Timballo teramano

FrankAbruzzo, pasta, primi piatti30 Comments

Timballo teramano

Timballo teramano, one of the signature dishes of the Abruzzo region of Italy, is a kind of lasagna, but a very special one, made with the ultra-thin regional version of crepes called scrippelle instead of pasta. The filling can vary from locality to locality and even family to family, but in the most classic version, the scrippelle are layered with tomato sauce, tiny meatballs, sometimes peas or other vegetables, and mozzarella or scamorza cheese. Often you moisten the crepes with an egg and milk wash called a bagnata.

Admittedly, making a timballo teramano is something of a project. Preparing each of its component parts takes time and some skill. Making the scrippelle in particular can be tricky business, especially at first. Like other crepes, though, once you get the hang of it you’re on easy street. Forming all those tiny meatballs isn’t difficult but it does takes time and bit of dexterity.

If you ask me, it’s totally worth the effort. Timballo teramano is out of this world delicious and looks very festive on your dinner table. The process is actually quite manageable if you make the components at your leisure in the days before you want to serve it. After that, assembling and baking the timballo is a virtual piece of cake.

In Abruzzo timballo teramano often served for important holidays like Christmas or New Year’s. This year we closed out the holiday season with a timballo teramano as a first course for our Epiphany dinner, which we enjoyed with a dear friend of Abruzzese origin whom I’ve known for over 30 years and her family. This dish would fit the bill for other holidays like Easter, too. Or really any time you want a festive dish for a special occasion. And while it’s impressive enough for important guests, it’s homey enough for family and friends.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

To make the scrippelle:

  • 6 eggs
  • 6 Tbs flour
  • About 250ml (1 cup) water (or enough to make very thin batter)
  • 1 tsp oil
  • A pinch of salt

For the tiny meatballs:

  • 500g (1 lb) ground meat (usually beef, or a mix of equal parts beef and pork, but see Notes)
  • 1 egg
  • 25g (1 oz) grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • 1-2 Tbs breadcrumbs, if and as needed
  • Salt and pepper

To make the tomato sauce:

  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • One large bottle tomato passata (about 700ml/24 fl oz)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the ‘bagnata’:

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Tbs milk

To finish the dish:

  • 1 ball of mozzarella (or scamorza), about 250g (1/2 lb), cut into small dice or sliced
  • Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, q.b.
  • Freshly grated pecorino, q.b.
  • Butter, q.b.
Optional
  • 150g (1 cup) frozen peas, thawed (or another vegetable such as sautéed artichokes or spinach—see Notes)

Directions

Making the scrippelle

Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl, then add the flour bit by bit, whisking all the time until you have a rather thick uniform batter. As you continue whisking, drizzle in the oil and then enough water so that the batter attains the consistency of light cream. Whisk in a good pinch of salt.

Let the batter rest for a good 30 minutes at room temperature. 

Heat the oil in a crepe pan or nonstick skillet. When the pan is hot, drizzle in a bit of oil, then pour on a small ladleful of the batter (about 1/4 cup) and swirl it around so it very thinly covers the bottom of the pan.

Let the batter set, and when it just barely begins to brown around the edges, it should come loose when you shake the pan. Flip it over and let it cook briefly on the other side. The whole operation should take no more than one minute. Remove the resulting crêpe aka scrippella to a dish.

Repeat until you’ve used up all the batter. Set your scrippelle aside until needed.

Making the tiny meatballs

In a large bowl, mix together the minced meats, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper until you have a uniform paste. (It’s easiest to do this with impeccably washed hands.) The mixture should be firm and not at all sticky. If it is, mix in a spoonful or two of breadcrumbs to stiffen it up. Be quick, and try not to overwork the mixture.

Grease your hands with a few drops of oil, then take small pinch of the meat mixture and roll it between the palms of your hands to form a tiny ball about 1 cm (1/2 inch) in diameter. Repeat until you’ve used up the mixture.

Heat a wide skillet over a medium-high flame and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Toss in the meatballs, as many as will fit in a single layer without crowding. Fry the meatballs until lightly brown, shaking the skillet frequently to roll them over so they brown evenly on all sides.

Repeat as needed. Set the browned meatballs aside until needed.

