TIMBALLO DI PASTA CON MELANZANE

The Italian picnic is a cultural tradition, leaving city gates behind to be immersed in the countryside with a feast in tow. In Sicily, a main event for beach picnics is Timballo Di Pasta Con Melanzane. It takes some time to make, like any holiday dish. The effort is worth it when your friends and family experience this extraordinary Sicilian pasta "cake". The pasta type called for is anelletti, a small ring-shaped classic. Since any pasta works, we suggest using rigatoni or penne which are routinely available at local stores. For a final flourish, drizzle a well-aged silky dark balsamic before serving. And for garlic lovers, our Garlic infused oil is the perfect finish.

INGREDIENTS:

1 bottle of pureed tomato passata 
1 tbsp Garlic olive oil
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tsp fine salt (for salting raw eggplant slices)
450g pasta (rigatoni, fusilli or penne)
1/2 tsp Kosher salt for passata sauce
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 
3 medium purple eggplants, end trimmed, cut lengthwise in 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan 
1 cup fresh mozzarella, sliced or cut into cubes

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare Sauce: In a sauce pan, place Garlic olive oil. Heat until shimmering, then add passata. Bring to gentle boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat and add basil leaves. Stir and set aside. Tip: Passata is simply strained tomatoes, not "tomato sauce" which contains additives.

Prepare Eggplant: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly salt eggplant slices on both sides. Place in colander and let drain for 30 minutes. Remove from colander then rinse under cold water to remove all salt. Carefully, dry excess moisture with paper towel and set aside. Brush parchment lined baking sheet(s) with olive oil. Place eggplant slices flat onto sheet. Then brush top side of eggplant with oil. Place in oven until golden for 20 minutes, turning once halfway through roasting. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Option: Grill on medium heat brushing with olive oil until golden brown on both sides.

Prepare Pasta: Cook pasta according to package directions until just before the texture is al dente (slightly underdone). Drain and place in large bowel. Add sauce, Parmesan and combine. You may not need all the sauce. The mixture should not be dripping wet. Season with additional salt to taste.

Assemble Timballo: Gently, place eggplant slices in a decorative pattern in the bottom of a 9" springform pan, slightly overlapping. Start by placing the large end in the centre, slightly overlapping until the bottom is completely covered. Allow the small end to rise up the side of the pan. Place half of the pasta mixture on the eggplant. Press down with a rubber spatula to flatten. Place mozzarella cheese across the pasta, then add the remaining mixture. Place any remaining eggplant slices flat on the pasta mixture. Take a sheet of parchment and press down on the filling to flatten. 

Bake: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake the Timballo for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let it rest in springform pan for 20 minutes. Remove sides of springform, then carefully flip pan onto serving dish and remove bottom of springform. 

To Serve: Cool completely. Slice in pie shaped pieces. Add a spoonful of cooled sauce, a drizzle of Garlic olive oil or Traditional aged balsamic. 

Inspired by: memoriediangelina.com