Baked pasta, what a trip. We love it, but don't often do it. Sure we are lasagna pros, and mac n' cheese is a breeze, and once in a while a pan of cheesy tomato sauced pasta, maybe some sausage too, that is not what I am talking about. Fancy baked pasta is the thing. Where you tame it into some sort of mold and invert it onto a plate, serious stuff. Timballo is such a dish.
We had impulse grabbed an Italian cookbook Timballi, Lasagne e Pasticci while using an underground street passage at Piazza Colonna in central Rome doubling as a bookstore, it just jumped out at me in passing. But for some reason our cookbooks in the Italian language have less impact on our US lives once they cross over the ocean. We were thinking of doing some kind of rice and cheese filled timballo (called a sartu' di riso, very Napolitano, not a category in that book since it is about baked pasta, not baked rice) but eventually we tried out one recipe that spoke to us in spite of the language barrier, timballo di cellantani e melanzane, namely an eggplant cavatappi (corkscrew) timballo. Eggplant is a favorite veggie, and cavatappi is a novelty shaped pasta that had already caught bob's mathematical imagination. It was a lot of work, but the result was just sort of so so.
Then we found a US food magazine recipe for cacio e pepe spaghetti timballo in a bundt pan which caught our eye and then our stomachs, requiring multiple repetitions and hanging together very nicely at the cutting and serving stage. Eventually bob did a trial run miniature version of a rice sartu' while Ani was away a few days at a chemistry meeting. A lot of work and the target dinner date fell through so we did not follow through with the scaled up version. Then bob forgot what recipe he used except for the note he made at the time:
Sartu' di riso con asparagi, fontal e baby shrimp, the
single serving experiment, okay I could only eat 3/4 of it. 2/3 cup rice to make
just under 3 cooked rice, the capacity of my baby mold. needs adjustment.
Looks like that one will still have to wait some other appropriate (or even inappropriate) occasion.
Finally in another summer visit to Napoli, Laura (who invented zucchini pesto pasta for us in her kitchen) showed us this eggplant timballo recipe with a little ring shaped pasta from Sicily we had never seen before: anelli/anellini/anelletti (Italian pasta shapes have multiple names!). It was pretty good, inspiring us to give it a serious try in our own US kitchen after Ani found the anellini at the Piazza Fiume DOC superrmarket in Rome by chance and we flew them home for the experiment. The big ring shaped bundt pan molding of the dish is very impressive, but in our first attempt when slicing off portions, the pasta filling spilled out of the eggplant outer layer like maggot filled intestines in a zombie movie instead of hanging together like our cacio e pepe timballo. Looks like we need a followup modification of some kind to improve this feature.
However, the taste factor is positive, so the bit of extra work involved in first baking the eggplant and then executing the final assembly is definitely worth it. And if you want to impress guests, this one will do it.