Timballo di Tagliolini (Pastry Drum With Fine Egg Pasta)
Serves 8 as a main course or the first course of an elaborate menu

There are 15 recipes called timballo or timpano in Jeanne Carola Francesconiís "La cucina napoletana" (Neapolitan Cooking), which is often called the bible of Neapolitan cooking. Both words mean the same thing -- a drum, as in the timpani of a symphony orchestra. A few years ago, in a movie called "Big Night," the preparation of a timballo di maccheroni was featured and made a big impression on audiences. Recipes for timballi ran in newspaper food sections and suddenly the dish came to the attention of Americans.
Timballo or timpano -- the words are used interchangeably but timballo is more popular -- are from the aristocratic Monzu tradition, but they are still made today -- not necessary much by home cooks, but certainly by caterers and shops that make such elaborate dishes to take away. (At L.U.I.S.E., the tavola calda on the Piazza dei Martiri, at the heart of Naples' fancy Chiaia shopping section, you can usually buy some kind of timballo by the slice and eat it at the counter for lunch.). Pasta of some kind, ragu, sausage, tiny meatballs, salami, prosciutto, porcini, green peas, cheeses, hard-cooked eggs, chicken livers -- in short, all the ingredients that might go into an elaborate baked pasta can also be layered in a sweetened pastry crust and baked into a free-standing drum. It makes quite a visual sensation on the dinner table and is extremely delicious, too.
This particular timballo uses egg pasta instead of macaroni, is based on a ground meat ragu (ragu di macinato, is how they refer to such a sauce in Campania) not a classic Neapolitan ragu, and contains white sauce. I ignorantly considered that these touches might have been borrowed from Emilia- Romagna, but when I remarked about that possibility to a Neapolitan friend, she got in a huff. "You think only the Bolognese know how to make egg pasta and white sauce?"

Ingredients:

    For the timballo pastry:
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons milk

    For the ground meat ragu (about 4 1/2 cups):

  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 cup chopped celery (including a few leaves)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
  • 3 tablespoons dry marsala or tawny port
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 28-ounce cans peeled plum tomatoes, drained of can juices
  • 1 teaspoon salt

    For the white sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Several gratings of nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    Plus:

  • 1 10-ounce package frozen small peas, defrosted
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 or 8 3/4-ounce package of dried egg tagliolini or tagliarini (also called fine fettuccine), or other long egg pasta no more than a 1/4-inch wide)
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 egg, beaten for the egg wash

Method:

To make the pastry:
1. Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a metal blade, then add the butter cut into 1-inch pieces. Pulse the flour mixture and butter together until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and the lesser amount of milk, then pour it into the work bowl. Pulse a dozen or so times to mix thoroughly, then let the motor run a few seconds, until the dough gathers into a ball. If the dough seems dry and doesnít quite hold together, add a little more milk. Remove the dough from the food processor bowl and place it on a board. Knead it a few times. Let it rest under a kitchen towel. Divide the dough into 2 portions, one about 3/4 of the dough for the bottom of the drum, the remaining 1/4 for the top crust. Form two 1-inch-thick disks, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate (to rest) for at least 30 minutes. (If refrigerated longer, return to room temperature before rolling.)

To make the ragu:
2. In a 3-quart saucepan or casserole, combine the onion, carrot, celery and olive oil. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Add the chopped beef and stir well to mix with the vegetables. Continue cooking over medium heat until the meat has lost all its raw color and has started to brown, about 20 minutes. Add the Marsala and the white wine. Let cook another 3 minutes. Add the pureed canned tomatoes and salt. Simmer very gently, uncovered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so and making sure to scrape down the sides of the pan every time you stir. When finished, the meat should still be covered with sauce. Add water a little at a time, if necessary. Allow the sauce to cool, then skim off any fat that has risen to the surface. The sauce can be made ahead, cooled and refrigerated until the timballo will be assembled, but make sure to cool it to room temperature, without stirring, before refrigerating. That allows more fat to separate and rise to the top.
3. Just before assembling the timballo, with the sauce skimmed and just warm, pour the sauce into a strainer and strain the meat out of the sauce. Reserve the meat and sauce separately. You should have a little more than 1 cup of sauce without meat.

To make the white sauce:
4. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook for about 2 minutes. Pour in the milk and stir vigorously to combine. Stirring constantly, cook until sauce simmers and thickens, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, nutmeg and pepper. Cover and set aside.

To prepare the peas:
5. Place the peas in a skillet with one tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Cover and set aside.

To assemble and bake the timballo:
6. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
7. On a lightly floured board, roll out the larger disk of dough into a circle at least 16 inches in diameter -- large enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Then roll out the small disk into a circle at least 11 inches across.
8. Gently drape the larger circle of dough over the springform and carefully fit it into the pan. Let the excess dough hang over the edge of the pan. Set aside covered with a dish towel to prevent drying.
9. Boil the tagliarini in salted water until not quite done. Drain it, then toss it in a bowl with the strained sauce from the ragu, mixing well.
10. Make a layer of half the pasta on the bottom of the pastry-lined pan. Make a layer of half the meat. Make a layer of half the white sauce, then half the peas, then half the grated cheese. Repeat with a layer of pasta, meat, white sauce, peas and cheese. (There will be some sauce left in the pasta bowl. Mix it back into the remaining meat for the last layer of meat.)
11. Cover with the top crust and cut the pastry to shape. Brush the edge of the circle with the beaten egg and pinch together. Use the remaining egg wash to brush on the top pastry. Cut 2 or 3 slits in the pastry.
12. Place the timballo in the next-to-the-lowest rack for about an hour, until the pastry is well browned. If necessary, after 20 to 30 minutes, drape a piece of aluminum foil over the top to prevent it from browning too much. Remove the foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking to make sure the top is well browned. When done, the pastry will have pulled away from the sides of the pan slightly.
13. Let the timballo cool 10 minutes, then remove the springform ring and slide the timballo onto a serving platter. Serve hot.



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