carrot diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
Dried basil to taste
3/4 cup red wine
6 ounces tomato paste
3/4 cup pureed tomatoes flavored with basil
1 pound lean ground beef and pork (beef, pork is optional to make this vegetarian) mixture
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk, warmed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 baby eggplants, cut in 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound O-ring pasta
3 cups tomato sauce flavored with basil
1 10-ounce package frozen petite peas, sauteed
2 bunches green onions, chopped
1/2 pound fresh pecorino, cut in small cubes
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Pepper to taste
Make the ragu: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat and saute the onions, carrot, celery and dried basil until fragrant. Add the pork and beef mixture and saute until browned. Add the red wine, tomato paste and pureed tomato. Stir and blend. Season with salt and pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and summer for about 1 hour.
Make the bechamel sauce: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns a sandy color, 6 to 7 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm milk and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Prepare the timballo: Salt the baby eggplant slices and let stand 1/2 hour. Rinse and pat very dry. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the eggplant on both sides until soft. Drain on paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread butter in a 12-inch diameter casserole and dust with breadcrumbs. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for 2 minutes and drain.
Toss the pasta with the tomato sauce and grated parmesan, pour half into the casserole, and layer the fried eggplant across the top. Combine the bechamel and the ragu sauce; pour over the top. Mix the sauteed peas with the green onions, layer on top and then add the pecorino.
Complete with the remainder of the pasta, dust with the grated parmesan and about 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs and dot with butter. Bake for 1/2 hour. Let stand 10 minutes to firm up, unmold onto a platter and serve. 4 servings.