Ok, let's get to making a timballo...
Bring large pot of water to boil, then cook 1 pound pasta of your choice until al dente (I think I used penne rigati on this one).
Then slice 3 small eggplants (not too big or they’ll be seedy) vertically into ¼ inch thick slices. The eggplants I used weren’t that big so I didn’t salt them beforehand—(smaller eggplants are not that bitter and contain less moisture). If you like, you can remove the skin beforehand (I’m not a big fan of eggplant skin, but I did leave it on this time. Lisa likes it.) sauté the eggplant in olive oil until lightly colored on both sides and cooked through.
Use a cake mold or shallow bowl to mold your timballo. I used a decorative cake mold. Coat the inside of the mold with light olive oil then coat with breadcrumbs.
You can use any type of sauce, jar or home made for this—I used my own sauce (recipe to come). I also sautéed about a pound and a third of ground beef with finely diced onions and spices (oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, salt, garlic powder--perhaps a teaspoon of each... and about 30 cracks from a pepper mill) until brown. When done, drain the meat on paper towels.
Drain your pasta, and combine pasta, sauce (about 1-1/2 – 2 cups) and meat mixture into a large bowl. Mix in some grated mozzarella cheese—one small packaged mozzarella (I prefer this rather than fresh for casseroles because they have less moisture content).
Next, lay the eggplant slices in a sort of flower petal design from the bottom/center of the mold up and over the top edge. Eggplant should cover the entire inner surface of the mold with a little bit hanging over the edge. Next, pour the pasta/meat mixture into the mold. It’s OK if the pasta mounds up in the middle higher than the edge of the mold--you'll be compressing it when done. Fold over the eggplant all around the perimeter of the mold. Then cover with two layers of aluminum foil and lay a plate or platter that covers the inside dimension of your mold and put a heavy weight on top. The weight will compress all the pasta down into the mold. Place this in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the timballo from the refrigerator and allow it to warm a bit before baking… ½ hour should be enough to preheat the oven and warm up the timballo before baking. Next, place the timballo in the center of your oven, covered with foil with the shiny side facing inwards. Put a large pan on the rack underneath in case your timballo bubbles over. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove the timballo from the oven and let it cool for at least 15 minutes before un-molding it. Hold a large plate or serving platter on top of the mold and hold your other hand on the bottom (really the top of the mold) and invert it quickly so the open part of the mold is sitting on your plate. Let it sit a minute or two, then gently start lifting your mold off the timballo. It should lift off easily. (Compressing the mold helped the mold firm up tightly). Then serve by slicing cake-like wedges from it as you would cut up a cake. Spoon some sauce over the top of each slice or on the plate below and some grated cheese on top completes the dish.
Serve with some garlic bread or a bruschetta with diced peppers and tomatoes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle of oregano. A simple salad can work well too. This is a very filling meal so invite friends!
Other variations I've seen replace the eggplant with pizza dough or prosciutto.
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