Channeling My Inner Italian with Eggplant and Pasta Incaciata
I don’t watch very much TV. But when I do, it’s either on the treadmill or at night, right before bed. And at night, right before bed, is usually when I’m watching the Cooking Channel. . which really makes no sense at all because I get crazy hungry and always want to head straight for the kitchen to get something to eat at midnight. But I never do. I go to bed hungry. So sad.
And then I dream about food.
But I guess that might not be a bad thing. Because it then challenges me to make dishes like this one. Eggplant and Pasta Incaciata. If I didn’t actually see this one on Extra Virgin and saw that this recipe is actually not terribly difficult (just really really time consuming), I probably would never have thought to make this.
But I am so so glad that I did. This was absolutely delicious. The eggplant with the pasta and ragu sauce is wonderful and so flavorful. I thought I might need to add some of the leftover red sauce when I ate this but it didn’t need anything. It was delicious. One of the best dishes I have made so far.
This Sicilian specialty, called Pasta Incaciata, is a lovely baked pasta dish made with layered eggplant and stuffed with pasta, ground veal, pork or beef, a tomato sauce or ragu and cheese. The Italian word timballo comes from an Arabic word meaning ‘drum’ — the dish is cooked in a round drum-like vessel, which, in this case, is a springform pan. Basically it’s an eggplant and cheese “cake” that will seriously rock your world.
The next time I have out-of-town guests over, this is what I am making. If you like eggplant and pasta, I highly highly recommend this recipe. You will not be disappointed.
I hope you enjoy!
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- Pinch red pepper flakes (optional for some heat)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Large handful fresh basil leaves, torn
- Softened unsalted butter, for greasing pan
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano + more when serving
- ½ cup olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 pound lean ground beef or pork
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, cut into 3 chunks each
- ½ cup red wine, preferably Chianti
- 2 medium eggplant
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta, cooked to al dente
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
- One 9-inch springform pan at least 3 inches high
- Mandolin slicer
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and onions and saute until tender, 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes if using and some salt and black pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir the basil leaves into the sauce at the end of simmering.
- Grease the bottom and insides of the springform pan with softened butter. Mix ¼ cup of the breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano cheese. Coat the inside of the pan well with the cheese mixture. Knock out any excess and discard.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the ground beef and sprinkle with salt and black pepper and saute until cooked through. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the red wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups of the red sauce and bring back to a simmer. Cook for another 5 minutes and season with salt and black pepper. Reserve the remaining red sauce for another use.
- Meanwhile, peel the outer skin off the eggplant and using a mandolin slicer, slice the eggplants lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick planks. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and black pepper and fry in a single layer, working in batches, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, using 3 tablespoons of oil per batch. You want to end up with enough eggplant planks to cover the bottom of the pan, the edges and the top of your Incaciata. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.
- Combine the cooked pasta with the mozzarella and ragu sauce in a large bowl.
- Line the bottom of the prepared springform pan with a single layer of eggplant, then line the sides with the eggplant planks vertically, allowing the excess to hang over the outside of the pan. Fill the inside of the lined pan with the pasta mixture, pressing down gently. Fold the flaps of eggplant over the top of the pasta, using any remaining eggplant slices to cover the top. Don’t worry if you run out of eggplant planks, you can use your leftover breadcrumb mixture to cover the top later. Cover with plastic wrap and weigh it down with a plate. Refrigerate for a few hours or up to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmigiano and breadcrumbs mixture. Cover the top loosely with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until bubbling and the top is golden brown, an additional 15-20 minutes. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes and cool slightly before unmolding from the pan. This is very important that you allow the Incaciata to cool slightly before unmolding. Slice, serve and enjoy! (You can serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and the leftover sauce if desired)
Recipe adapted from Extra Virgin.
I usually don’t photograph step-by-step photos but I wanted to show you guys how to assemble the Incaciata. .
Some of my eggplant planks were thin and smaller so – in order to use everything and cover the bottom of my pan, I did this. It’s not pretty but it worked. I was trying to find the Extra Virgin episode online to watch it again before I made this but could not find it. I think Gabriele also layered his Incaciata with some of the eggplant planks in the middle. So, he added more eggplant on top of this pasta and then did another layer of pasta but I did not have enough eggplant to do this AND I wanted to ensure all the pasta would stay in tact when I sliced it.
I ran out of eggplant planks so I covered the top with my leftover breadcrumb and Parmigiano-Reggiano mixture. Worked out lovely!