When my family and I made trips back to Italy to visit my grandfather’s family in Naples, his sisters often made one of these impressive timbales. It looked a bit plain on the outside, but when you cut into it, it was always filled with a delicious mixture, and as a kid I thought it was just so cool. I still do.–Giada De Laurentiis
WHAT IS A TIMBALE?
Sometimes you have to hear a word a couple times to understand the way it’s pronounced. Not just in terms of the individual letters, but the overall intonation. Or, you might just need to know what it means. From the word timpani, it means drum. Like big ole drum full of carbs, it’s nothing short of delicious. The dish curves towards the bottom, like its namesake. Timbales are also wrapped in something specific (pasta or vegetables), making it easier to turn out and present.
- 2 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise, 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound penne pasta
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1/2 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 pound Italian pork sausage
- 1/4 cup Marsala wine
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 2 cups marinara sauce, jarred or homemade
- 1 1/2 cups diced smoked mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 cup chopped basil leaves
- Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the eggplant slices with 1/3 cup olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant on both sides until tender and colored with grill marks, about 4 minutes per side. Set aside.
- While the eggplant cooks, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta.
- Meanwhile, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the ground beef and sausage to the pan and brown the meat, breaking it into bite-size pieces with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Pour off any excess fat. Add the Marsala and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the peas and marinara sauce, and stir to combine. Add the mozzarella, 3/4 cup pecorino, basil, and cooked pasta and season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a 9-inch springform pan with the grilled eggplant, making sure that the slices overlap and hang over the edge of the pan; reserve a few slices. Fill the pan with the pasta mixture, pressing gently to make sure the filling is evenly distributed. Fold the eggplant slices up over the top of the pasta and top with the reserved slices to completely enclose the timbale. Bake the timbale until the filling is warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 30 minutes. Let the timbale cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
- Invert the timbale onto a serving plate and carefully remove the pan. Sprinkle the timbale with the remaining 1/4 cup grated pecorino, slice, and serve.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
If you’re into eggplant like I am, you’ll love this dish. The cheeses, combined with the pasta, sausage, eggplant, and Marsala wine, taste rich and delicious. It’s really like eating eggplant Parmesan. It also makes a great presentation, especially when you cut a slice.
This dish is pure comfort food. Oozing with cheesy goodness and pleasant smokiness from the grilled eggplant, it’s a delicious dish that would work well for family dinners as well as company. Despite the cosmetic problems I had the first time I made it, I’d definitely make it again.
It’s hard for me to resist a good pasta dish like this especially when there’s grilled eggplant and smoked mozzarella involved. This recipe makes a very satisfying meal that will serve at least six. To make prep easier on the day you’re serving this dish, you can grill the eggplant slices and make the sauce the day before and hold them in the fridge. Also, be sure your eggplants are long so that the slices will overlap the edge of the springform pan.
This dish has a lot of “wow” factor to it and not only is it visually appealing but the flavors all come together perfectly with just the right balance of vegetables, pasta, meat, and cheese. Truly a one-pot meal that works as well as an everyday meal as it would for a special occasion.
After eating this dish, I wonder why, in all the years that I’ve been a recipe tester, I’ve ever deemed another recipe a perfect “10”. This eggplant dish is as magnificent to look at as it is to eat, or should I say that it is as magnificent to eat as it is to look at. We’ve gotten multiple dinners as well as lunches out of it, and I’m already trying to figure out when I can make this again because I want to continue to eat it. This is coming from someone who has recently returned from Italy and had wonderful eggplant dishes there that I have hoped to recreate here at home.
I did need to make some adjustments while making my timbale, but this is a very forgiving recipe and can be made in stages, which makes the process so much easier. I bought the largest eggplants I could find at my farmers’ market. They ended up not being large enough to adequately fill a 9-inch springform pan. I had to make my timbale in a 7 ½ -inch springform pan. I mixed all of the ingredients for the filling together and filled my timbale up to the top of my pan.
I then took the rest of my grilled eggplant slices and covered the timbale the way that it looked in the photo. I placed the pan on a baking sheet, which is a necessity because juices did overflow the pan and leak out onto the sheet pan. There was, of course, filling leftover that didn’t fit into the smaller timbale. That didn’t prove to be a problem. I bought an extra eggplant, and grilled the slices on my grill pan, just as I had the slices from my first 2 eggplants.
I assembled a smaller timbale in a well-seasoned cast-iron pan and cooked it in my toaster oven. It, too, was absolutely delicious. I’d originally thought that I would be freezing some of this dish because it made so very much. However, that wasn’t meant to be. Over the course of the week, we had 7 dinners, and 2 lunches from this recipe.
I can happily cross this one off my cooking bucket list! And I’ll happily make this timbale over again. Yes, there are a few steps to this recipe but they’re easy ones and the dish comes together quickly.
I wanted to serve the timbale as an appetizer so I prepared it in a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan to have square slices. It worked out beautifully. The sauce was rich and flavourful, the smoked cheese added another layer of flavour, and the eggplant added silkiness. I made sure to overlap the eggplant slices. We all held our breath when it was time to unmold the timbale. Voilà, it came out beautifully, with no breaks or leaks. Perfect!
To make a gluten-free portion for a guest, I used a small individual dish to layer eggplant, meat sauce, and roasted red pepper to replace the pasta.
Confession: I couldn’t get my gas grill to work so I used my “griddler”. It worked really well, both sides of the eggplant slices grilled at once, nicely flattened, and showing beautiful grill marks.