How to cook timballo siciliano (Sicilian timballo)

With our recent move to Siracusa we couldn’t resist the temptation to share a Sicilian recipe with our friends out there. And because I like to call myself an ‘aubergine evangelist’, (like many Sicilians I simply love this vegetable!) the first Sicilian recipe shared on TheSiracusas.com had to be an aubergine-based delicacy (ok, I’ve already shared another aubergine-based recipe on this blog, but that was Vietnamese and not Sicilian :))

Those who are not familiar with the term ‘timballo’, can have a look at the Timballo Wikipedia page. In just a couple of words timballos are dishes based on baked pasta or rice, often enriched with more ingredients. Sicilian timballo has three main ingredients: a special type of pasta called anellini (o-ring pasta), cheese, and, as I said, aubergines.

So how do you cook timballo siciliano?

For 4 people you’ll need:

  • Crushed tomato (half a can should be enough, but you should look for pure crushed tomato, the one that comes with no herbs or spices)
  • Some salt and sugar
  • A couple of basil leaves
  • Some chopped onion (half of a small onion should be ok)
  • A spoon of extra-virgin olive oil
  • An aubergine (two if one isn’t enough – if you use baking cups like the ones we’ve used, three slices per cup will be enough, if the cups are bigger you may need more slices)
  • A handful of grated parmesan
  • A handful of cubes of provolone (in case you can’t find this you’re allowed to use another cheese and add your personal touch :))
  • 4 baking cups
  • some peanut oil (use sunflower oil or any other frying oil, if you can’t find peanut oil)

First things first, start slicing the aubergine (see picture below).

Remember that we’re cooking for 4 people and then one aubergine should be enough. We have to fill 4 baking cups and, as I said, we will need at least 3 slices per cup, which makes a minimum of 12 slices. So, make these 12 (or more) slices, put them in a colander and sprinkle them with salt. Let them rest for at least 15 minutes.

Now, let’s prepare the tomato sauce.

There are many ways to go about making tomato sauce. Some prefer to fry the chopped onion in extra-virgin olive oil (this is referred to as soffritto), pouring the crushed tomato on top of the soffritto once the onion becomes golden and softer. If you want to do this, then cook the tomato sauce for at least 15 minutes over a middle flame – don’t forget to throw in a pinch of salt and one of sugar. Once the tomato sauce is cooked, put a couple of basil leaves on top of it while the content of your pan is still hot.

The alternative is (and this is the way my mum does) to (1) blend a couple of tomatoes together with one or two basil leaves and the chopped onion, then (2) cook the blended sauce (with a pinch of salt and one of sugar) for at least 15 minutes over a middle flame, and finally (3) pour some oil on top of the cooked sauce while it is still hot, and add another spare couple of basil leaves. This way you obtain a lighter and more delicate-tasting tomato sauce, but in the end it’s only a matter of taste.

While you’re done with the tomato sauce you can come back to your aubergines and wash the salt away. This way the vegatable gets rid of its typical bitter aftertaste, and releases a grey water.

Put some peanut oil in a frying pan and let it heat. When the oil is hot enough, squeeze the aubergine slices and throw them into the frying pan.

Once the Aubergines are done, let them rest on some absorbent paper towel to dry the oil in excess.

When you’re almost done with the aubergines, begin to cook the o-ring pasta. Take about 150-200 grams of pasta, put them into a pan with salted boiling water (a teaspoon of salt should suffice) and cook them (stir from time to time) – see the instructions on the package and take 1 minute off the cooking time indicated, as a reference (e.g. if the package says 8 minutes, then cook it for 7 minutes). Oh, don’t let be fooled by the picture, we cooked way more pasta than it’s needed for this recipe 🙂

Dry the pasta and mix it with the tomato sauce. Add grated parmesan and mix again.

Take the baking cups and place three aubergine slices on each cup as shown in the picture below.

Now put a couple of spoons of o-ring pasta inside the aubergine slices in each cup, add some provolone dices on top, and finally wrap the aubergines.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°c, put the cups into the oven and then bake the timballo. Take everything out of the oven after about 15 minutes and leave it to rest for about a couple of minutes.

The timballo is now ready to be enjoyed – don’t forget to take it out the cup and lay it on a plate!

Oh, and before I forget, a big thank you to my mum who let me photograph her while she was cooking. Mum you make a great model, and you are a great cook too! 🙂

I’m sure there are many variations on the timballo siciliano’s theme. I just shared the version my mum cooks at home. So if you have a different recipe why not sharing it with us in the comments? Also if you decide to give this recipe a try, please let us know if you enjoyed it. Thank you!

  • sabrina

    complimenti alla mamma…sn fantastici questi timballi…e complimenti anche al vostro sito..è molto interessante,è una parte di voi che vi accompagnera’ per sempre..avete fatto un’esperienza incredibile e avrete molto da raccontare al vostro piccolo in arrivo..auguroni e in bocca al lupo!!!