When it gets as cold as it is now here, I need to dream of the sun. Or of sunny food. This recipe is for those of you who still have summer somewhere, probably very far from here.
It’s a vibrant dish, with all the colors and flavors of the Mediterranean. To get it right, you do need good sun-ripened eggplants and plenty fresh basil. No greenhouse ghosts of ingredients please.
Pasta incasciata is traditionally prepared in Sicily for the August 15th holiday. The term means “baked in a mold” or “baked with cheese”, in other words a timbale.
Timbales have been popular in Southern Italian cuisine as early as the XVII century and they still are. I love the sensual description of a pasta timbale given by Tomasi di Lampedusa. In its legendary novel The Leopard, he describes a dish presented at the table of Fabrizio, prince of Salina in XIX century Western Sicily.
“The burnished gold of the crust, the fragrance of sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a smoke laden with aromas, then chicken livers, hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken, and truffles in masses of piping-hot, glistening macaroni, to which meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suede.”
The pasta incasciata is the peasant version of the princely timbale. Meat, spices and truffles are substituted by (less expensive) eggplants, eggs, cheese and some sausage.
May be simplified, but to me it’s a royal treat.
- 1 kg short pasta like penne or anelletti
- 3 medium eggplants, fried
- 2-3 cups basic tomato sauce
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
- 150 gr (5 ounces) ham shredded
- 300 gr (10 ounces) mild cheese or mozzarella, cubed
- 100 gr (3 ounces) grated Parmesan
- a bunch of fresh basil leaves
My family’s version of the recipe is slightly lighter than the original. If you wish to follow the tradition, use Italian salami instead of ham and pecorino instead of Parmesan.
Using the recipe in the link above, make a basic tomato sauce with two 400 gr./12 ounces can diced tomatoes. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water for half of the time indicated on the package. Drain well and toss with 3/4 of the tomato sauce and half of the Parmesan.
Cut each fried eggplant slice in 5-6 pieces. Prepare all ingredients on the table. Preheat oven at 20o° degrees C (400 F°)
Build up the timbale in layers starting with a ladleful of sauce on the bottom of a ovenproof pan. Top a layer of pasta with cheese, ham, egg slices, eggplant and a few basil leaves. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan. You should be able to make 3-4 layers depending on the size of the pan.
End with a layer of pasta. Drizzle 3-4 tablespoon of the reserved tomato sauce, add a few basil leaves and a final sprinkle of Parmesan.
Bake until cheese melts and timbale sets, 20 to 25 minutes. Serves 12.