Friday, December 28, 2012

"Sicilian Cooking" - Sicilian Pasta Timbale - Christmas Eve 2012

Date I made this recipe:  December 24, 2012 (Christmas Eve)

Sicilian Cooking by Carmelo Sammarco
Published by:  ARNONE Editore – Palermo
© 1998
Recipe:  Sicilian Pasta Timbale – p. 76

Well kids, it’s time once again for Ann and Andy’s (Rockin’) Pasta Christmas Eve and this recipe and this cookbook did not disappoint. 

As is tradition in our family, we make a pasta dish for Christmas Eve and although I used to stick with my grandma/Aunt Rose’s recipe for pasta and sauce and meatballs, over the years I’ve tried to branch out.  Naturally, my collection of Italian and Sicilian cookbooks is growing so finding a book isn’t the problem; finding a recipe is a bit more challenging.

Many Italian and Italian-American households prepare a traditional Christmas Eve feast of the seven fishes but finding seafood of any kind in my little hometown was next to impossible and so we didn’t go that route when I was a kid and I don’t go that route now.  But as I was talking with a friend the other day about why the seafood feast became popular - the church often forbid eating meat on Christmas Eve - I wondered out loud what my mother made during those meatless years and horror upon horror, I had a recollection of tuna casserole.

Now, this memory is fuzzy so it may be that I am just making it all up but it wouldn’t surprise me if we did indeed imbibe on that before Midnight Mass.  But as much as I love, and I mean love, tuna casserole (with peas, always with peas), the thought of this being our Christmas Eve meal gave me pause as it was just wrong, wrong I tell you, on so many levels.

Thankfully the church did away with that rule a long time ago (I think--except for Lent – let’s not get crazy out there) but that doesn’t matter to me because regardless, we make something in this household that is Italian (or Sicilian) that involves pasta and often – oh gasp – meat! (That said, Sicily is famous for all its seafood and all my cookbooks contain pages and pages of fish recipes so if you love fish and want seven courses of them for your Christmas Eve dinner, this is the book for you.)

So anyway, I’m flipping through several Italian and Sicilian books when I came to this book and this recipe for timbale and that, as they say, was that.  And unlike a “regular” timbale, like the one featured in the movie, Big Night, that contains a lot of ingredients, this one was fairly simple and on Christmas Eve (and in general), I am all about simple.

If anything, the biggest challenge was finding caciocavallo cheese as the few stores I visited didn’t have it.  But people, thanks to the internet, I discovered that this cheese is similar to provolone and that is a cheese that most grocery stores and specialty shops carry.  After that, the biggest challenge was not eating all the cheese that was supposed to go into the dish; when I was younger, my cousins and I would ask for an extra ball of mozzarella when grandma made pizza, one for us to nibble on and one for the pizza!

Now, running a close second to this dish was the recipe for cannoli, an oh-so-yummy dessert that is popular in Sicily and the world over but I just couldn’t justify serving dessert as a main meal!  When I was a kid though, my grandma used to buy mini cannoli from her local Italian bakery and we set to work polishing them off, one by one.  And you know, because they were mini cannoli, they were far less fattening than the regular-sized ones.  Uh huh – I speak the truth!

Now, in terms of this recipe, my one complaint, and I always have one, is that the sauce probably could have been a little bit thinner but it was hard to ascertain a consistency from this recipe.  I could also have used a bit more sauce to make the center of the timbale more “creamy” but overall, this wasn’t bad.  And after trying to figure out what “minced beef” meant, I finally split the difference and used part ground beef that I browned and part cubed beef from my leftover roast wrapped in Reynolds Wrap that I made the week before.  If there’s a way to use leftovers, I am all over it!

So here we go an easy version of Timbale for your meat-laden Christmas Eve.  Buon Appetito a Tutti! (Happy Eating to All!)

Sicilian Pasta Timbale – serving size not given but I’d say easily 6
For the sauce
1 carrot
1 onion
2 celery stalks
12 oz tomato puree
Olive oil

For the filling
1 carrot
1 onion
2 celery stalks
24 oz “minced beef” (I used half ground beef, half leftover beef roast)
8 oz peas
Dash of white wine
6 oz tomato puree
6 oz fresh caciocavallo cheese (or substitute provolone)
Olive oil and breadcrumbs to coat the pan
1 eggplant (optional)
Salt and pepper
For the pasta
1 pound Anelletti pasta (basically, large ring pasta)

Start your sauce: in a saucepan, sauté the chopped carrot, celery and onion in the oil, and add the tomato puree.  Dilute with water, correct the salt, add a little pepper, then cook about 15 minutes.  (Ann’s Note:  Nah, 15 minutes is way too short a time.  The vegetables will not be done.  Try ½ hour to 45 minutes.)

To make the filling: in a separate saucepan, sauté the other chopped carrot, celery and onion in the oil, add the minced beef and peas and cook until brown.  Add a few dashes of wine and then the 12 ounces of tomato puree.  Dilute with enough water to form a dense filling, add salt and pepper and cook over a moderate heat for about 20 minutes.

If using eggplant, dice it and fry it in a little oil.  Dice the cheese.  Oil a round banking dish and coat with the breadcrumbs.

Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water per directions.  Drain and mix with the sauce and if desired, with grated caciocavallo cheese.  Put half the pasta mixed with the sauce in the baking dish and form a shallow, but slightly hollowed layer; evenly distribute the carrot mixture, the eggplant and the diced cheese.  Cover with the other half of the pasta, and drizzle a little oil over and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Bake in a preheated 300F oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove the timbale from the oven, leave to cool a little and then turn out.

Ann’s Note:  In order to avoid a kitchen disaster, I did not “turn out” the timbale but rather scooped it out of the pan because what am I, nuts?  I can assure you it would not have ended up like the beautiful timbale from the “unveiling” scene in Big Night.  Stuff like that is best left to the (movie) professionals.

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