Timbale (Eggplant-encased Spaghetti Pie)

 
Timbale (Eggplant-encased Spaghetti Pie) (image T. Freuman)

Timbale (Eggplant-encased Spaghetti Pie) (image T. Freuman)

Late summer to early fall is high season for eggplant, and if you’ve hit a farmer’s market during that time, no doubt you’ve noticed the abundant and regal assortment of jewel-toned eggplants on offer.

I like a ratatouille as much as the next girl, but somehow my mind always goes blank when faced with gorgeous piles of deep purple eggplants, and I wind up passing it over in favor of more familiar summer produce.  But since my husband took a week-long Italian cooking class and brought home this show-stopping recipe for Timbale– a highly-impressive pasta “cake” wrapped in sliced baked eggplant–we’ve been seeking out the biggest, most beautiful eggplants summer has to offer with a very specific plan in mind.

Throw the Kitchen Sink in your Timable

Timbale, named for its drum-like appearance, scratches the same flavor itch as, say, eggplant parmesan, without all of the breadcrumbs and extra oil.  It’s always stuffed with pasta (gluten-free works perfectly well), sauce and cheese, but beyond that, the variations are endless. You can keep your Timable vegetarian, embellishing your filling with anything from a modest bit of frozen peas and fresh basil to a pile of cooked spinach and thinly-sliced zucchini, or you can add your favorite variety of ground meat (ground turkey would be the healthiest option here) if that tickles your fancy.  So long as you:

  • use a springform pan
  • make sure to include the pasta, sauce and cheese to help glue the insides together
  • allow adequate time for the Timbale “rest” after coming out of the oven to enable the insides to firm up…

…your Timable will be excellent.

Admittedly, Timbale is not an everyday dish given the labor and time that goes into it.  But if you’ve got extra hands in the kitchen over Labor Day weekend, its a fun group project, and the results are pretty impressive.

Eggplant Timbale

Serves 10-12 as a side dish

Note: the recipe below is offered as a baseline only.  As discussed above, feel free to swap vegetable and/or meat ingredients in and out to your liking, so long as you keep the pasta, sauce and cheese in there.  Prep is not difficult, but it is multi-step, so be sure to allow adequate time both to prepare the ingredients, to bake the Timbale, and to allow it ample opportunity to cool after baking.  It is worth the wait, and your family, Facebook friends and Instagram followers will be very impressed with the outcome.

Ingredients:

  • One 10″ springform pan
  • Cornmeal (for dusting pan)
  • 3 medium-sized eggplants (about 1.5 lbs)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 TBSPs extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on eggplant and oiling
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 cup fresh basil leaves
  • OPTIONAL: 1/4 lb ground turkey (note: can substitute with vegetarian fillings, such as diced mushrooms, chopped spinach or julienned zucchini, and play around with quantities to your preferences)
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (can use fresh tomatoes in season and puree them in lieu of canned)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 TBSPs sweet Marsala wine
  • 1 lb penne or similarly-shaped pasta (e.g., fusilli, rotini or spirals), cooked and well-drained.  You can absolutely use whole wheat pasta.  For gluten free, use gluten-free brown rice pasta.
  • 1 lb part-skim mozzarella, diced and dried on paper towels if necessary
  • 1.5 cups grated Romano cheese
  • Optional: additional marinara sauce to serve

Directions:

  1. First, slice 3 thin (1/4″ thick) rounds each off the fat end of two of the eggplants for a total of about 6 rounds.  Then slice remaining eggplants lengthwise into 1/4″ slices.  Sprinkle with salt, place in colander, and let moisture drain for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. Rinse eggplant slices and pat dry.  Lightly oil a sheet pan (or a few, as needed) with some olive oil, and place eggplant slices on it.  Brush the eggplant slices(side facing up only) with olive oil as well and bake until lightly brown (pictured below), about 10-15 minutes.  Cool.
  4. Next, you’ll make your sauce.  If using ground meat and/or alternative vegetables (mushrooms, spinach or zucchini), heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and basil and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the meat and/or the vegetables, increase heat, and cook until the meat has lost its pink color (about 10 minutes) and/or the veggies are soft and well-cooked and excess water has been cooked off.   Add the crushed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce heat to medium and cook to allow flavors to blend, about 15 minutes.  Add the marsala wine and the peas, cook one minute more just to blend, and remove sauce from heat.
  5. In a large bowl, combine your drained pasta with the sauce, the diced  mozzarella and 1 cup of the grated romano cheese.  Set aside.
  6. Now, to prepare the pan.  Oil a 10″ springform pan with olive oil and dust with cornmeal as pictured below.
  7. Then, line your cornmeal-dusted springform pan with overlapping slices of the baked eggplant as shown in the pictures, allowing the eggplant to drape over the sides of the pan.  (You will use these draping flaps later to seal up the Timbale).  Cover any gaps in the center of the pan with all or part of eggplant slices to ensure the pan is fully lined.
  8. Now, spoon the pasta mixture into the springform pan.  The mixture should fill it all the way to just beyond the top and form a bit of a mound.
  9. Next, fold the draping eggplant flaps over to cover the mound of pasta.
  10. Now, top the Timbale with a few slices of the baked eggplant rounds to seal it completely.  Using your hands, gently compress the Timbale to make sure its nice and packed in there firmly.
  11. Then, sprinkle the top with some remaining grated Romano cheese and put the whole thing in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the cheeses are melted.
  12. Remove from oven and let sit to cool IN THE SPRINGFORM PAN for 45 minutes to an hour.
  13. Once Timbale has cooled, place pan on a serving plate/platter and unmold from the Springform pan. Voila!  Are your guests impressed yet?
  14. If you wish to re-heat before serving (optional; the dish tastes great at room temperature), gently replace the springform mold over the top of the dish and warm in oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.  To serve, slice the Timbale like a cake and serve in wedges with extra marinara sauce on the side.