Late Summer Harvest: Timballini di Melanzane

Timballini di melanzane

Timballini di melanzane

As the heat of summer gives way to the cooler chill of fall, my garden harvest begins to slow.  The last of the tomatoes remain on the vine waiting for a last gasp of heat. The little eggplants struggle for a last bit of fattening. (Thankfully, the zucchini plants are now composting. Amen!) 
 
I hate to admit this but by this point in the cycle of my garden, I am ready to turn over the last of my summer crops and plant for fall. Yet how can I ignore those beautiful little tomatoes or eggplants still staring back at me on the vines? The Italian guilt weighs heavily on my mind. I am powerless to do anything but pick them for what may be my last harvest of tomatoes and eggplant. 
 
Yet what to do with yet another basket of these summer goodies? (I know I will regret writing that sentence in the dead of winter!)  I prop my little basket on the counter as I grab a handful of my most recent Italian cooking magazines, pour myself a good red and head for a chair outside in search of inspiration.  
Not sure if the good red or my cooking magazine won out but before too long I had it - make a timballo! What is a timballo you might ask.
 
A timballo typically involves some sort of stuffing, most typically pasta or rice. The Sicilian version usually involves eggplant and pasta. Although I have drooled many a time over photos of these mouthwatering creations, I have never actually made one myself. Until now! I opted to fill my version with ground pork rather than pasta and make individual sized portions using smaller ramekins. My timballo then became timballini! And although simple to put together, this creation is anything but simple in its presentation. 
 
So if you too have that last basket of tomatoes and eggplant waiting for a recipe, give these little guys a go. Your friends and family will be suitably impressed! Buon appetito! 
 
TIMBALLINI DI MELANZANE
Serves: 6
INGREDIENTS
For the sauce:
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• ½ cup dry red wine
• 2 (28-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes (or use about 4-5 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded)
• A few tablespoons tomato paste
• Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
• Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 2 medium eggplant
• Salt
• Olive oil
• 1 pound ground pork (can substitute with meat of your choice)
• 1 ball fresh mozzarella, chopped into little squares
• 2 medium eggplant
• Fresh basil leaves, rolled and slivered
• Freshly ground black pepper
 
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT
6 (4-inch diameter) ramekins
INSTRUCTIONS
Make the tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add in the red wine and simmer for a few minutes. Add in the chopped tomatoes. Bring sauce back to a simmer and cook until thick, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While sauce is simmering, prepare the eggplant: Cut off the top and bottom of each eggplant to flatten. Using a mandolin or sharp knife, cut the eggplant lengthwise into thin ¼ inch slices. (You should have approximately 10-15 slices per eggplant, depending on the size.) Layer the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let stand for about 30 minutes. Rinse the slices and pat dry.
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
 
Warm a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Add in the ground pork and and cook until evenly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer pork to a bowl and stir in about 1 cup of tomato sauce. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Set aside.
 
Wipe out the skillet and place back on medium low heat. Place 3 or 4 slices of eggplant in the skillet and allow to soften and slightly brown on each side, approximately 1 minute per side. Lay the softened eggplant slices on a board or sheet pan while cooking the remaining slices.
 
Grease six (4 inch) ovenproof ramekins. Line with eggplant slices. Fill about ⅔ of the way with the pork. Lastly, add the mozzarella and basil.
 
Cover with the top with the overhanging eggplant slices. Place the ramekins on a baking tray and place in the oven. Bake until hot and bubbling, about 20-25 minutes.
 
Remove fro the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Carefully invert the ramekins on to plates, spoon tomato sauce around the base of the timberline. Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and serve with plenty of extra Parmigiano!
 
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.

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