See that picture above that looks like a cake?

It’s not cake.

Instead is an Italian dish called Timballo.

Timballo is an Italian dish consisting of a filling baked encase in pasta, rice or even potatoes.  Usually one or more ingredients (cheese, vegetables, etc) are included.  Like everything else in Italy, varieties of Timballo differ from region to region and it’s sometimes called bomba, tortino or sartu (the Neapolitan interpretation). The dish is usually prepared in a dome or springform pan, and eggs or cheese are used as the binder.

I first came across the Timballo, when I lived in Italy and stayed with a friend who lived in Alba Adriatica, a little town off the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  We were invited to a lunch and this dish was the star of the show.  While their version was made with pasta to incase the rich beef filling, I was told that rice was another ingredient that was used to bind the dish and it was very popular in the region of Emilia-Romagna.

Americans probably got to know more about this dish, when it was featured in the 1996 film Big Night that revolves around the conflict between two immigrant brothers who decide to open a restaurant. Primo defends his purist Italian cooking to Secondo, his brother, who is more concerned with the bottom line. Frustrated with customers who want simple plates of spaghetti and meatballs, Primo prepares timpano, a complex, drum-shaped dish of pasta-filled pastry.

As I said, many versions, but at the end all account to one thing: GOOD STUFF, 

Who would not want to take a bite of this:

So, when I received my monthly Food Network magazine this past week, it was a a great surprise that the whole issue was dedicated Italian cuisine, and flipping thru the pages I came across the long ago forgotten Tiballo or Timbale and the magazine called it.  It was a sign from above that this needed to be made PRONTO! This past week I decided to get to it and make it for Tom, it also helped that I had all the ingredients at hand – a very rare occurrence in our house.

See? Signs, they are everywhere.

This dish is not hard to make but, it does have a couple steps, which all worth it, because at the end you get a dish that it’s a total showstopper, perfect for a dinner party, or a great choice for weekend cooking when you want a dish that will keep on giving for another meal or two.  It also stores well and all it needs is a couple of minutes in the microwave to warm it right up

Sausage and Rice Timballo
Adapted from The Food Network 

  • 2 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 2 cups of water
  • salt and ground pepper - to taste
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ¾ pound Italian pork sausage (preferably luganega), casings removed
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1¼ cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • 2 ounces deli-sliced provolone cheese (about ¼ pound)  
  1. In a large pot place the water and stock and bring it to a boil, taste it and if needed add salt. Add the rice, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring once or twice, until the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.  The rice should absorbed all the liquid, but if does not and after tasting it its done, you can drain it into a colander and shaking it, remove any excess liquid. Spread the rice on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and place a baking sheet on the middle rack. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 6 minutes. Tear the basil and add to the skillet along with the garlic and tomato paste. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste browns, about 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.  Give the filling a taste and if needed season with a bit of ground pepper and salt.
  3. Meanwhile, grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with the remaining 1-tablespoon butter. Coat the pan with the breadcrumbs, tapping to remove any excess. Put the eggs and all but 3 tablespoons of the pecorino cheese in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Put the cooled rice in a bowl; add the egg mixture and stir to combine.
  4. Transfer about two-thirds of the rice mixture to the prepared springform pan. Using moist fingers, pat the rice onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan, forming a ½ -inch-thick layer. Place the provolone slices over the rice in the pan. Spoon about three-quarters of the sausage filling over the provolone, filling it to ½ inch from the top. Pat the remaining rice mixture on top to enclose the filling, and then sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons pecorino cheese. Put the pan on the hot baking sheet and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool, 5 minutes.
  5. Run a small knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the timballo. Remove the side of the pan. Slide a spatula under the timbale and transfer it to a platter. Thin the remaining sausage filling with a splash of water and reheat. Serve as extra sauce on the side.

A couple of tips:

When buying the Provolone, go with the “Piccante” which is aged and thus the taste will be sharp, making it a great compliment to the spicy sausage filling.

Like anything that has layers of flavors, I made sure each was season individually, the rice, the eggs, the filling with ground pepper and salt.

I used a medium-spicy sausage that I had in the refrigerator and it worked just as well.  But, this is a perfect dish to try with so many other meats as filling – ground turkey, meat, and pork.  Or go vegetarian, and fill it with a mushroom ragu. Or how about your favorite grilled vegetables like eggplant, zucchinis and tomatoes.  The possibilities are endless.