Preparing the sauce

In a saucepan, sauté the minced onion in abundant olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the tomato passata and a pinch of salt. Simmer for about 15 minutes or so.

Add the meatballs (if you’re a glutton like me, along with their frying oil) and continue simmering for another 15 minutes.

Making the ‘bagnata’

In a small bowl, whisk the egg and milk together until smooth and set aside until needed.

Assembling the timballo

Take a baking dish or, if you prefer, a round mold, and grease it well with olive oil.

Line the bottoms and sides with scrippelle. The one that line the sides hang over the sides by half.

Moisten the scrippelle at the bottom with a thin layer of the bagnata.

Spoon a layer of the sauce with its tiny meatballs (and, if using, peas) then dot with mozzarella and sprinkle with the grated cheeses.

Timballo teramano

Lay down another layer of scrippelle, this time covering just the sauce and other filling ingredients, not the sides. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of the bagnata, then spoon over another layer of the sauce and the other ingredients.

Repeat until you’ve used up the filling ingredients. (You should have at least four layers.) Fold the scrippelle that are hanging over the sides of the dish or mold towards the middle. If the filling ingredients are still showing, lay over one or more scripelle to cover the gap. Moisten once again with the bagnata.

Baking and serving the timballo

Top the last layer of scrippelle with some tomato sauce (without meatballs), then sprinkle with the grated cheeses and dot with butter.

Bake the timballo in a moderate (180C/350F) oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, until cooked through and golden brown on top.

Let the timballo rest for about 15-20 minutes before serving.

Timballo teramano

Notes

In Italian cookery, it seems to be a law of (human) nature that any famous dish will have myriad variations. And timballo teramano is no exception to the rule.

Let’s start with presentation. For a family style timballo teramano, you can make it in a baking dish and serve just as you would a lasagna, as pictured here. But if you want to get really fancy, you can make the timballo in a springform pan or other baking vessel you can unmold afterwards. You skip the tomato sauce topping, just some cheese and butter will do. After it’s rested, you release the springform pan (or if using a mold, you flip it over) and serve your golden brown timballo like a cake.

Either way, a classic timballo teramano is typical quite tall, with at least 4 or 5 layers but often quite a few more—and far taller than the timballo depicted here, to be honest. But hey, tall or short, it’s delicious all the same!

The scripelle

The classic formula for scrippelle batter is one egg, one heaping tablespoon of flour and one egg shell full of water per person. (Personally, I’ve never tried to measure water with an egg shell, so I’ve given more conventional measurements in the recipe above.) But there can be variations in the batter. In particular, some recipes (including my own here) call for the equivalent of two heaping spoonfuls of flour per egg, plus more water to compensate.

Scrippelle can vary in size anywhere between 16cm (6-1/3 in) and 24cm (9-1/2in), which corresponds roughly with the size of most small and medium sized non-stick skillets. You generally use smaller scripelle to make scripelle ‘mbusse (scripelle served in broth) so they lay flat in your soup bowls, while the large ones work well in a timballo like this one.

That said, larger scrippelle are a bit trickier to flip. Personally I’m hopeless at flipping the larger ones with a spatula, so I slide my half cooked scrippelle on to a dish and flip that over, as if I were making a frittata. Also bear in mind that your scrippelle shouldn’t be any wider than the bottom of your baking dish.

The tiny meatballs

Although meat is invariably part of a timballo teramano, it can take various forms. The tiny meatballs are perhaps the most classic version. Called pallottine in local dialect, they show up in other regional dishes like spaghetti alla chitarra con pallotine, which might be a distant cousin to the Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs. (Indeed, if you have meatballs and sauce leftover, this is an excellent way to recycle them!)

Pallottine need to be truly tiny. No bigger than 1 cm (3/8 inch) around. Some recipes call for even tinier ones (1/2 cm) and some even compare their size to a corn kernel! It helps to have small hands—which I definitely don’t have—but if I can manage the 1 cm meatballs without too much trouble. It helps to grease your hands before you form them so the meat mixture doesn’t stick.

