A Timbale or Timballo depending where you are from, is essentially a pasta or rice pie made in a springform pan. Traditionally the exterior crust is comprised of a thin bread crust, commonly filled with pasta, meat sauce, peas and cheese. Different regions in Italy make it according to their favourite ingredients and traditions. I have heard that Sicilians like to add eggplant for example.
I loved Giada's idea of using eggplant instead of bread and it was so delicious. The grilled eggplant added a smokey flavour and it was just divine; one of the greatest comfort food dishes of all time.
Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or pre-heat a gas or charcoal grill. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the eggplant slices with 1/3 cup olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant until tender and colored with grill marks, about 4 minutes per side. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.
Meanwhile, warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the beef and pork, and brown the meat, breaking it into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Add the Marsala and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the peas and marinara sauce and stir to combine. Add the cheeses, basil, and cooked pasta. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the springform pan with the grilled eggplant, starting with the base and then place slices all around, overlapping and hanging over the edge of the pan. Fill the pan with the pasta mixture, pressing down to make sure the pan is filling up evenly. Fold the eggplant slices up over the top of the pasta and add a few more slices on top to completely enclose the timbale. Bake the timbale until warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 30 minutes. Let rest on the counter for 10 minutes to set. To serve, invert the timbale onto a serving plate and remove the springform pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese over the top. Slice and serve.
Notes: Smoked mozzarella is called for in this recipe because I imagine it would go very well with the smokiness of the grilled eggplant.
I did not have Marsala wine on hand so I used red wine. It was great.
To make it a little healthier, I reduced the amount of mozzarella so that's always something you can do.
The recipe says to invert the timbale onto a plate but since I wasn't sure it would hold it's shape since I didn't use enough mozzarella to bind the meat sufficiently, I simply kept it right side up and it looked great! So do as you wish! Keep it right side up or invert it onto a plate if you wish 😉