As the heat of summer fades to the cooler chill of fall, my garden harvest begins to slow. The last of the tomatoes remain on the vine waiting for a last gasp of heat; the eggplants blossoms are long gone but their bounty keeps on coming; the zucchini plants are thankfully gone (there I said it!)
I hate to admit this but by this point in the cycle of my garden, I am ready to turn the last of my summer crops and plant for fall. Yet how can I ignore those beautiful little tomatoes or eggplant still staring back at me on the vines? I HAVE TO COOK SOMETHING WITH THEM! So I stared at one of my last remaining baskets of summer – what to do with yet another harvest of tomatoes and eggplant?? (I know in the dead of winter I will regret writing that sentence!) Ah-hah! Make timballinis! Make what? TIMBALLINIS, silly!
A timballo is an Italian dish typically stuffed and is characteristic of Sicily. The Sicilian version usually involves eggplant and pasta. Judy Witts Francini of Divina Cucina has a fantastic version from her travels to Sicily HERE on her blog. I also recently spotted an individual sized version, a timballini, sort of a baby timballo, on the Italian cooking magazine site, Sale & Pepe. Never having tried one, I thought I would give this a go.
These turned out to be rather simple to make and rather impressive looking if I might say so myself! I used eggplant as the wrapper and instead of pasta, I filled mine with ground pork, sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil. I can’t wait to make these for my next dinner guests. I could make them as completely vegetarian as an appetizer; or try the classic pasta version as a first course; so very fun to add a new recipe to the hood!
So if you too have a load of tomatoes and eggplant waiting for a recipe, give these little guys a go – great fun!
Timballini di Melanzane
- Yield: 6
- For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 (28-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes (or use about 4-5 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded)
- A few tablespoons tomato paste
- Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium eggplant
- Olive oil
- 1 pound ground pork (substitute with meat of your choice)
- 1 ball fresh mozzarella, chopped into little squares
- Fresh basil leaves, slivered
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Make the tomato sauce:Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add in the red wine and simmer for a few minutes. Add in the chopped tomatoes. Bring sauce back to a simmer and cook until thick, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- While sauce is simmering, prepare the eggplant: Cut off the top and bottom of each eggplant to flatten. Using a mandolin or sharp knife, cut the eggplant lengthwise into thin 1/4 inch slices. (You should have approximately 10-15 slices per eggplant, depending on the size.) Layer the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let stand for about 30 minutes. Rinse the slices and pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Warm a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Add in the ground pork and and cook until evenly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer pork to a bowl and stir in about 1 cup of tomato sauce. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Wipe out the skillet and place back on medium low heat. Place 3 or 4 slices of eggplant in the skillet and allow to soften and slightly brown on each side, approximately 1 minute per side. Lay the softened eggplant slices on a board or sheet pan while cooking the remaining slices.
- Grease six (4 inch) ovenproof ramekins. Line with eggplant slices. Fill about 2/3 of the way with the pork. Lastly, add the mozzarella and basil.
- Cover with the top with the overhanging eggplant slices. Place the ramekins on a baking tray and place in the oven. Bake until the hot and bubbling, about 20-25 minutes.
- Remove fro the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Carefully invert the ramekins on to plates, spoon tomato sauce around the base of the timberline. Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and serve with plenty of extra Parmigiano!