In some recipes, you’ll see the meatballs are made with ground veal rather than beef or pork. I’ve seen recipes calling for ground lamb as well. Sometimes the meatballs are filled out with some bread or breadcrumbs. Mostly they’re pure meat. That said, if you add egg—which not all recipes do—you will probably need some breadcrumbs to firm the mixture up so it’s manageable.

If forming those tiny meatballs is too much trouble or if you just don’t have the time, you can simply crumble and sauté the ground meats into a kind of hash, then layer the sautéed meat over the tomato sauce. You’ll find any number of recipes where they do it this way.

The sauce

In this version of timballo teramano, the tomato sauce is a simple one. The soffritto for the sauce is sometimes made with onion, sometime with a mixture of onion and carrot. In a few, a stalk of celery makes it way in. In season, a few leaves of basil sometime add a bit of freshness to the sauce. Garlic may or may not be added as well.

In some versions of timballo teramano the sauce is simmered for hours with pork ribs or other whole pieces of meat, as if you were making a Neapolitan style ragù. In other versions, you add the ground meats directly to the sauce, right after the soffritto, to make a kind of sugo di carne. Yet others call for a sauce with just a tad of ground meat, in which case the tiny meatballs are laid separately in the timballo without prior simmering in the sauce.

And there are also versions of timballo teramano in bianco, which is to say without any tomato sauce. In some versions, béchamel substitutes for the tomato sauce. In others, you just increase the amounts of the other filling ingredients.

Green vegetables

One important variation is whether to include vegetables. Many recipes omit them but most I’ve seen include at least one. This one contains peas, which need only be defrosted (if using frozen); fresh peas should be gently simmer in a bit of lightly salted water until tender. If you want to add more depth of flavor and don’t mind adding yet another step to this already elaborate recipe, you can begin with a soffritto of shallot sautéed in olive oil, the simmer the peas (fresh or frozen) until tender.

Other recipes call for spinach, steamed or boiled, then squeezed dry and finely chopped. Yet others call for artichokes, either fried in a light batter or prepared in the trifolati style. Sautéed mushrooms also occasionally show up.

The cookbook Le ricette regionali italiane (Solaris) includes an interesting recipe for a “green” timballo called timballo di crespelle al verde. Instead of mixing all the filling ingredients in a single layer, you alternate separate layers of ground meat, simply sautéed in olive oil with chicken livers, with layers of sautéed artichoke wedges, blanched and minced spinach, and sliced mozzarella. Each layer gets a sprinkling of bagnata, a good dusting of grated parmigiano-reggiano and dots of butter.

Cheeses

The mozzarella should be the dry kind you might use for pizza. If you’re dealing with fresh mozzarella in its whey, make sure to dry it off well and drain it on paper towels after dicing or slicing. As mentioned in the ingredient list, scamorza (sometimes smoked) can be used instead of the mozzarella.

As for the grated cheese, some recipes call for parmigiano-reggiano only, others only pecorino and yet others like this for a mix.

Other ingredients

The ‘bagnata’ doesn’t figure in all recipes, but I’ve included it here because it really does improve the dish, acting as a binder and a moistener at the same time. It’s an extra step, yes, but it adds minimal time and effort. That said, you can leave it out if you prefer.

You will find recipes for timballo teramano that call for slices of hard boiled egg among the filling ingredients. (Not my thing.) Some recipes have you dot the internal layers of filling with butter, not just the top for extra richness. Feel free if you dare!

Making Ahead

As mentioned at the top, while this is a laborious dish, the scrippelle, the meatballs and the tomato sauce can all be made ahead at your leisure and kept for a day or two in the fridge. Then you just put everything together the day you want to serve it and bake it. This makes the whole process really very manageable.

If you want to make the scrippelle further ahead, it’s prudent to freeze them. Place them in a freezer bag, separated with parchment paper to prevent them from sticking. Frozen scrippelle will keep for up to three months. If you want to freeze your scrippelle for longer than say, a week, it’s best to vacuum pack them to prevent freezer burn. The meatballs and sauce can also be frozen, either on their own or after simmering together.

You can reheat leftover fully baked timballo teramano. They’re actually quite good, gently reheated in a warm oven or microwaved.

