You say Timballo, I say Timbale

Friday, September 12, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 37

I don’t profess to be a great Italian cook for a good reason – I’m not Italian. However, you don’t necessarily have to be Italian to whip up some great tasting dishes that can really fool your diners into thinking you’re one excellent Italian cook.

The ingredients and spices used in Italian cooking can yield some very tasty dishes, and since my husband and his family are Italian, these two things have helped me prepare some exceptionally good Italian meals.

However, I’m still waiting on that trip to Italy to complete my training.

The other night, hubby and I dined at one of our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurants, and I ordered timballo. This was a breakaway from my usual favorite of chicken fettuccini, and it was such a nice, tasty change that I decided to make some of my own when I got home.

The recipe below is the one I made, and I’ve got to admit it’s really quite good, and it just might fool even your fussiest of Italian connoisseurs.

I’d never heard of the word timballo before, so I got busy researching because it’s such a peculiar word to me.

My research didn’t yield any clear results and, like the dish below, I found as many differing explanations as ingredients. It seems there’s no strict definition for “timballo” or “timbale,” which was explained as “a molded mixture set with eggs.”


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup eggplant, cubed

1 1/2 cup button mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup black olives, sliced

1/2 green pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, diced

1/2 onion, diced

1 jar basil tomato sauce

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 1/2 pound package chicken breasts tenders

3 links Italian sausage

1/2 cup chopped pepperoni

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup Pecorino cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

8 ounces cooked Vermicelli or thin spaghetti


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel the eggplant; slice into one-inch thick slices and soak in salted water about 30 minutes. Drain well, then cube into one inch by one inch pieces. Cook pasta. Sauté the chicken tenders in olive oil, drain, chop, set aside. Crumble sausage in chicken drippings. Fry until done, then set aside. Combine eggplant, mushrooms, black olives, green pepper, garlic, and onion to pan drippings in skillet; sauté until tender. Add chicken broth; simmer five minutes. Add tomato basil sauce and meats to vegetables, stirring well. Drain pasta, then add meat and sauce mixture. Blend well. Pour into a 9-inch-by-9-inch pan. Top with shredded cheeses, reserving some of the Pecorino for serving. Bake until cheese is melted and slightly browned, about 30 minutes.  Serve with hot bread.

That’s not the type of dish I ate.

I do think I have a basic familiarity of the word now. From what I found, it’s an Italian pie, completely enclosed and baked in a pastry shell, and it shows up all over Italy in a variety of forms. Obviously, in America, too.

At most, Timbalo is best described as a macaroni pie, but this definition, too, is as diverse as the various recipes from Italian cooks.

Some are as simple as chicken and sausage or as extreme as truffles and rabbit. Today, even lasagna is sometimes classed as a kind of timballo, depending on how it’s made.

Italians serve timballo/timbale, much as Americans do turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving. It’s an extremely rich, feast day dish that’s the beginning of the Christmas meal in Altamura, a town in the northwestern corner of Puglia, and probably much different than the recipes I found.

The recipe I created below is, more than likely, a far cry from the traditional Italian-style, but it is good.

And since I was unable to find a “standard” for timaballo, then I venture to say that it’s a fair rendering.

Oh, and just for fun, a timballetto, or timballino, is an individual, un-molded serving.