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Fall Kickoff

Baked Sicilian Anelletti Timballo, a perfect comfort food with red wine and gathered around a fire-it

Article by Greg Neruda and Tara Bruner

Photography by Tara Bruner

Originally published in Meridian Lifestyle

If I told you to imagine Italy, most all of our imaginations would run wild with beautiful Tuscan country scenes or Mediterranean beaches. Now if I said imagine Sicily, some of us may draw a blank. Sicily is the football that the boot of Italy is kicking.

Sicily is a big island, rich in ancient history, and a land and sea culinary delight. With the onset of Fall, let’s spend some time exploring a more comfort food dish of Sicily.

We have been spending a lot time in Mediterranean cookbooks, and the latest is “A Love Letter to the Food of Sicily”. Spilling our cappuccino on page 110, we were hypnotized by Baked Sicilian Anelletti Timballo. Turns out Gastro Pubs all over Palermo love this dish.

So what’s a Timballo? Well, credit a French word for “kettledrum”. A deep dish (pan) that you bake with a surrounding crust, with a meat and vegetable filling and then cheese on top. Voila! (Not a Sicilian word)

The crust can be sheet pastry, slices of bread, slices of vegetables like eggplant or zucchini. In Sicily, the meat filling is typically diced beef and pork, but meatless versions work too. The pasta is really fun. Anelletti are round pasta, like little gourmet spaghetti-ohs. We used sweet Italian sausage and a Sardinian shell-shaped pasta, flavored with saffron since most nearby stores don’t have Anelletti. If using larger pasta shapes, increase the liquid part of the recipe when making the meat sauce, which has the texture of a ragu or bolognese.

You don’t have to have an old world Timballo pan as a non-stick springform pan works perfectly. Just make sure it’s not too large a diameter springform - like a 9” or less - or you lose the layered look like we did. But it still tastes amazing! All plates almost licked clean!

For authenticity, there is a layer of chopped ham, pecorino and Parmesan cheese in the middle of the dish. Timballo's, like casseroles, can be a one-dish meal, but in Sicily, there could be a side dish of toasted almonds, shallots, raisins and segments of fresh orange. We opted for grilled vegetables of zucchini and eggplant plus a green leafy salad on the side.

Now for the wines. Sicilian wines, like a Nero d’Avola, are a good match. We considered a full-bodied Sangiovese, like Chianti Classico, or that enticing Brunello that's been in our cellar for a special dinner.

We paired the Timballo with a hearty Sangiovese from Tuscany, a 2018 Poliziano Montepulciano Vino Nobile. Montepulciano is a hill town of quiet charm, Poliziano is the estate and Vino Nobile ( “wine of kings”) has been revered by nobility throughout the centuries. The wine proved to be an excellent choice with this Sicilian favorite.

This was an easy dish to make, not too time-consuming, and so enjoyable for a crisp Fall evening on our patio. Comfort food, red wine, and gathering around a firepit with cozy blankets - what a perfect combination. Saluté!

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