fb-pixelRecipe: Her Sicilian Nonna’s homestyle rice timballo is similar to the grand timpano in ‘Big Night’ - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
SEASONAL RECIPES

Recipe: Her Sicilian Nonna’s homestyle rice timballo is similar to the grand timpano in ‘Big Night’

Sicilian-Style Rice TimballoClaudia Catalano

Serves 8

There's a famous scene in the 1996 film "Big Night," when Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and his brother, Secondo (Stanley Tucci), wow their restaurant patrons with a traditional southern Italian dish called timpano. It's an elaborate pie stuffed with pasta, meatballs, eggs, salami, tomato sauce, and cheese. There's a homestyle version of the dish that my Sicilian grandmother made, called timballo (pronounced "thumalu" in her Sicilian dialect), which uses risotto instead of pasta. It was family fare, less elaborate than Primo and Secondo's masterpiece, but not something you make quickly. The recipe has many steps but you can assemble and refrigerate an uncooked timballo for up to three days; make sure all the components are cool before layering. Nonna spooned rich, tomato-tinted risotto into her enormous lasagna pan with a filling of meatball chunks, tomato sauce, sharp provolone cheese, and peas, then sent it into the oven. If you know arancini, small breaded and fried rice balls, my Nonna's timballo was like deconstructed arancini, without the breading and frying. Try improvising with any fillings you like, such as pan-fried eggplant, sauteed greens, mushrooms, or shredded chicken. With the help of a springform pan, you can present the large round and add some drama that will turn any night at your table into a big night.

    RISOTTO

    • 8

      cups chicken stock

    • 2

      tablespoons olive oil

    • 2

      tablespoons butter

    • 1

      small onion, finely chopped

    • Salt, to taste

    • cups arborio rice

    • ½

      cup crushed tomatoes

    • 1

      cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

  • 1. Have on hand a medium heavy-based flameproof casserole or Dutch oven, a medium saucepan, a wooden spoon, and a ladle.

  • 2. In the saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Turn the heat to low to keep the stock hot.

  • 3. In the flameproof casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil and butter. When the butter is foamy, add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

  • 4. Add the rice and cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it is very lightly toasted and fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the liquid is mostly evaporated.

  • 5. Add a ladle of the hot chicken stock and continue stirring. The liquid in the rice should be gently simmering while you stir. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, add another ladle of stock and let it cook, stirring, until it is almost completely absorbed. Repeat this process for 18 to 20 minutes, tasting the rice along the way, until the rice is tender but still has a bit of white in the center (you may not use all of the stock; stop adding it when the rice is tender).

  • 6. Turn off the heat. Stir in the Pecorino Romano. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, if you like.

  • FILLING AND ASSEMBLY

    • Butter (for the pan)

    • ½

      cup plain dry breadcrumbs

    • ¼

      cup milk

    • 1

      egg, lightly beaten

    • ¼

      cup chopped fresh parsley

    • ½

      cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

    • 1

      teaspoon salt, or more to taste

    • ½

      pound ground pork

    • ½

      pound ground beef

    • 2

      tablespoons olive oil

    • 2

      cloves garlic, lightly crushed

    • 2

      cups crushed tomatoes

    • 2

      ounces sharp provolone cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

    • 2

      ounces Italian fontina cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

    • ½

      cup frozen peas

  • 1. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet and a 12-inch straight-sided skillet or large Dutch oven.

  • 2. For the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, milk, and egg. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or until the breadcrumbs have softened and absorbed the milk and egg.

  • 3. Add the parsley, Pecorino Romano, 1 teaspoon salt, and a generous pinch of pepper. With a fork, gently stir in the ground pork and beef until the mixture is roughly combined. Form the mixture into rough little patties (about the size of a squished golf ball); they don't need to be perfect since they will be broken up and tucked inside the timballo.

  • 4. Set the straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When it is hot, add the meatballs and cook without disturbing for 4 minutes, or until they are browned on one side. Tuck the garlic cloves into the pan, then turn the meatballs and cook 3 minutes more, or until browned on the other side.

  • 5. Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes (the liquid in the pan will splutter). Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt, if you like. With a large spoon, break the meatballs into bite-sized chunks; set the pan aside to cool slightly.

  • 6. Set the oven at 350 degrees.

  • 7. Spread half of the risotto in the bottom of the springform pan. Spoon the meatball chunks and sauce over the risotto. Scatter the cubed provolone and fontina on top, tucking the cubes into any crevices. Sprinkle with frozen peas. Pat everything down to form a mostly solid layer. Spread the remaining risotto on top. Smooth the layer with the back of a spoon. Cover the pan with foil and set it on the rimmed baking sheet.

