Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Timbales Irving

Washington Irving died in 1859, 40 years after he wrote two pieces that most of us know. Rip Van Winkle was his magical story about a Dutchman who was lured to a ghostly place, drank the liquor of the partiers … fell asleep and woke up 20 years later.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow frightens kids of all ages with the tale of the headless horseman!

Irving was a short story writer, an essayist, biographer and a historian who penned accounts about many important historical figures. He served as the American Ambassador to Spain in the 1840s.

Just months before his death at age 76, Irving published a five-volume biography about George Washington. Washington Irving was named after the General turned President, and new inaugurated President Washington blessed 6-year-old Irving when meeting him in New York City.

I think Washington Irving was the first of his kind. He had family in England, so he spent many years visiting them. He published much of his work in the United States and in England in an effort to strengthen his copyrights. In the United States the laws were slim and poorly enforced. By publishing in both places, he could protect his work against infringement.

He worked to encourage other American authors. Hawthorne, Longfellow, Melville and Poe are on his list of mentees. He did the same for British writers including Lord Byron, Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley. What impact he had on the literary world of that time. He pushed their talents as a trade, assured that they could make a living writing.

Washington Irving didn’t like school and frequently cut class to enjoy the theater! When yellow fever hit New York City in 1798, his family sent him to Tarrytown to escape the city. In Tarrytown, he learned about a little town named Sleepy Hollow with all its Dutch customs and ghost stories! On a trip to visit Johnstown, New York, Irving passed through the Catskill Mountain region. He later wrote that the Catskills had a witching effect on his childhood imagination. Rip Van Winkle was born out of that imagination!

Irving spent twenty years in Europe, but when he returned to America, he toured the Midwest and the west. His writings covered topics that he had experienced. He revived Christmas in America, based upon the traditions he had experienced while abroad. He launched the foundation for the Santa Claus and a sleigh that we still enjoy today. Irving’s St. Nicholas jumped in his wagon and flew over the New York treetops!

He was a popular American. Streets, parks and towns have been named after him. I was not surprised to find a food named after him … and one of his favorite restaurants … Delmonico’s!

Delmonico’s served many timbales, but the dish certainly did not find its beginnings there! The word timbale comes from the Arabic word that means drum. The mold is the shape of a drum and the dish is found in the earliest history of Sicily. In her book, Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food, Mary Taylor Simeti tells us that the timbale (tummala) gets its name from that Mohammad Bin Thummah, an ancient Arab ruler over Sicily during, an ancient Arab ruler over Sicily during a four-centuries long occupation that began in 661. The Arabs introduced rice to Italy and rice is a primary ingredient in most timbale recipes.

Timbales are made in more ways than I can list! They sometimes include pasta shapes, rice or beans. Some are sweet and some are savory. Vegetables are included and all kinds of ground/minced meats. Some are layered and others have meat in the middle with an outside layer of rice or vegetables.

If you were cooking during the 1970s and 80s, you remember the popularity of individual meatloaves made in muffin cups. My family loves the crusty edge of a big meatloaf, so the individual size made us really happy! We made something ordinary into something fancy! That is what a timbale is… something simple turned into something extraordinary!

I’m going to give you a simple timbale recipe today, but first I want to tell you about the recipe created by Chef Charles Ranhofer at Delmonico’s. The timbale named for Washington Irving … and prepared for Irving … was made with wild game. A thin slice of a truffle was placed in the bottom of the mold. Triangular slices of the truffle were placed up the sides of the mold and game forcemeat was placed over the slices, but just enough to cover the sides of the mold. A combination of cooked rabbit, rice and white sauce was placed in the middle of the mold. The timbale was plated with a champagne sauce.

Here’s an easier version of a timbale with an Italian – Greek flair. If you don’t have timbale molds, use custard cups, souffle dishes or cupcake pans.

My timbale is made in layers. I used the Pampered Chef Greek spice mix.

Debbie's Greek Flavored Timbales

For the rice layer:
2 cups cooked rice.
Zest and juice of a lemon
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 egg

For the meat layer:
1 pound ground beef
2 teaspoons Greek spice mix
1 Tablespoon minced dried onion
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons ketchup
1 egg

Additional ingredients:
sliced mushrooms
feta cheese

Mix the rice combination. Mix the meat combination. Butter (or use cooking spray) the timbale molds. Place a slice of mushroom in the bottom of each mold. Fill half the mold with the rice combination and press it firmly into the mold. I use a cupcake sized wooden press tool for this, but you can use your fingers or the back of a spoon.

Place a 1/4 inch layer of feta cheese over the rice.

Fill the remaining portion of the mold with the meat combination and press it firmly.

Place the molds on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let the timbales cool 30 minutes before unmolding. If you are worried about them sticking, run a knife blade around the edge. They should drop right out of the mold.

You can serve these with any kind of sauce you like, but I sauteed sliced mushrooms and brussels sprouts in butter with another sprinkle of the Greek spices. And plated my timbales with the vegetables. Delicious!

This post is a part of my 2021 project, Foods Named after Famous People! The Irving Timbale was probably a favorite at Delmonico’s and this similar version might become a favorite at your house! Enjoy!

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