Cookbook Profile

Pasta "Timballo" with Fresh Ricotta


Serves 4 to 6


A timballo is a classic Sicilian pasta dish reserved for formal occasions. Baked in a deep pan and covered with bread crumbs, flaky pastry, or slices of eggplant, it is impressive: when the timballo is unmolded and arrives at the table, it has the grand presence of a birthday cake. Even a simplified version of the timballo, such as the one that follows, with the pasta piled on a huge platter, is thrilling. And equally tasty.

The dish is made with anelli, a dried ring-shaped pasta made from hard wheat.

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Boil the pasta for 12 to 15 minutes; it should be firmly al dente. Drain the pasta and put it in a large bowl. Drizzle with a little fruity olive oil, and season to taste with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce. Have a large, deep ovenproof platter ready.

Spoon about half the sauce into the platter and stir half of the ricotta into the sauce, leaving it rather lumpy. Pile the pasta on the sauce on the platter, and spoon the rest of the sauce on top of the pasta. Top with spoonfuls of the remaining ricotta and sprinkle with grated pecorino. Put the platter in the oven for about 10 minutes, to heat through completely.

Sprinkle with the basil, and serve more pecorino on the side.


Tomato Sauce

Makes about 8 cups

Although tomatoes reached Italy only five hundred years ago, Italian—and especially Sicilian—cuisine is unthinkable without them. Conserva, homemade tomato sauce, and estratto di pomodoro, sun-dried tomato paste, are used almost daily in the Sicilian kitchen. Ideally you would have made this sauce in tomato season.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Saute the onion over medium heat until quite soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and let cook for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and basil, bring to a boil, and let the sauce bubble briskly for about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to quite low and cook slowly for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, stirring frequently to make sure the tomatoes don't stick or burn. The sauce is done when the volume of tomatoes is reduced by almost half and the sauce has a nice consistency-not too thick and not too thin.

Can or freeze the sauce to use throughout the year.


Honest Ricotta

At Regaleali, they milk their small herd of sheep twice a day. Three kinds of cheese are made in an old-fashioned traditional cheese kitchen, where the milk is heated in a copper cauldron set over a wood fire. When it clabbers, the milk is drained into baskets to make tuma, fresh curd cheese. The tuma firms in the baskets overnight and then is salted to make primo sale, fresh pecorino; or it's aged with peppercorns for the hard, tangy pecorino stagioanato. Fresh ricotta (ricotta means cooked twice) is made in the same copper cauldron from the reserved whey drained from the curds. The watery whey is simmered gently for about 20 minutes, until the remaining milk solids almost miraculously coagulate, then the solids are gently salted and spooned into baskets to drain. When you taste it, this ricotta is the best thing you have ever eaten. In Fabrizia's kitchen, we mixed the fresh ricotta with tomato sauce for a pasta; stuffed fried cannoli shells with ricotta cream; and made a sweetened ricotta cake called cassata alla siciliana. For breakfast we ate warm ricotta with honey.


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This page created February 2011