In 1994 I bought several cookbooks from Westgate Used Books in Saskatoon. Amongst the treasure trove were several Moosewood books, a book called Simple Vegetarian Pleasures and another book that I think was called 101 Pasta Sauces. I could be wrong about that title. All I recall of that book was that the chapters were organized by ingredient: Lemon-based sauces, Tomato-based sauces, eggplant-based, olive-based...etc. The pictures in this book were these clever little illustrations that looked like they'd been drawn with pencil crayons. It was out of that book that I learnt to make a very good, standard tomato sauce from tinned tomatoes, dried red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, salt, pepper .... and the magic ingredient, a teaspoon of sugar. I still use that basic sauce for so many things.
Unfortunately, like an awful lot of my possessions pre-1999, that book (and many others) were lost when I lost track of the possessions I had left in the custody of some friends while I was in Australia. I never heard from them, or my things again after they moved in 2000 and changed their email address. Every once in a while I think to myself..."where's my _____"? The answer to most of those questions is, "somewhere on Vancouver Island with the rest of my stuff."
But I digress.
One recipe out of that pasta book that always intrigued me but which I never had the guts to try was a pasta stuffed beehive-shaped timbale made of ziti. When I suddenly recalled this recipe lest week, I hadn't seen that book for 7 years. I searched in all my even remotely Italian cookbooks for a similar recipe. I googled every imaginable combination of the words "pasta, timbale, beehive, recipe" and several similar terms but came away with nothing. So I was left to my own devices. And this is what I came up with. I think it turned out pretty well. Now that I am no longer afraid of the concept (...it's quite easy really) I think I'll tackle smaller individual ones next time. I reckon this one would make a pretty impressive main course. You could bring it to the table on a big platter and make a show of slicing it in front of your guests. It holds together remarkably well and, provided your knife is good and sharp, slices beautifully.
Traditionally, timbales were the highlight of the meal. They were by and large beehive or dome shaped pastries filled with a creamy mixture of sauce, pasta, vegetables and meat. I've heard of timbales with cases made of all sorts of things: risotto, shortcrust pastry, lasagne sheets. They are almost always elaborate and time consuming. A great many of them appear to have a layered filling rather than a casserole-type filling like mine. While I agree with the traditional position that a timbale is spectacular enough to be the highlight of the meal, I disagree as to the complexity of their construction. As long as you pay sufficient attention to the relative strength of your timbale shell and stiffnes of the filling, I reckon there's not much you couldn't do with a timbale. This one sure came together easily and well.
My timbale was built by lining a pudding basin (I actually just used a dome-shaped metal mixing bowl) with concentric coils of cooked ziti. I held the ziti in place by spackling it with a thin layer of raw minced meat and egg and spices. Then I filled the cavity with a mixture of cut pasta, cheese, vegetables and bechamel sauce. I finished it with a coiled pasta top and baked it in the oven. It popped out of the mould beautifully and sliced like a dream.
Beehive pasta timbale
Serves 8 - enough for one 3.5 litre bowl
- 1 pkg #10 ziti
- 300 gm (1/2 pound) fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 2 large portabella mushrooms, chopped roughly
- 1 leek, white and lower 3 cm of green, sliced, rings separated and rinsed.
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- 1 lb fresh Italian sausage, casings removed (or make your own meat mix with mince, herbs and spices)
- 1/4 cup butter for greasing bowl
- 100 grams good quality mozzarella, grated (about 1.5 cups grated)
- 100 grams parmigiana Reggiano, grated (about 1.5 cups grated)
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 190 ml (3/4 cup) milk
- 190 ml (3/4 cup) cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Boil entire package of ziti in plenty of salted boiling water. Use a large pot. Cook ziti until quite tender as al dente pasta will be too stiff for this recipe. Once the ziti is cooked, rinse in cool water until you can feel that the pasta is cold. Drain pasta well and then spread out on several tea towels in a single layer. cover with another tea towel and rub gently back and forth to dry the pasta. Remove the top towel and allow the pasta to air dry a bit while you work. The surface of the pasta should become sticky.
Meanwhile fry the mushrooms in a bit of oil so that they become brown and reduce in volume. Continue to fry them over medium heat until no more moisture comes out of them, about 20 minutes. Set mushrooms aside.
In the same frying pan, brown garlic and leeks over medium heat until softened. Set them aside with the mushrooms.
While the vegetables are cooling, use 1/4 cup softened butter to grease the inside of your metal bowl. The butter coating should be quite thick. If the butter is very soft, pop the bowl in the fridge for a minute or two to firm up the butter to the point of thick stickiness, but not solidity.
Starting in the centre of the bottom of the bowl, begin to coil pasta around in a circle to cover the bottom of the bowl. The first coil of pasta will probably spring apart a bit leaving a hole in the centre of the bottom. That's okay, you can fill that in later. Just try to keep the hole smaller than 5 cm across. To help the first few coils stay put, place a small dish on top to weigh them down. Continue coiling the pasta around in a continuous spiral up the sides of the bowl. Stop when you get just within 1-2 cm of the top. The tacky butter on the bowl will help the pasts stick to the sides. You can now fill in the hole in the bottom by making a coil in your hand and then popping it into the hole, taking care to match up the end of the coil with the end of the last circle of pasts at the bottom. Pop the little weight back on top to encourage the pasta to stick down.
While you wait for the weight to press the coil firmly down, add 3 tablespoons of butter to the frying pan you used to fry the veggies and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow butter to melt while stirring to scrape browned bits off the bottom of the pan. cook butter until it just begins to brown a little. Stir in flour and continue to cook and stir flour and butter for a few minutes over medium heat until bubbly and golden in colour, about 4-6 minutes. Pour in milk and cream and continue stirring. The sauce should become quite thick. Stir through salt and pepper, remove pan from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
While the sauce is cooling, in a smaller mixing bowl mash the sausage meat and one egg together with a fork. When the mixture is quite smooth and well incorporated, use the fork to apply it to the inside of the pasta mould like spackle. When the entirely of the sausage is on, you can use your fingers to smooth it out and make sure it's even. This think layer of raw meat and egg will cook together and help to keep the shape of the timbale after cooking.
Once the whole inside of the pasta timbale is spackled with the meat mixture, trace a circle roughly the size of the top edge of the timbale bowl on some baking parchment. Cut the circle out. Use that circle to help you estimate how much pasta you're going to need to cover the top of the timbale with another coil. It should require about 1/3 to 1/2 of the pasta you have left. Set aside what you will need to make the timbale lid and then cut up the extra pasta into small pieces.
Assemble the timbale filling by combining the veggies, cheese, chopped pasta, parsley and sauce. Mix this together thoroughly with your hands. Mix in the two raw eggs as well and make sure everything is well incorporated.
Spoon the filling into the timbale. The filling should come up to the second last row of coiled pasta. Do not fill the timbale past this point. If your filling doesn't quite make it that far, remove some of the pasta coils until there is only one row left above the level of the filling.
Starting from the outside edges, fill in the top of the timbale with another continuous pasta coil.
Butter the parchment circle you made earlier and place it, butter side down, on top of the coiled pasta timbale top. Place a weight on top of this - I used the metal bottom of a round tart pan. Bake the timbale in the oven at 350F for 80 to 90 minutes.
Remove from the oven and invert onto a plate. Slice carefully and serve.