Surrounded by tender eggplant and filled with rigatoni pasta and tiny sausage meatballs, this impressive timballo is perfect for a big dinner party.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 to 2 Italian sausages, hot or mild
11 ounces rigatoni (about 3/4's of 1 pound package)
1 (12 ounces) ball smoked mozzarella cheese
5 basil leaves, chopped
Handful Italian parsley, chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. chopped hot peppers in oil, or to taste (optional)
4 medium eggplants
1 cup olive oil, for frying eggplant
2 tbsp. butter, for greasing the pan
Olive oil, for finishing
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for finishing
In saucepan over medium, heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Add onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add roasted red peppers, tomatoes, oregano and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and let sauce simmer, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove sausage meat from casing. Roll into 1/2-inch mini meatballs. Add mini meatballs to simmering sauce. Cover and let simmer until meatballs are just cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 to 9 minutes. Drain and let cool.
Combine pasta, meatballs and sauce, mozzarella, basil, parsley, eggs and grated Parmesan cheese and hot peppers in a large bowl. Set aside.
Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices.
In a large fry pan, over medium heat, pour enough olive oil to come 1/2-inch up the sides of fry pan (about 1 cup of olive oil). When oil is hot, fry eggplant slices in batches until golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer eggplant slices to paper towel to drain. To remove any excess oil, pat the eggplants with paper towel too. Let cool.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
Line bottom and sides of pan with slices of eggplant. Add filling and cover with the remaining eggplant slices. Press down to make sure filling is compact.
Bake timballo until filling is heated through, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving. If you serve the timballo hot, it will be loose in structure. If you cool it completely, the timballo will be firmer in structure. Remove timballo from springform pan. Transfer to serving dish. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Cut and serve into wedges.
Yield: 6 servings.