Timballo Teramano

A festive lasagna made with crepes from Abruzzo
Total Time2 hours
Course: Primo
Cuisine: Abruzzo
Keyword: baked, holidays, pasta
Servings: 6

Ingredients

To make the scrippelle

  • 6 6 eggs
  • 6 Tbs flour
  • 1 tsp oil
  • About 250ml (1 cup) water or enough to make very thin batter
  • A pinch of salt

To make the tiny meatballs

  • 500g 1 lb ground meat usually beef, or a mix of equal parts beef and pork
  • 1 egg
  • 25g 1 oz parmigiano-reggiano grated
  • 1-2 Tbs breadcrumbs only if and as needed
  • Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 small onion finely minced
  • 1 large bottle tomato passata about 700ml/24 fl oz
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the 'bagnata

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Tbs milk

To finish the dish

  • 1 ball mozzarella (or scamorza) about 250g (1/2 lb), cut into small dice or sliced
  • Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and/or pecorino q.b.
  • Butter q.b.

Instructions

To make the scrippelle

  • Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl, then add the flour bit by bit, whisking all the time until you have a rather thick uniform batter. As you continue whisking, drizzle in the oil and then enough water so that the batter attains the consistency of light cream. Whisk in a good pinch of salt.
  • Let the batter rest for a good 30 minutes or more at room temperature. 
  • Heat the oil in a small or medium nonstick skillet. When the pan is hot, drizzle in a bit of oil, then pour on a small ladleful of the batter (about 1/4 cup) and swirl it around so it very thinly covers the bottom of the pan.
  • Let the batter set, and when it just barely begins to brown around the edges, it should come loose when you shake the pan. Flip it over and let it cook very briefly on the other side. The whole operation should take less than one minute. Remove the resulting crêpe aka scrippella to a dish.
  • Repeat until you’ve used up all the batter. Set your scripelle aside until needed.

Making the tiny meatballs

  • In a large bowl, mix together the minced meats, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper until you have a uniform paste.
  • The mixture should be firm and not at all sticky. If it is, mix in a spoonful or two of breadcrumbs to stiffen it up. Be quick, and try not to overwork the mixture.
  • Grease your hands with a few drops of oil, then take small pinch of the meat mixture and roll it between the palms of your hands to form a tiny ball about 1 cm (1/2 inch) in diameter. Repeat until you've used up the mixture.
  • Heat a wide skillet over a medium-high flame and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Toss in the meatballs, as many as will fit in a single layer without crowding. Fry the meatballs until lightly brown, shaking the skillet frequently to roll them over so they brown evenly on all sides.
  • Repeat as needed. Set the browned meatballs aside until needed.

Preparing the tomato sauce

  • In a saucepan, sauté the minced onion in abundant olive oil until soft and translucent.
  • Add the tomato passata and a pinch of salt. Simmer for about 15 minutes or so.
  • Add the meatballs (if you're a glutton like me, along with their frying oil) and continue simmering for another 15 minutes.

Making the 'bagnata'

  • In a small bowl, whisk the egg and milk together until smooth and set aside until needed.

Assembling the timballo

  • Take a baking dish or, if you prefer, a round mold, and grease it well with olive oil.
  • Line the bottoms and sides with scripelle. The one that line the sides hang over the sides by half.
  • Moisten the scripelle at the bottom with a thin layer of the bagnata.
  • Spoon a layer of the sauce with its tiny meatballs (and, if using, peas) then dot with mozzarella and sprinkle with the grated cheeses.
  • Lay down another layer of scripelle, this time covering just the sauce and other filling ingredients, not the sides. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of the bagnata, then spoon over another layer of the sauce and the other ingredients.
  • Repeat until you've used up the filling ingredients. (You should have at least four layers total.)
  • Fold the scripelle that are hanging over the sides of the dish or mold towards the middle. If the filling ingredients are still showing, lay over one or more scripelle to cover the gap. Moisten once again with the bagnata.

Baking and serving

  • Top the last layer of scripelle with some tomato sauce (without meatballs), then sprinkle with the grated cheeses and dot with butter.
  • Bake the timballo in a moderate (180C/350F) oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, until cooked through and golden brown on top.
  • Let the timballo rest for about 15-20 minutes before serving.

