Classically, timbales are sweet or savory custards baked in drum-shaped molds. With savory versions, creamy minced meat, fish, or vegetables are folded into timbale molds and baked before being turned out for presentation. Nowadays, almost anything packed into a drum mold can be tagged as a loosey-goosey interpretation of a timbale. Most folks might be more familiar with the iconic molded pasta/meatball/salami/mozzarella/sauce-filled Italian timbale (timpano) triumph from the movie 'Big Night". A brazen beauty. That said, not all timbales have to be dramatic over-the-top centerpieces large enough to feed a crowd. They can also be dialed back for more intimate affairs. Drum roll. Size doesn't matter.
Spaghetti Squash Timbales with Arugula-Lemon Basil Pesto
As our farmers markets segue from summer into fall, varieties of winter squash are quietly nudging out the darlings of summer. I'm not quite ready to completely let go of those darlings, so I took the middle road with a gorgeous Casey County spaghetti squash and a few handfuls of Pulaski County chocolate cherry tomatoes. Balance.
I tumbled 1 cup baby arugula, 1 cup lemon basil, 2 cloves garlic, salt, pepper, lemon zest, and 1/3 cup toasted pecans into the bowl of a food processor. After processing the mix until it was finely minced, I slowly drizzled in 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (with the motor running). When the mixture was smooth, I added 1/2 cup grated parmigano-reggiano, gave it a few quick pulses to blend in the cheese, scraped the pesto into a small bowl, covered the top with plastic wrap, and slid it into the refrigerator to chill.
I adore spaghetti squash. When cooked, it shreds into delicate, almost translucent, pasta-like threads. Typically, I halve the squash, remove the seeds, and roast it cut side down in a 350 degree oven until it's incredible tender and a wee bit caramelized. For a change, I wanted to avoid any toasted sugary caramelized bits, so I bellied up to the microwave. Using a heavy sharp knife, I split the squash in half, scraped out the seeds, placed both halves on a microwavable dish, added 1/2 cup water to help it steam, covered the squash with plastic wrap, and microwaved the squash on high for 20 minutes. After carefully removing the squash from the microwave, I removed the plastic wrap and let it rest. When it was cool enough to handle, I used the tines of a fork to gently pull the strands from the body of the shell and tossed them into a bowl to cool.
I didn't want to kill the squash with a heavy sauce, so I threw together a small batch bechamel as a binder. After melting 1 tablespoon unsalted butter in a small sauce pan, I added 1 tablespoon flour, salt, pepper, and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. When the roux started to bubble, I drizzled a 1/2 cup warmed milk into the pan, whisked the sauce until it napped the back of a spoon, and pulled it from the heat to cool.
After buttering 5 4oz. ramekins, I placed buttered parchment paper on the bottom of each ramekin before dusting the ramekins with a mixture of finely grated parmigiano-reggiano and toasted bread crumbs.
I tossed the spaghetti squash with 1 cup of the arugula-lemon basil pesto and the reserved bechamel. After twirling the creamy pesto faux pasta into the individual ramekins, I added a bit more cheese for good measure, gently tamped the squash into the molds, slid the timbales into a 350 degree oven, and let them rip for 50 minutes before pulling them from the oven to rest.
While the timbales were still somewhat warm, I ran a knife around the edges of the ramekins to release the squash and turned them out onto plated puddles of pesto. After dabbing the tops with a tad more pesto, I finished with halved/quartered chocolate cherry tomatoes and fresh lemon basil leaves.
Tucked inside the crisped outer shells of each timbale, the delicate wisps of spaghetti squash snapped through the creamy bechamel, hints of garlic, and the nutty parmigiano-reggiano undertones of the peppery arugula pesto. While the perky basil added bright lemony freshness, the tomatoes provided sultry popping wet sweetness.
The middle road.