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Timballo Time: A Decadent Dish for the Easter Feaster

Posted by Man Crates on

Welp, Easter is almost upon us. It signifies the end of Lent, a 40-day period of reflection, penance and some serious denying oneself of one’s favorite things, including food. So everyone is hungry. Now, some may be happy to just gorge themselves on chocolate bunnies, Peeps, Cadbury Eggs or a pineapple-coated ham. Professional-grade eaters, however, need something a little more substantial. Indeed, when transitioning from fasting to feasting, it is wise to go big. It is wise to go Italian. It is wise to go with a timballo, the largest, fullest, most layered, delicious drum-shaped Italian feast you’ll ever have. Don’t celebrate Easter? No problem. This dish is good for any celebratory occasion, real or imagined—think of it as a gift to the stomach. Here we share the recipe for this stupendous, show-stopper of a meal that will make you forget you were ever hungry. Ever.

What the heck is this thing?
Timballo is an Italian baked pasta dish shaped like a giant, round drum, that’s filled with practically everything—pasta, cheese, sauce, meatballs, sausage, eggs and then some. It’s delicious and a meal of massive proportions that will not let anyone down. Anyone familiar with the film Big Night has seen the magic of the timballo (referred to as timpano), as introduced by Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci. This is a dish to be reckoned with, neither quick nor necessarily simple to prepare. But the result—a mouthwatering mound of (Mmm)Italian magic—is worth the effort. Should you choose to accept this mission, be prepared for a full day (or days) of serious food work. You might need to start off with a meditation. You’ll definitely need to have drinks at the ready. No matter what, though, this culinary adventure is a beautiful way to celebrate the holiday (or any special day) and will make you feel like a professional Italian nonna.

Gluttony, thy name is timballo

Once you’ve emotionally prepared yourself for making a timballo, you’re going to need some stuff. Well, lots of stuff. And away we go.

What to use

For the exterior

1 lb. fresh pasta sheets (usually sold for lasagna)

For the sauce

  • 2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbps. chopped oregano
  • 2 small onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • Two leaves fresh basil, chopped
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the filling

  • 4 oz. salami or prosciutto, cut into ½ in. dice
  • 4 cups grated aged provolone cheese
  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and sliced lengthwise
  • 14-ish meatballs
    • ½ cup fresh parsley fine chopped
    • 1 lb. ground beef
    • ½ lb. ground veal
    • ½ lb. ground pork
    • ¼ cup bread crumbs
    • ½ cup grated Parmesan
    • 2 tsp. salt
    • ½ tsp. Pepper
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • Olive oil
  • 2 lbs. ziti or rigatoni, cooked very al dente (about half the time recommended on the package) and drained. If you’re feeling adventurous, throw a mini pasta-making party. It is the Italian way, after all.
  • 10 oz. buffalo mozzarella torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

How to use it

Prepare the meatballs

Place ground meats, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, egg, and ¾ cup warm water in a bowl and combine lightly with fork. Using hands, form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. Makes about 14 balls. Pour oil into a large skillet to a depth of ¼ in. and heat oil. In batches, carefully place the meatballs into the oil and brown well on all sides (about 10 mins. for each batch) over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. Don't crowd the meatballs. They get claustrophobic. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Add to sauce for last 35-40 mins. of cooking.

Prepare the sauce

Warm olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Stir onions and garlic into pot, reduce heat to low and cook about 5 mins., until onions begin to soften. Add wine and scrape all brown bits in pan and cook for about 3 mins. Add tomato paste (pour ½ cup warm water into paste can to loosen residual bits and empty into pot). Cook 2 mins. to warm paste, then add tomatoes along with additional ½ cup of warm water. Stir in basil and oregano. Add meatballs to sauce, cover and simmer about 30 mins., stirring frequently, until meatballs are cooked. Add warm water to sauce in ½ cup portions if sauce becomes too thick.

Prepare to make the timballo

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prep your timballo vessel—grease the inside of 5 qt. Dutch oven with butter and olive oil. Brush any clinging flour from the pasta/lasagna sheets, if necessary. Use pasta sheets to cover the bottom and up the sides of the pot, patching as needed to make sure there are no gaps. Leave any overhanging dough draped over the sides to help cover the filling.
  2. Start filling your timballo by layering
    • Begin with a layer of pasta
    • Then add a layer of eggs
    • Add a layer of sauce and meatballs
    • Then another layer of pasta
    • Add a layer of mozzarella
    • Another meatball/sauce layer
    • Next is a layer of grated aged provolone
    • Another egg layer
    • Layer of prosciutto or salami
    • Then mozzarella
    • Then the remainder of the pasta—you did it!
  3. Press all layers down
  4. Add some more grated provolone to seal
  5. Fold pasta dough over to seal completely (make sure there are no leaky spots)
  6. Fold pasta dough over filling to seal completely. Make sure timballo is tightly sealed—if you see any openings, cut a piece of extra dough to fit over and use small amount of water to moisten to ensure there is a tight seal.
  7. Brush top of the entire timballo with water to make sure it’s tightly sealed. Cover with its cover or foil and bake until lightly browned, about 1.5-2 hr. until it is cooked through and dough is golden-brown (internal temperature of 120 degrees). Remove from oven and allow to rest for 30 or more mins. to cool before removing from pan (the baked timballo should not stick to the pan—you can test by gently moving pan side to side. If any part seems attached, carefully detach with knife).
  8. To remove timballo from pan, place a cutting board that covers the entire diameter on the pan on top, invert the entire vessel and then gently lift the vessel. Ideally, you should let the timballo rest for about ½ hour, but you can also cut into it if you and your guests can hold yourselves together and wait.
  9. Slice timballo as you would a pie, making sure all cuts go all the way through.
  10. To serve, put some sauce on a plate, then put timballo slice on that, then add some sauce on top or grated nutmeg.

While this recipe has absolutely nothing to do with Easter (in fact, it is typically made for Christmas or the New Year), the gluttonous wonder that is timballo is just the type of meal to make when celebrating something or looking to bring people together. Or just when you’re really hungry. So where did this meal come from, you ask?

Dazzle guests with these fun timballo facts

Although an Italian dish, the word timballo likely comes from the French word for drum, timbale (timpano means eardrum, so it’s all about the drum). Like many Italian dishes, variations exist from region to region, and this one has also been referred to as tortino, bomba, sartu or pasticcio (more commonly a pastry dish). Other names include timpani and timbale, and the dish is similar to a casserole and sometimes referred to in English as a pie or savory cake.

Timballo dates back to the Romans, and is probably precursor to lasagna. As such, basically anything you’ve considered adding to lasagna could work for timballo, including veggies, but why would you do that? If you Google “fun facts about timballo,” the first thing that comes up is “fun facts about groundhogs” from the CBC. Why? Who knows.

In the movie The Godfather, no one ate a timballo, but Francis Ford Coppola did hold family dinners to help everyone get into character. He had the main cast sit down in character—breaking character would result in a horse’s head in the bed (not a proven fact)—for a family meal. Just think how things could’ve ended better for Paulie if he’d just offered everyone a timballo.

Tutti a tavola a mangiare

The most important thing about a timballo, aside from the fact that it tastes delizioso, is that it is a great excuse to bring all your pals together. So yes, get everyone to the table to marvel over this mountainous meal and eat, drink and be merry. Saluti.