The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 1: Timballo di pasta

Holiday cheer is uncharacteristically late in our household this year. Decorations just appeared this morning and the tree is yet to be trimmed-or purchased, for that matters. I figured I can at least be timely with gifting. My gift to all of you, the marvelous audience who has supported me from the inception of my teaching career and still cheers me every step of the way, will be a recipes every day between here and Christmas to give an Italian flair to the table of your winter holidays.

From the rapid and simple to the lengthy and laborious, these dishes are born from the marriage of traditions and creativity always at work in my Italian kitchen in California and they are the flavors without which the joy of Christmas just does not taste as it should.

Let's start the journey with timballo di pasta alla napoletana, an elaborate pie filled with egg pasta in a richly flavored ragout. It was part of last Sunday night's program at 18 Reasons and I posted a picture of it on instagram. I got so many requests for the recipes, it became the inspiration for these series of posts, thus the obvious choice for day 1.

This stunning dish shows up in many different incarnations in Neapolitan cuisine. I chose this version because it houses both animals found in Italian holiday meals: the pig and the chicken. The chicken moves sideways, plucking the last crumbs, making way for the pig that forges ahead, undeterred symbol of renewal and the advent of a new season.

Enjoy and share.

 


Timballo di pasta alla napoletana

Neapolitan style pasta pie

 

for a 9 to 10" spring form

for the shell

400 grams flour

200 grams butter

3 eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

 

for the filling

1/2 cup dried porcini

1 small onion

1 small carrot

1 small celery stalk

2 mild Italian sausages

1 pound mixed wild mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

lard (or olive oil)

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup marsala

1/2 cup chicken livers

1/4” thick ham slice

1.5 quarts whole milk

3 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoon butter

1 pound egg tagliolini (or other egg pasta)

1.5 cups grated parmigiano

 

Make the dough for the shell by mixing the flour, diced butter, 2 eggs, salt and sugar. Work quickly. Divide it into 1/3 and 2/3 giving each piece a thick disc shape and let rest for about an hour wrapped in the fridge.

Soak the porcini in boiling water. Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. Take the sausages out of the casing and crumble it with a fork. Clean the mushrooms and slice them thinly. Strain the porcini and set the soaking water aside. Chop them roughly.

In a sautèe pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of lard. Add the onion, carrot and celery with the cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Soften them until golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the sausages and mushrooms. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes over lively heat, stirring them often to ensure they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

While the sausages and mushrooms are cooking, chop the pistachios finely and add half of them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Deglaze everything with half the marsala and when the alcohol no longer smells acrid, adjust salt and pepper, transfer to a large bowl and set aside

Wash the chicken livers well with water and vinegar, rinse them and dry them carefully with paper towels. Generously season them with salt and pepper. In a skillet over lively heat, brown them in 3 tablespoons of very hot lard.

Deglaze with the remaining marsala. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the livers are fairly firm to the touch and slightly pink inside. If they seem too dry during the cooking process, add small amounts of hot water to moisten. Chop them roughly and add them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Dice the ham quite finely and add it to the chicken livers, sausages and mushrooms. Set everything aside.

To make the béchamel, start by heating the milk.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, toast the 3 tablespoons of flour for about 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it continuously.

Still whisking, add the 3 tablespoons of butter in it and cook for about 5 minutes into a golden and fragrant roux.

Slowly whisk in the hot milk, pouring it into a thin stream. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce starts thickening. It will come to a boil and then shrink back as it thickens.

Cook for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, never letting up on the whisking. Now taste it: you should not detect flour, if you do, cook the sauce a little longer. Adjust salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Line the bottom of the spring form pan with a circle of parchment paper of the same diameter as the pan. Brush the sides of the pan with butter and dust them with flour. Move around to ensure they are well coated in flour then shake off the excess.

Roll out the two discs of dough to about 1/4”. Use the largest one to line the pan. Place the smallest on a plate and put them both back in the refrigerator.

Cook the pasta VERY al dente in salted boiling water, about 3 to 4 minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

Drain loosely and transfer to a bowl. Dress with the meat sauce, 2/3 of the béchamel and half the grated parmigiano. Toss well and pour into the spring form pan. Cover with the smaller disc.

Seal and crimp all along the edges of the pie. Whisk the remaining egg with 3 tablespoons of cold water and use it to brush the top of the pie. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a 350˚F preheated oven.

Let stand for 10 minutes before springing it out of the form. Serve while still piping hot with the extra béchamel, grated parmigiano and pistachios on the side.