This eggplant timbale, a classic Italian dish, is made with pasta, sausage, beef, peas, and smoked mozzarella encapsulated in an eggplant casing. It’s worth every minute of effort.
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.
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.
Originally published May 07, 2008