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
For the filling
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
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.