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30 Comments on “Timballo teramano”

  1. This is rather freaky that this is the recipe you posted most recently! I made lasagna (my mother is not a fan of mine, despite me making it how SHE taught me!) and mum made hers. She says she doesn’t like too much pasta, too much meat or filling or too much besciamella. And whilst I don’t think I do any of the above she disagrees, so I have a feeling she’d love your timballo teramano! I’ve never heard of it, and doubt she has either, but I’m sending it to her now! Grazie!

    1. Prego! She might in fact enjoy this. Although it’s a hefty dish in its own right, it’s quite a bit lighter on the stomach than most lasagna dishes.

  2. This is the first time coming across this type of recipe, but I know I would be hooked on this! It’s like a fancy version of lasagna. 🙂 I did have to chuckle at the old school method of “one egg shell full of water” though!

  3. Thank you so much, Frank, for this inspirational dish. I just happened to have had some savory crepe batter on hand when you sent this out, so I was all ready to go. It worked perfectly! Not only was this a delicious meal, it held together beautifully when I served it. Looked just like the picture. I let it rest for at least 1/2 an hour before cutting into it and it glided easily out of the oiled pan. I was not able to get my meatballs quite as tiny as yours, but even a little bigger they worked.

    This time it was all meat. I am intrigued by your notes on veggies and I look forward to trying next time to alternate layers of meatballs with layers of spinach.

  4. Thanks for posting Frank. Looks fabulous. My family is from Abruzzo but we never made timballo, just lasagna and other stuffed pastries.

    1. Interesting. Truth be told, my friend’s family is from Pescara, quite a distance from Teramo and on the seaside rather than nestled in the mountains, and her family didn’t make this timballo growing up either, though they knew about it.

  5. Amazing! I just literally remembered yesterday how I was trying quite a few pasta recipes from your blog last winter and spring, and I thought I should repeat this marathon this year. This dish looks phenomenal – never heard. But I’ve tried cannelloni with crepes, so I bet I’d love this too.

    1. Thanks, Ben! Hope you enjoy this if you decide to run the marathon. And yes, cannelloni with crepes are to die for, too!

  6. 1 cm meatballs? that is tiny but I like the sound of it. nothing nicer than a wee meatball. This sounds delicious Frank. I think I’ve seen it made in a springform tin before. that sounds fabulous.

  7. What a wonderful , celebratory dish. Crespelle/pancakes are really overlooked – they are always special. In a very un-Italian way, I also love them British style with sugar and lemon. Savoury ones make great cannelloni-style baked dishes, as you know. Here, those tiny polpettine, marble-size, are to die for. According to my notes, I spoon some of the mixture off using a teaspoon and then I roll them – kind of factory line working.
    Great post, as usual
    stefano

    1. Thanks for stopping by Stefano! Yes, I love cannelloni made with crespelle, too. And I’ll take note of your little tip on using a teaspoon next time I make those tiny meatballs..

  8. Thank you very much for this recipe! It reminds me home and the hours spent making those tiny meatballs with granma when I was a child.

  9. This sounds like a really special dish.. scrippelle are like crepes? I never understand people discarding all the frying oil..which is packed with all the flavours!

  10. That looks amazing and I bet it tastes fabulous. I was born on Mardi Gras (which is pancake day in the UK), so I have to make this and it’s totally suitable for a pre Lentern feast!

    1. Thanks so much, MD! Being born on Mardi Gras is quite something. I can only imagine what your birthday parties are like…

  11. Once again, Frank, you’ve been reading my mind! Just today I got out the recipe for a Timballo Teramano! I never quite got around to making it for Christmas so now will have to do! Buon anno Frank! All the best for you and your family in 2024!

    1. Incredible! We’re definitely on the same wavelength, Eleanor! I do hope you’re enjoy timballo teramano. And actually, I’m pretty sure you will.

  12. I have read about, eaten and made Italian dishes since my early twenties. Don’t think I have ever come upon an offering as exquisite as this and fully agree with David’s views above! The finesse displayed is incredible . . . and I must say I am ‘quite in love’ with the tiny meatballs . . . we’ll see . . . thank you for my smile . . .

  13. What a tour de force! I think the scripelle are what make this dish so special. I am not sure I know anyone special enough to appreciate this dish (you and us not included) but I think we are worth the effort and look forward to trying it!

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