Rachel Roddy Baked rice and cheese tim­balo

The tri­umph of un­mould­ing a rich, plump drum of tim­ballo is one of life’s sim­ple plea­sures, ri­valled only by the act of slic­ing into it – and also putting on slip­pers, tak­ing the first sip of an ice-cold mar­tini or the touch of the au­tumn sun

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy

Vita Sackville-West talked about sim­ple plea­sures that were known in her fam­ily as ‘through leaves”, named af­ter “the small but in­tense plea­sure of kick­ing though leaves while out walk­ing”. Her list in­cludes: sud­denly re­mem­ber­ing a name you thought you’d for­got­ten, crush­ing thin ice un­der­foot, writ­ing with a per­fect pen, first feel­ing sand be­tween your toes on the beach, draw­ing a cork with a good corkscrew or a cur­tain on a smooth rail, and read­ing in bed. I agree with all of th­ese. I would add tak­ing off shoes and putting on slip­pers; the first sip of an ice-cold mar­tini, think­ing you have run out of cof­fee and then find­ing a packet at the back of the cup­board (like­wise with toilet roll), au­tumn sun, and in­vert­ing a tim­ballo suc­cess­fully.

You might re­mem­ber last week’s recipe was for a sfor­mato, which means un­moulded; a per­mis­sive term that al­lows for end­less vari­a­tions. This week’s tim­ballo is called af­ter the form it­self, il tim­ballo – a deep tin with slop­ing sides (think Tommy Cooper’s fez) named be­cause of its re­sem­blance to a tim­pani or ket­tle drum.

What goes into the tim­ballo varies de­pend­ing on the time, place, means, oc­ca­sion and the cook. His­tor­i­cally, tim­balli could be ex­tra­or­di­nary things. In her Gas­tron­omy of Italy, Anna del Conte writes of the tim­ballo of­fered by Prince Fabrizio Salina to the no­ble­men of Don­nalu­cata in Giuseppe To­masi’s novel Il Gat­topardo (The Leop­ard): “The bur­nished gold of the crust, the fra­grance ex­uded by the su­gar, the spice-laden haze; then chicken liv­ers, sliced ham, smoked chicken and truf­fles, the masses of pip­ing hot, glis­ten­ing mac­a­roni ... ” Then there is the tim­ballo in the film Big Night, rip­pling lay­ers of pasta, moons of hard boiled egg and tiny meat­balls bound by rich ragu and thick bechamel – a dish “so fuck­ing good I should kill you”, whis­pers Pas­cal, played by the great Ian Holm. Like sfor­mati, tim­balli are as varied and unique as the peo­ple who make them. Some are en­crusted in pas­try, oth­ers strips of aubergine, some for­ti­fied with pasta, oth­ers rice, oth­ers potato. There may be fish, meat, mush­rooms or any man­ner of veg­eta­bles in­volved.

Nowa­days, a tim­ballo can be made in all sorts of forms, tins, bowls and dishes. Re­gard­less of the tin, a tim­ballo is in­verted. My ver­sion is a rel­a­tively mod­est one, us­ing rice and a loose­bot­tomed tin. Think of it as a tem­plate, one which is end­lessly amenable to dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents and oc­ca­sions. You could bol­ster the ini­tial sof­fritto with car­rots, cel­ery, herbs or pancetta. The rice could be en­riched or spiced, and the veg­etable and cheese layer could con­sist of any­thing you fancy, in­clud­ing bechamel, peas, hard-boiled egg or tiny meat­balls (or all four, in which case it would be most Si­cil­ian).

You could leave out the aubergine, and make a sim­ple rice-and-cheese tim­ballo, in which case be bold with the sea­son­ing. I sug­gest carnaroli rice. Its ker­nel is sheathed in soft starch which dis­solves dur­ing cook­ing, lend­ing a creami­ness; it also con­tains enough tough starch to re­tain a satisfying tex­ture. You can cook the rice in the sauce – risotto style – or sim­ply boil it and then unite it with sauce and the en­rich­ing cheese.

Whether baroque enough for a cel­e­bra­tion or pared down for a week­night, a tim­ballo looks won­der­ful, as does a just-cut slice, its melted cheese thread un­will­ing to let go. In Italy, tim­ballo is gen­er­ally served alone as a first course. I think a slice asks for con­trast. On Sun­day, we had our tim­ballo with salad; also small, pea-green frig­itelli pep­pers, which I had blis­tered in a hot pan with olive oil and salt. Fol­lowed by a cas­sata cake I’d made ... a good lunch. All of which nearly re­quired a nap, but in­stead we walked it off along the Te­vere river, in the sun, through leaves.

Rice tim­ballo with aubergine

You will need a 20-23cm cake tin or tim­ballo mould (that said, just about any tin will work here).

Serves 6

30g dried mush­rooms

5 tbsp olive oil

A small white onion, peeled and diced 500g tinned plum toma­toes, chopped 1 tbsp tomato con­cen­trate

A sprig of basil

600g carnaroli rice

Salt and black pep­per

2 aubergines

250g cheese – tuma, pro­vola or moz­zarella

But­ter and dry bread­crumbs

80g parme­san, grated

1 large egg

1 Soak the mush­rooms in 500ml of barely warm wa­ter for 20 min­utes. In a large, deep fry­ing pan, fry the onion in the olive oil un­til soft.

2 Lift the mush­rooms from the liq­uid and add to the pan, along with the toma­toes, con­cen­trate and basil. Cook at a steady sim­mer for 25 min­utes.

3 Mean­while, cook the rice in salted, boil­ing wa­ter un­til ten­der but al dente. Drain and add to the tomato sauce and cook for another few min­utes. Sea­son.

4 Cut one aubergine into 3mm thick slices length­ways and the other into 1cm cubes. Ei­ther rub with oil and bake at 180C/350F/gas 4 un­til ten­der, or grid­dle or shal­low-fry in oil un­til lightly coloured, then blot on kitchen pa­per.

5 Chop the cheese into small cubes. But­ter a loose-bot­tomed cake tin and coat with bread­crumbs, then use the slices of aubergine to line the tin.

6 Add most of the parme­san and egg to the rice. Mix, then press half of it into the bot­tom of the tin. Use half the aubergine cubes to make a layer, cover with cheese, then another layer of aubergine cubes. Cover with the rest of the rice mix, press­ing down firmly, and fin­ish with the re­main­ing cheese.

7 Bake at 180C/350F/gas 4 for 25 min­utes. Al­low to cool for 10 min­utes, run a knife around the edge of the tin, loosen the clasp and then in­vert the tim­ballo on to a plate.

Think of this as a tem­plate; one which is end­lessly amenable to dif­fer­ent el­e­ments and oc­ca­sions

Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome and won the Guild of Food Writ­ers food writer and cook­ery writer awards for this col­umn. Her new book, Two Kitchens (Head­line Home) is out now; @rachelal­iceroddy

Cook’s tip

The tim­ballo can be made the day be­fore: just keep in the fridge, but bring back to room tem­per­a­ture be­fore cook­ing.

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