Timballo di Melanzane


 A timballo is a famous baked Italian pasta dish which takes its name from the Italian word for a large kettle drum.  It is a dish that is found throughout Italy but is most prevalent in the southern half of the country.  Each of the four provinces in the Abruzzo Region of Italy has a recipe for this dish that they consider the real timballo…  talk about culinary pride!  Most recipes call for a dish resembling lasagna, consisting of many layers or fillings, typically between ten and twenty.  A variety of meats, sauces and pastas are used, even risotto on occasion.  A timballo is prepared in a dome-shaped or springform pan, bound together with eggs or cheese, and is sometimes known as a bomba, tortino, sartu or pasticcio, a dish baked in a pastry crust, depending upon the region from which it comes.

Dayton’s Timballo di Melanzane, or eggplant timballo, is a wonderfully rich marriage of tubular ziti pasta to give both structure and a sense of lightness, ground veal and Italian sausage… all brought together in a bechamel enhanced with a lively pasta sauce and garlicky pesto.   It is generously layered with Mozzarella fresca, fontina and Parmigiano Reggiano… and beautifully encased in golden eggplant for a showstopping presentation that will invoke rounds of praise from your holiday dinner guests!


Timballo di Melanzane

  • 1 1/2 C chicken stock (preferably low sodium)
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushrooms

In a medium saucepan bring the stock to a boil.  Turn off the heat and add the porcini mushrooms.  Rehydrate for 30 – 40 minutes. 

Transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board with a slotted spoon and finely chop.  Discard any sediment from the mushrooms that may be remaining in the pan.  Return the chopped mushrooms to the pan.

Using a slicer for uniform thickness, slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices:

  • 2 medium firm eggplant

 Arrange the sliced eggplant in a single layer on sheetpans, lightly salt them and set aside.  In a heavy 12-inch skillet or sauteuse add and heat over moderate heat:

  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil

When the oil is shimmering add:

  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

Saute slowly.  When the onion is translucent and beginning to brown transfer to a medium bowl on the side. To the sauteuse add:

  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil

Follow the oil with:

  • 1/2 lb mild Italian sausage
  • 1/2 lb ground veal

As the meat is browning break it apart (a potato masher works well for this task):

To the meat microplane:

  • 4 large whole garlic cloves, peeled

Stir to combine and continue to saute for an additional 2 – 3 minutes.  Transfer the browned meat to the bowl with the onions.  To the pan add:

  • 3 T butter

When butter is melted add:

  • 3 T flour

Whisk to incorporate:


  • 3  C milk, warmed

Whisk the bechamel continuously until beginning to thicken and add:

  • pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg

Continue to whisk:


Add and whisk:

  • 1 C prepared pasta sauce of choice

When incorporated add:

  • the reserved chopped porcini mushrooms and syrup

Stir to incorporate then add:

  • the reserved onions and browned meat

Season with:

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.  Meanwhile, in a large flat dish whisk together:

  • 6 large eggs

Measure into a sheetpan for dredging:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 C all-purpose flour

Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towels.  Dip each slice into the egg, coating thoroughly:

Transfer the slices to the flour and dredge, coating them well:

Transfer the floured slices to a large sheetpan:

Heat a griddle or large skillet over moderate heat and add:

  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil

If necessary use a brush to distribute the olive oil across the surface of the griddle.  When heated add as many slices of eggplant as will fit comfortably on the heated surface.  Turn each slice with a pair of tongs several times in order for it to cook and brown evenly.  Add additional extra virgin olive oil as necessary.  It takes approximately 7 minutes of griddle time for each slice to properly brown and cook:

Chef’s Note: To test the doneness of each eggplant slice squeeze the sides with the tongs.  A thoroughly cooked slice will be springy and pliable:

Transfer the slices to a sheetpan lined with paper towels:

Generously butter a 10-inch 8 cup mold or tube pan with:

  • 1 T unsalted butter (use it all!)

Chef’s Note:  It is most important to butter the mold well as this will allow the timballo to easily fall from the pan onto the serving plate when it has baked.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and begin heating the water for the pasta.  When the water is boiling, salt it, return to a boil and add:

  • 8 oz ziti

Chef’s Note:  the recommended cooking time for ziti is 11 minutes.  We, however, cooked it for 10, realizing that it would finish while in the oven.

While the pasta is cooking, to the cooled sauce add:

  • 1/2 C pesto

Stir well to combine:

Transfer 3 1/2 C of the sauce to a large bowl.  When the pasta has cooked, drain and add it to the sauce.  Continue mixing and add:

  • 1/2 C Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

Line the mold with slightly overlapping slices of eggplant which are now very pliable.  Assure that there is enough eggplant extending above the rim of the mold to permit its being folded over once the remaining ingredients have been introduced to the pan.  Wrap the tube with a couple of slices as well so that it is completely encased:

Sprinkle over the bottom of the lined mold:

  • 1/2 C fontina, grated

Add approximately 1/2 of the meat, pasta and sauce mixture to the mold, smoothing the top with a spatula:

Layer, overlapping if necessary:

  • 6 – 8 oz Mozzarella fresca, sliced

Place additional sliced eggplant halves vertically around the tube to gain additional height for folding (we used 3 ):

Fill the mold with the remaining meat, pasta and sauce mixture.   Fold the eggplant over to enclose the filling, using additional half slices to cover the top:

Press the top with your fingers to seal:

Brush generously with extra virgin olive oil to prevent drying and curling during baking.  Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated 400 degree oven.  Allow to rest for 15 – 20 minutes before unmolding.  While the timballo is resting, reheat the remaining sauce to serve on the side.  Invert the serving plate over the mold and flip them over.  The timballo will easily drop onto the plate for service.

This is a spectacular tasting dish with great eye appeal that generously serves 8 guests… Bon Appetit!

Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved


Categories: Casseroles, Pasta

Author:Steve Meyer & Dayton Azevedo

Food and fine cooking have been our passion for many years, fueled by the year-around abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats, as well as aromatic spices and herbs readily available to us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, making adventuresome, creative and delicious 5-star cooking a reality in our kitchen. Our aim is to make it yours as well by utilizing our step by step instructions and serial photographs. Bon Appetit from our kitchen to yours...!


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