As children, we are always taught that it’s one’s inner beauty that truly matters. A person could be extremely attractive on the outside, but if her personality is filled with ugliness, that takes away from her overall beauty.
The opposite is true for this Eggplant Timbale – a torte, of sorts, consisting of penne, spicy sausage, and sweet peas encased by smokey grilled eggplant. It’s not so pretty on the inside – in fact, not even worth trying to take a picture, which is why you only get to see the outside. But just trust me – this dish is top-notch delicious and definitely worth your effort.
Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites is a collection of new and old Italian favorites. Several of the recipes have a full page spread of step-by-step pictures. The Eggplant Timbale is one of them, for good reason. The thought of assembling it is a bit daunting, without pictures (or perhaps, an episode of Everyday Italian where Giada makes it herself). I prepared myself by buying an entire extra eggplant to ensure I yielded enough “good” slices, but it turns out I had plenty left over (great for sandwiches this week!). This actually came together – and inverted out of the pan – with much more ease than I had anticipated. The only problem I had was cutting the timbale. I hoped for pretty slices that would stay together. I let the timbale cool for a good while before cutting, figuring it needed to set the same way lasagna does in order to slice it properly. Still, though, the pasta filling did not stick together. Sad, but still delicious. I used a combination of ground turkey and hot Italian turkey sausage, in place of the beef and pork sausage. The smoked mozzarella and sharp pecorino romano, with the hot basil and crushed red pepper, are a wonderful combination. I would definitely make this again for a dinner party, and just hope that my slices turn out a little prettier next time!
2 medium eggplants, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/3 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound penne pasta
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 pound ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1/2 pound Italian pork sausage (I used hot Italian turkey sausage)
1/4 cup Marsala wine
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 cups store-bought marinara sauce
1 1/2 cups diced smoked mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1/4 cup
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Special equipment: 9-inch springform pan
Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or pre-heat a gas or charcoal grill. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the eggplant slices with 1/3 cup olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant until tender and colored with grill marks, about 4 minutes per side. Set aside. (I definitely recommend using your gas or charcoal grill for this – a grill pan simply cannot provide the delicious smokey taste!
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.
Meanwhile, warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the beef and pork, and brown the meat, breaking it into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Add the Marsala and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the peas and marinara sauce and stir to combine. Add the cheeses, basil, and cooked pasta. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the springform pan with the grilled eggplant. Be sure that the slices overlap and hang over the edge of the pan. Fill the pan with the pasta mixture, pressing down to make sure the pan is filling up evenly. Fold the eggplant slices up over the top of the pasta and add a few more slices on top to completely enclose the timbale. Bake the timbale until warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 30 minutes. Let rest on the counter for 10 minutes to set.
To serve, invert the timbale onto a serving plate and remove the springform pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese over the top. Slice and serve.