Spending several weeks in Italy, this past summer, made me realize how much I love fruits and vegetables. Produce found in the local markets depends strictly upon what is seasonal so you know you are always getting the freshest selection. Eggplants or Aubergine, as they are called in Italy, are at peak season between May and September. This is similar to Arizona where it runs May through November.
This year our little backyard garden, produced an abundance of eggplant, almost more than we knew what to do with. After many hours perusing recipes online I decided to try my hand at a Timballo di Melanzane e Bucatini. I admit I was a bit skeptical at first on how this would turn out, but there was no need to worry. The timballo was delicious and made a wonderful presentation!
(adapted from Ciao Italia)
For the Sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Mold
3-4 large eggplants
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
For the Filling
1/2 pound bucatini, broken into thirds
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese
1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups cubed fresh mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, minced
olive oil, for frying meatballs and eggplant
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
Slice each one lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Layer and salt the slices in a colander set over a bowl. Place a heavy bowl or pot on top of the slices to act as a weight. Allow the slices to "sweat" for at least 1 hour to remove the excess water. Rinse and dry the slices.
Butter a 9 x 3 1/2-inch deep springform pan and coat the inside evenly with the 1/2 cup bread crumbs. Shake out the excess crumbs and refrigerate the pan until ready to fill.
To make the sauce:
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, carrot, and celery. Cook until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes, red wine, and bay leaf. Cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Remove the bay leaf before using.
Cook the pasta according to directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.
In a medium-size bowl, combine the ground meat, egg, wine, 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese, bread crumbs, and salt. Mix to combine the ingredients.
Form marble-sized meatballs with your hands. Heat some oil in a large sauté pan and fry the meatballs until browned on all sides. Transfer the meatballs to the bowl with the bucatini. Add the mozzarella, parsley, and 2 cups of the tomato sauce. Stir to combine the ingredients and set aside.
Rinse and pat dry the eggplant slices. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant slices a few at a time until they soften, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain the slices on paper towels. Add additional oil if the pan seems dry.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
Line the springform pan with the eggplant slices, draping them lengthwise and overlapping them up the sides of the pan. There should be about a 3-inch overhang over the top edges. Make sure there are no open spots in the base of the pan it should be completely lined with the slices. Fill in the bottom with smaller pieces if you need to.
Spoon the pasta mixture evenly in the pan, packing it down with a wooden spoon all the way around. Fold the overhanging slices of eggplant in over the top of the pan; the mixture should be completely encased by the eggplant.
Spread 1/2 cup of the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the mold and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle on the remaining cheese and bake an additional 10 minutes.
When the timballo shrinks a bit and a knife will easily move along the sides, remove it from the oven and let stand covered for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil from the timballo and run a butter knife around the inside edges to loosen it. Un-latch and remove the side. Place the timballo on a serving dish. Cut the timballo into wedges and serve with additional sauce on the side.
Caution: un-latching the timballo too soon will cause it to collapse.