Timballo di Maccheroni alla Nonnina (Grandma's Macaroni Timbale)

Anna Theresa Callen

Adapted from Menus for Pasta (Crown Publishers, 1985)

The Italian timballo, or timpano, traces its roots to the Arabic word for a musical percussion instrument. Accordingly, these names are used for dishes cooked in round vessels resembling a drum. Callen’s version is one that her grandmother always made for her birthday. This timballo can be made in one 10-inch cake pan, or 8 individual 1-cup ramekins or soufflé dishes.


Tiny Meatballs:

  • 1/2 pound mixture of ground veal, beef, and pork
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage, or 1/4 teaspoon dry, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine


  • Butter for the pan, as needed
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons unflavored bread crumbs
  • 4 cups Bolognese sauce
  • 1 16-ounce can tomato purée (not paste)
  • 1 1/2 pounds tubular short pasta, preferably penne
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
  • 1 pound mozzarella, shredded
  • 5 thin slices prosciutto, shredded
  • 1 cup cooked mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 1 batch tiny meatballs (above)
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in rounds


To prepare the meatballs, in a mixing bowl combine the ground meat, herbs, salt, pepper, and Marsala. With wet hands, shape the meat into tiny meatballs, the size of a chickpea. Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized (10-inch) pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and the butter, and heat until melted and hot. Add the meatballs and sauté until they are brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain them on paper towels. The meatballs can be made one day in advance up to this point.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously butter a 10-inch cake pan. Dust it with bread crumbs, and set the pan aside.

Add the tomato purée to the Bolognese sauce, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes until slightly reduced.

At the same time, put a pot of salted water on the stove over high heat to cook the pasta. When the water is boiling, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Cook the pasta al dente, being careful not to overcook it. Drain well. Return the pasta to the pot in which it cooked, add the eggs, and quickly mix well. Add 3 to 4 ladles of the Bolognese sauce, mix again, and add 1/2 cup grated cheese. Mix thoroughly.

In the prepared pan place one thin layer of the pasta. Sprinkle the pasta with 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese, scatter 1/3 of the mozzarella over, 1/3 of the prosciutto, 1/3 of the mushrooms, if used, 1/3 of the meatballs, and one of the sliced eggs. Pour 1 or 2 ladles of the sauce over the top of this and repeat the layering until all the ingredients are used, finishing with a layer of pasta, the remaining sauce, and the grated cheese. Lightly dust the last layer with bread crumbs, dot with butter, and bake 40 to 45 minutes until the top is slightly crusty. Cool for 15 minutes. Loosen the sides of the pan with a knife or a spatula and unmold. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.


8 servings