Sartù, a Neapolitan rice timbale

Sartù Neapolitan rice timbale casserole recipe
The  Neapolitan sartù is a sophisticated timbale – a luxury casserole – made with rice and filled with cheese, vegetables, and meat. The name sartù originates from a silver table centerpiece or surtout, used by the Naples’ nobility to serve the most important dish of a formal dinner.
Rice was imported into peninsular Italy in the XIV century by the Spanish. For a long time however, the pasta-eater Neapolitans considered it only useful as fodder or a remedy to cure stomach illness.

By the end of 1700 however, rice was all the rage in France. At the time the Bourbons ruled Naples and as a consequence French cooks ruled the kitchens of the Neapolitan aristocracy. Because of their status of culinary authorities, they convinced their patrons to eat rice but they had to make it acceptable using popular ingredients such as tomato sauce and mozzarella.

The original recipe involves the use of lard, aged pecorino cheese, a thick meat ragout with chicken livers and no tomato in the rice. To enhance creaminess I prefer to cook the rice in a light tomato sauce like a risotto and I use either grated Parmigiano or Pecorino. The sartù is rich enough even without the lard, one such casserole feeds a small army. It’s a wonderful party dish and if you make it once for your family, they will ask it over and over again.


For the rice “shell”:

  • 800 g (28 oz) canned peeled or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 700 gr. (1 and 1/2 lb) risotto rice
  • 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 3-4 tablespoons breadcrumbs or gluten-free equivalent to sprinkle on the buttered pan and on top of the sartù
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter

For the filling:

  • 400  gr. (12 oz) fresh mozzarella, diced
  • 100 g (3 oz) ham diced or shredded

Polpettine meatballs:

  • 500 gr. (1 lb) minced pork (or half pork /half beef)
  • 2 tab parsley finely chopped
  • 2 tab bread crumbs
  • 2 tab freshly grated pecorino
  • 2 tab milk
  • 1  garlic clove minced through a garlic press
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pea and mushroom sauce:

  • 400 gr. (12 oz) fresh pork sausages, casing removed and broken in pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 450 g (1 lb) fresh mushrooms of your choice, diced or chopped
  • 300 g  ( 10 oz) fresh or frozen small peas

Prepare the rice shell

Neapolitan rice casserole - tomato risottoTo make the tomato sauce, sauté the diced onion in one tablespoon olive oil until translucent. Add canned tomatoes and simmer for 5 min. Meanwhile, bring to the boil 1 lt/1 quart water or stock. Add the rice to the tomato sauce and cook it like a risotto adding ladlefuls of hot water or stock until very al dente. Season with salt and pepper, add egg, Parmigiano cheese,  spread it on a wide plate and let it cool. If possible prepare the rice several hours in advance to firm up.

Prepare the polpettine

Neapolitan rice casserole - 6

Mix the chopped parsley, ground meat, milk, grated cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and bread crumbs. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Meatballs will cook better and faster if you make them small and of the same size. Use a spoon to make equal portions, then roll each meatball with your hands into approx. 1-inch diameter balls. Shallow fry in extra virgin olive oil until golden.



Prepare the pea, sausage and mushroom sauce

Sauté onion and sausage in 2 tablespoon olive over high heat.

Add the mushrooms and stir quickly until very hot. 

Neapolitan rice casserole2

Add white wine to deglaze, reduce the heat to medium and stir occasionally until the mushrooms are cooked through and tender, 5 to 10 min.




Add the fresh peas and cook for 3-4 minutes until tender. Taste for seasoning. Note that additional salt and pepper might not be necessary if the sausages are heavily seasoned.Neapolitan rice casserole - 5


Assemble the Sartu’

Preheat oven at 200°C (400°F).
Butter generously a round 6 cm (2.5 inch) x 30 cm (11 inches) ovenproof dish and dust it with breadcrumbs. Line the dish with a 2 cm (3/4 inch) thick layer of risotto. You need to make sure that the rice layer is compact enough on the sides so that it will hold the filling.

Layer all other ingredients in the rice “shell”: the pea, sausage and mushroom sauce, the meatballs, ham and the mozzarella.
Neapolitan rice casserole - 7Often I use half of the mozzarella to top the sausage sauce and half to top the meatballs (not portrayed in the photo below).
Neapolitan rice casserole - 8
Cover with the rest of the rice. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, a couple of tablespoon Parmesan and dot with butter. Bake for 20-30 min until slightly golden. Allow resting for at least 10 min before serving.

Serves 12.
Neapolitan rice filled with meat, peas, mushrooms, mozzarella


  1. Oh my gosh! That looks so amazing!!! I don’t know if I will ever be able to do this justice, but you have inspired me to try making this recipe. I will let you know how I do.

  2. Holy Camogli. Now if this is not an all day project, I don’t know what is! I think I will save for AFTER the guests leave 🙂

  3. Hi Maven and Diana, actually this is not a difficult dish, it just requires some organization.
    It’s a great dish to make with friends as each can take care of one recipe and assemble it later on together.
    Alternatively you can prepare the vegetables and rice, sauce and rice one day and do the rest on the next day. It is fab for buffets for large parties as it is a “piatto unico” a whole meal in one dish.

  4. Letizia, my guests (all 8 of them) had demanded your lasagna and panna cotta for the dinner party I hosted last weekend. And, as usual, the dishes turned out very well, thanks to your great recipes.
    But next time, I’m definitely going to prepare this sartu!

  5. Hi there,
    I was wondering what type and what size of dish to use and how many this would feed as a main course.

  6. Hi,
    Just wondering if you need to cook the meatballs before assembling the sartu?

Comments are closed.