  • 8. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the timballo cool (away from drafts) for at least 30 minutes. Use a small metal spatula or knife to loosen the rice from the sides of the pan. Release the spring latch and lift it off. Cut the timballo into wedges to serve.

Claudia Catalano

Serves 8

There's a famous scene in the 1996 film "Big Night," when Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and his brother, Secondo (Stanley Tucci), wow their restaurant patrons with a traditional southern Italian dish called timpano. It's an elaborate pie stuffed with pasta, meatballs, eggs, salami, tomato sauce, and cheese. There's a homestyle version of the dish that my Sicilian grandmother made, called timballo (pronounced "thumalu" in her Sicilian dialect), which uses risotto instead of pasta. It was family fare, less elaborate than Primo and Secondo's masterpiece, but not something you make quickly. The recipe has many steps but you can assemble and refrigerate an uncooked timballo for up to three days; make sure all the components are cool before layering. Nonna spooned rich, tomato-tinted risotto into her enormous lasagna pan with a filling of meatball chunks, tomato sauce, sharp provolone cheese, and peas, then sent it into the oven. If you know arancini, small breaded and fried rice balls, my Nonna's timballo was like deconstructed arancini, without the breading and frying. Try improvising with any fillings you like, such as pan-fried eggplant, sauteed greens, mushrooms, or shredded chicken. With the help of a springform pan, you can present the large round and add some drama that will turn any night at your table into a big night.

RISOTTO

8cups chicken stock
2tablespoons olive oil
2tablespoons butter
1small onion, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
cups arborio rice
½cup crushed tomatoes
1cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Have on hand a medium heavy-based flameproof casserole or Dutch oven, a medium saucepan, a wooden spoon, and a ladle.

2. In the saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Turn the heat to low to keep the stock hot.

3. In the flameproof casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil and butter. When the butter is foamy, add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

4. Add the rice and cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it is very lightly toasted and fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the liquid is mostly evaporated.

5. Add a ladle of the hot chicken stock and continue stirring. The liquid in the rice should be gently simmering while you stir. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, add another ladle of stock and let it cook, stirring, until it is almost completely absorbed. Repeat this process for 18 to 20 minutes, tasting the rice along the way, until the rice is tender but still has a bit of white in the center (you may not use all of the stock; stop adding it when the rice is tender).

6. Turn off the heat. Stir in the Pecorino Romano. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt, if you like.

FILLING AND ASSEMBLY

Butter (for the pan)
½cup plain dry breadcrumbs
¼cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼cup chopped fresh parsley
½cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1teaspoon salt, or more to taste
½pound ground pork
½pound ground beef
2tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
2cups crushed tomatoes
2ounces sharp provolone cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2ounces Italian fontina cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
½cup frozen peas

1. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet and a 12-inch straight-sided skillet or large Dutch oven.

2. For the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, milk, and egg. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or until the breadcrumbs have softened and absorbed the milk and egg.

3. Add the parsley, Pecorino Romano, 1 teaspoon salt, and a generous pinch of pepper. With a fork, gently stir in the ground pork and beef until the mixture is roughly combined. Form the mixture into rough little patties (about the size of a squished golf ball); they don't need to be perfect since they will be broken up and tucked inside the timballo.

4. Set the straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When it is hot, add the meatballs and cook without disturbing for 4 minutes, or until they are browned on one side. Tuck the garlic cloves into the pan, then turn the meatballs and cook 3 minutes more, or until browned on the other side.

5. Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes (the liquid in the pan will splutter). Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt, if you like. With a large spoon, break the meatballs into bite-sized chunks; set the pan aside to cool slightly.

6. Set the oven at 350 degrees.

7. Spread half of the risotto in the bottom of the springform pan. Spoon the meatball chunks and sauce over the risotto. Scatter the cubed provolone and fontina on top, tucking the cubes into any crevices. Sprinkle with frozen peas. Pat everything down to form a mostly solid layer. Spread the remaining risotto on top. Smooth the layer with the back of a spoon. Cover the pan with foil and set it on the rimmed baking sheet.

8. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the timballo cool (away from drafts) for at least 30 minutes. Use a small metal spatula or knife to loosen the rice from the sides of the pan. Release the spring latch and lift it off. Cut the timballo into wedges to serve.Claudia Catalano