This Sicilian specialty, called Pasta ‘Incaciata, is a lovely baked pasta dish made with layered eggplant and stuffed with pasta, peas, ground veal, tomatoes and cheese. The Italian word timballo comes from an Arabic word meaning ‘drum’ — the dish is cooked in a round drum-like vessel, which, in this case, is a springform pan. Basically it’s an eggplant and cheese “cake” that is a delicious one-pot dish perfect for a chilly winter day.
Pasta ‘Incaciata (Eggplant and Cheese Timbale) Recipe
3 medium eggplant
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoon fresh basil leaves
1/4 pound of ground veal
2 cups canned San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas
4 chicken livers (optional, for extra flavor)
2 tablespoon sweet Marsala wine
1 pound penne pasta
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, diced and drained
1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Lightly oil a sheet pan with olive oil. Brush the slices with oil, season with salt and place them on the pan and bake until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Cool and set aside.
In a medium sauté pan, add the 2 tablespoons of oil and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and basil and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the veal, turn the heat on high and cook until the veal has lost its pink color, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season with the salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium and cook to concentrate the flavors, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 more tbsp of oil over high heat in a small skillet. Add the livers and saute until brown on the outside but still pink within, about 2 minutes. Add the Marsala wine, allow to cook off, cool and chop the livers. Stir in the peas and set aside to keep warm.
Oil a 10-inch springform cake pan liberally with the olive oil. Cook the penne in salted boiling water according to the package instructions. Drain and place in a mixing bowl. Add the veal sauce, livers, mozzarella and 1 cup of the Romano cheese and mix well.
Line the sides and bottom or the springform pan with the eggplant slices, reserving a few for the top. Spoon the pasta into the pan, pour the mixture over the pasta and cover with the remaining eggplant. Form with your hands to make a firm “cake”.
Bake the timballo on a sheet pan until the cheeses are melted, 35-40 minutes. Cool 45 minutes and invert onto a serving plate leaving the pan in place for 10 minutes. Unmold, sprinkle with the remaining Romano cheese, slice and serve.
To reheat, replace the clean springform pan over the top of the dish and warm in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Recipe from the Institute of Culinary Education, Techniques of Italian Cooking
—Kristen Hess, author of theartfulgourmet.com