Time for Timballo!

This is a recipe from ‘Sicily – Recipes from an Italian Island’ our latest book of the regional food of Italy. It’s one of those dishes that is so unctuous and satisfying that even the most dedicated carnivore will forget that there is no meat in the recipe. It’s the perfect celebration dish for any vegetarians in the family as it’s not only easy to make but its impressive to look at too. The colourful layers of tomatoey rice, spinach and melting Mozzarella make it one of our family favourites.
Timballo di riso
Rice timbale
Salvatore, our guide around Palermo, likened Sicilian culture to lasagne, with each layer a different layer of history. You can take a bite from the lasagne but you cannot separate the layers; you bite into them all together. It is the same with the Sicilian dish of timballo, named after the timbale, the mould it is cooked in.
Rice timbale is an elaborate layered dish from eastern Sicily, which is said to derive from Catania during the time of the Arab occupation. There are probably hundreds of variations of timbale; some are made with penne and I have seen ones made with spaghetti rings. In fact, it is a good way to use up leftover risotto or pasta. And do try layers of roasted aubergine (eggplant), flavouring the rice with saffron or adding cooked mushrooms, for a few ideas. I spent a day working with our chef Gregorio Piazza from Augusta, near Catania, and we invented our own version, taking into account our children’s preferences and what we thought people would realistically make at home. It is gluten-free and can be adapted to a filling of your choice. Gregorio said proudly that it looks British but it tastes Sicilian! Our children love it and it is not complicated to make. You can leave it in an ovenproof dish or go for the ‘wow’ factor and cook the timbale in a spring form cake tin, which can be removed after cooking.
Serves 8–10
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
50 g (2 oz/½ stick) salted butter
1 shallot or white onion, finely chopped
500 g (1 lb 2 oz/2¼ cups) Arborio rice
200 ml (7 fl oz/scant 1 cup) white wine
550 g (1 lb 3 oz) Cherry Tomato Sauce
(see page 144)
800–900 ml (28–31 fl oz/3?–4 cups)
hot chicken or vegetable stock,
or hot water
100 g (3½ oz) grana padano, finely grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 × 125 g (4 oz) balls of cow’s or buffalo mozzarella
400 g (14 oz/2 cups) squeezed out
spinach (from approximately 1 kg/
2 lb 3 oz cooked fresh leaves or 500 g/1 lb 2 oz
thawed frozen spinach)
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
handful of basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil and the butter in a frying pan and fry the shallot until soft, then add the rice. Toast the rice for around 3 minutes – it will start to crackle – then add the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate and reduce for another 3 minutes, then add the tomato sauce and 600 ml (20 fl oz/2½ cups) of the stock. Stir through frequently, keeping the heat to medium, and add a little more stock as necessary until you have a firm, thick risotto, which should take around 20 minutes. Add 80 g (3 oz) of the Grana Padano and stir through. Season to taste and remove from the heat.
Cut the mozzarella into 1 cm (½ in) slices and put into a colander to drain. Saute the spinach in the remaining oil flavoured with the garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Spread half of the tomato rice in the bottom of a 30 x 21 cm (12 x 8¼ in) ovenproof dish at least 5 cm (2 in) deep. Then add the spinach, followed by a layer of mozzarella and half of the Grana Padano. Follow this with the basil leaves, the remaining rice and top with the rest of the grana padano. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Serve straight away, while the cheese is still bubbling on top.
This timbale recipe also makes a beautiful layered savoury cake when cooked in a cake tin. To do this, generously grease a loose-bottomed 24 cm (9½ in) cake tin with butter. Follow the method above and after removing from the oven allow the timbale to sit for 10 minutes before removing from the tin.
For signed copies of the book ‘Sicily – Recipes from and Italian Island’ published by Hardie Grant click here. The beautiful photography throughout the book is by the talented Helen Cathcart.

Wonderfully Warming For Winter…

As the mild start to the season has come to an end and we’re starting to feel a chill in the air I thought it would be the ideal time to share this wonderful recipe from our latest book ‘Sicily – Recipes from and Italian Island’. It’s complete comfort food, ‘rib sticking’, warming and the perfect antidote to the winter blues.
Ragù tradizionale di carne
Slow-cooked pork, beef & sausage ragu
Traditionally, ragu was made on a Sunday and normally it would be the mamma of the house who would get up early to get it started over a fire, so that it would be ready in time for a late lunch. Nowadays, with slow cookers and heavy, cast-iron casseroles like Le Creuset you can get it going, turn the oven on low and go out for the day. You will come back to a heavenly feast that is the wonderfully rich and sticky ragu ready to cling to pasta shapes or gnocchi.
We tested this recipe at our restaurant in Bray. A couple of the staff are Sicilian and they ate it for their dinner. They loved it and actually became quite emotional! I think we got pretty close to the original recipe. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the types of meat – it really should be made with what you have to hand, so use more beef or pork accordingly. Do try to find proper Italian sausages, though, as they are full of flavour from garlic, wine and sometimes fennel seeds and don’t contain rusk. Serve this with dried or fresh long pasta.
Serves 8–10 
425 g (15 oz) Italian sausages
325 g (11½ oz) pork spare ribs
425 g (15 oz) pork belly, cut into
3 cm (1¼ in) cubes
425 g (15 oz) stewing beef, cut into
8 cm (3¼ in) chunks
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 white or brown onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300 ml (10 fl oz/1¼ cups) white or
red wine
4 tablespoons tomato purée
(tomato paste)
1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) tinned whole tomatoes,
roughly chopped
1 litre (34 fl oz/4¼ cups) chicken, meat
or vegetable stock, or hot water
6 potatoes (approximately 1 kg/2 lb 3 oz),
peeled and cut in half
200 g (7 oz/1? cups) peas, frozen or
fresh (optional)
Brown the meat in batches in the oil in a large casserole dish over a medium heat, setting it aside in a large bowl when done. Add the onions to the pan in the remaining oil with the garlic, bay leaves, rosemary and seasoning and cook over a gentle heat to soften. It should take 7-10 minutes. Add the meat back into the pan with the wine and bring to the boil. Allow to reduce for few minutes. Add the tomato purée, tomatoes and stock and stir to combine.
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to cook slowly for 4–5 hours. The time will depend upon the cut of meat and the size. You need to cook it until the meat falls easily from the bones. Add the potatoes after around 4 hours and continue to cook until they are cooked through. Add the peas, if using, towards the end of the cooking time. Cook for 15 minutes if using frozen peas and 30 minutes if using fresh ones. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Eat the stew as it is or ladle off most of the sauce and serve it with pasta, followed by the meat and potatoes as a main course served with the Purple Sprouting Broccoli.
You can purchase signed copies of ‘Sicily – Recipes from an Italian Island’ here. It’s published by Hardie Grant and the beautiful photography is by the talented Helen Cathcart.