I have died and gone to Gastronomic Heaven.


When I spoke with Victor at lunch today, he said he had dinner covered.  Nothing else.  No details.  I didn’t question it – that usually means something fun is going to be created.

And was I ever right!

The November issue of La Cucina Italiana magazine arrived a few days ago and as I was glancing through, one recipe in particular caught my eye – a Neopolitan Rice Timbale.  I have made individual timbales many times, but the size and scope of this one intrigued me.  I showed it to Victor and then filed the idea away.

Today, Victor pulled out the magazine and went to work!

Sartù – Neopolitan Rice Timbale

  • 1 ounce dried wild mushrooms
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste concentrate (from tube)
  • 7 cups chicken or beef broth, heated to a simmer
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 pound pork sausage
  • 2/3 pound ground beef
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 5 tablespoons fine plain breadcrumbs, plus more for mold
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for mold
  • 4 ounces chicken livers, cut into small pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes

Special equipment: a 2-quart mold or ovenproof bowl


Soak dried mushrooms in 2 cups hot water for 20 minutes; drain, reserving liquid, and finely chop.

Heat oven to 350°.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Dilute tomato paste in 1 cup broth, then add to pan with onion. Add mushrooms, peas and pinch salt and pepper; bring to a simmer. Add sausage and simmer, covered, until sausage is nearly cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer sausage to a cutting board and slice in to 1/4-inch pieces. Return pieces to skillet and simmer, uncovered, until liquid is mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes more. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, stir together beef, egg, 1 tablespoon Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls.

In a large skillet, heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Dust meatballs lightly with flour and fry in 2 batches until golden on all sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Drain oil from skillet and wipe clean with paper towels. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Add liver and pinch salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liver is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add liver and meatballs to skillet with sausage; stir to combine.

Combine remaining 6 cups broth and mushroom liquid in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Add rice, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain rice; spread onto a large plate and let cool to room temperature. Transfer rice to a large bowl; stir in 4 tablespoons butter and remaining 4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano while still warm.

Grease mold or ovenproof bowl with butter and dust with breadcrumbs. Put 1 1/2 cups of the rice mixture into bowl and press into base and up sides, forming a well in the center. Pour meat sauce into well; top with mozzarella, then cover with remaining rice. Cover with remaining tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces, and remaining 4 tablespoons breadcrumbs. Bake for 1 hour.

Remove mold from oven; transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of mold to loosen rice, then invert onto a large serving plate. Serve immediately.

When I got home, most of the parts were completed.  He was cooking the rice and most of the preparation mess had already been cleaned up.  It was a four-pot process to make a one-dish dinner.  But every one of those pots was worth it!

I just stared with a huge grin.  I knew it was going to be good.

Surprisingly, we didn’t have a proper 2-quart mold.  We have a pudding mold for Christmas Puddings and the like, but the Charlotte mold – which would have been perfect if my memory is correct – is MIA.  No idea where it is.  I’m sure I will find it next time I’m looking for something else in some obscure cabinet somewhere.

We had a bowl that worked perfectly even though it was a couple of inches larger than necessary.

Victor buttered, crumbed, filled… and finished building.  I went into the office.

After baking and the requisite 10 minutes of cooling, Victor called me into the kitchen.  He did the cooking – my job was to get it out of the mold and onto a plate. (Thank you, dear!)

The bowl he used was fine for cooking but slightly problematic for unmolding.  This was one item we didn’t want to drop onto the plate.  I felt it would immediately crack and crumble.

The solution was a tart bottom.  We had one that fit the timbale perfectly.  I placed it on the timbale, turned it upside down on my hand, and Victor pulled the bowl away and I placed it onto the platter.


We didn’t expect it to neatly slice and portion – and we weren’t disappointed when it didn’t.  It was slightly sloppy, but OMG!  Was It Good!

I mean, IT WAS GOOD!!!

Every flavor came through individually while blending together perfectly.  It’s one of those things that’s actually a bit difficult to describe.  It just worked on every level.  I had way too much as a first helping – and then against better judgement, went back for more.  It was really that good.

Victor had made a totally delicious marinara as a side because he didn’t know how dry the finished product would be.  We didn’t need it.

It is yet another recipe that has a million-and-one different things one can do with it, although right now I think it would be difficult to top what we just ate.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t try in the coming months!

This will definitely be a great winter dish – with a loaf of crusty fresh-from-the-oven bread.

And we haven’t even started the Pasta Issue, yet…