This is Benedetta Vitali's recipe for timballo, which borrows heavily from the recipe in Jeanne Carola Francesconi's La Cucina Napoletana, one of my favorite cookbooks of all time. We are going to include it in the cookbook we're working on now, but the measurements haven't been converted from the metric system yet. So use the metric converter, along with some good judgment, and your timballo should come out beautifully.
Timballo di maccheroni
For the pasta frolla:
380 g flour
100 g sugar
150 g butter, at room temperature
2 egg yolks
For the meatballs:
200 g ground beef
75 g stale bread, crust removed
30 g freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
250 g fine bread crumbs
Extra virgin olive oil, for frying
For the stuffing:
1 kg chicken livers, cleaned
6 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, sliced
200 g Bufala mozzarella
30 g dried porcini mushrooms
250 g shelled peas (if in season)
Extra virgin olive oil
For the pasta:
500 g ziti broken up by hand
150 g grated parmesan
1 batch ragú (see recipe below)
In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, flour, egg, and sugar. Knead it with your hands just long enough to make the ingredients stick together. Cover it with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Reconstitute the dried mushrooms by placing them in a small pot and covering them with water. Bring the water to a boil and then remove it from the heat. Strain out the mushrooms and chop them coarsely, reserving the mushroom juice.
Soak the bread in water for 5 minutes. In the meantime, combine the beef, egg, parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Squeeze the excess water from the bread and crumble it into the meat mixture. Knead the mixture until all of the ingredients are evenly dispersed, and taste a little pinch of it to check for the salt and pepper. Avoid over-mixing the meat so that it doesn’t become tough.
Form meatballs the size of peas, or just a little bit bigger, out of the mixture, and roll them in the bread crumbs.Once all of the meatballs have been formed, heat about 1/2 cm of extra virgin olive oil in a skillet until it is shimmering, and fry the meatballs for one minute until they are lightly golden. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spatula and place them on a sheet lined with paper towels to drain of excess oil.
Heat a skillet over a high flame and lightly coat the bottom with extra virgin olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and sage leaves, and when the garlic begins to sizzle, add the chicken livers and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Partially cover the skillet with a lid to prevent the oil from splattering everywhere. Take care not to burn the garlic, and the chicken livers should be lightly browned on the outside but still pink on the inside when they are done. Set the livers aside to cool. Once cool, cut the livers into 1 cm cubes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it heavily. Boil the ziti until they are very al dente, remembering that they will continue to cook in the oven for another 40 minutes. Prepare an ice bath with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in it. As soon as the pasta is cooked enough, remove it from the boiling water into the ice bath to stop it from cooking any further.
Heat the ragú thoroughly over a medium flame with a bit of the mushroom juice. When the pasta has cooled completely, strain it from the ice water and toss it with half of the ragú and grated parmesan cheese.
If you are using peas, place them in a skillet with 150 ml of water and a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and simmer the peas for 3 minutes until they are almost tender.
Cut the mozzarella into 1 cm cubes and let as much liquid drain from them as possible.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll two-thirds of the dough directly over the bottom and 5 cm up the sides of an 28 to 30 cm springform pan. You can also roll out the dough on a piece of marble or any smooth surface and transfer it to the pan. It’s better not to add any flour while rolling.
Fill the timballo: begin with a layer of pasta, and then a few pieces each of porcini, mozzarella and chicken liver. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of peas and meatballs over the pasta next, and then a ladleful of ragú. Continue with another layer of pasta and more filling, and finish with a layer of pasta and a ladleful of ragú. The timballo has a tendency to dry out in the oven, so use enough ragú to keep it moist.
Roll out the last piece of dough to a thickness of 5 mm and lay it over the timballo. Carefully seal all of the edges of the timballo, trying your best to not leave any visible seams. The timballo will expand while baking, and if there are any seams, they may rupture in the oven.
Bake the timballo for approximately 40 minutes, until it turns a beautiful golden brown color. Once cool, carefully take the baking shell out of the pan and place it on a serving platter.
1 1/4 pounds (575g) very good beefsteak, such as sirloin, rib eye (Scotch fillet) or round steak
1 pork sausage, about 4 to 5 ounces (110 to 140g)
2 chicken livers
2 ounces (50g) beef suet
1 chicken neck
1 large or 2 small onions, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1 large or 2 small stalks celery, minced
1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) dry red wine
2 fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled
About 4 cups (1 l) water
1 piece of lemon zest, cut into strips
1 pound (500g) pasta
2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 40g) unsalted butter, for dressing
1 cup (125g) grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble it up into small pieces. Chop the livers, and cut the suet into small cubes. Scorch the chicken neck over a flame to eliminate any residual hairs. Put all the meats in a bowl and set aside while you prepare the soffritto.
Use a pot large enough so that all of the meat will sit in a single layer and brown nicely. Heat the onion, carrot, celery and oil over medium heat until the vegetables are dark brown, about 15 minutes. After the first few minutes, watch the soffritto closely and stir with a wooden spoon to prevent burning. Also, if necessary, add a little water to keep the soffritto from burning.
When you feel that the soffritto cannot get any darker before burning, add all of the meat to the pot and stir with a wooden spoon, mixing thoroughly. Increase the heat and begin to brown the meat.
Brown the meat for about 15 minutes. Be attentive -- the meat should form a toasted crust without burning. When the meat is well done, add the wine and raise the heat to maximum. The wine will deglaze the pan and reintroduce that delicious flavor back into the ragú. Keep stirring until all of the wine has evaporated and the meat begins to fry again.
Add the tomatoes and squash them with a fork, then stir to combine with the meat. Add the water (it should cover the meat by 1 cm). Lower the flame to a minimum and add salt, pepper, and the lemon zest to the pot.
Let the ragú cook gently for at least 2 hours, occasionally keeping an eye on the level of the liquid -- it should always be creamy. If it becomes too dry, add some water. Towards the end of the cooking, taste the sauce and adjust the salt. At the end, remove the chicken neck. Separate the meat from the bone with a fork and a knife and add the meat back to the ragú.