First introduced to America courtesy of Julia Child's corn timbale in Julia Child & Company (1978), timbales (pronounced "timbles" or "tim-ball-lay") have French roots. Locally, Commander's Palace's summer seafood timbale includes blue crab, shrimp and Gulf fish paired with fennel, truffles and golden pepper vinaigrette. Varied forms of timbale have appeared on local menus over the years, but it maintains an air of mystery.
The dish's mystique likely stems from its dual nature: its name refers to a small, quiche-like egg dish, or any food layered and compressed in a small mold. Timbale can be either a dish or a technique, but as chef Allison Gorlin of New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery explains, neither are complicated.
"Generally, timbales lend themselves to high–end cooking, but they're really easy," Gorlin says. Her first experience with the dish was in France, a mushroom-laden triumph. "I think people are more afraid of it because it has a French name, and Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart and all the ladies we know that try to identify with the housewife would not [prepare it]."
Timbales serve as interesting, powerful additions to a health food arsenal. Like most egg-based dishes, they are ideal vehicles for repurposing leftover lean protein or roasted vegetables in small portions. Servings of grains or legumes can be pre-portioned into smaller molds, which also creates a striking presentation not often found in home cooking. Traditional timbale molds are available at Williams-Sonoma, but Gorlin says any cylindrical container such as espresso cups or ramekins make suitable substitutes.
"It's the perfect dish while you're dieting because it's a small weight — it's four ounces or less — so you can really have more portion control," Gorlin says. "You can eat it as an appetizer, or put a salad around it so it's more of a meal."
Below is a simple timbale that begs for leftover roasted vegetables, using roasted garlic puree and crushed red pepper to sidestep the lack of saturated fat.
Roasted Vegetable Timbales
Recipe by Russ Lane
1 cup onion or shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup Leftover roasted vegetables (such as asparagus, zucchini, tomato, mushrooms or artichoke), finely chopped
3 large egg whites
3 large eggs
Kettle of hot water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon goat cheese, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons roasted garlic, pureed
1 teaspoon fennel or fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup 2 percent cottage cheese or silken tofu (optional, for creamier consistency), pureed
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Special equipment: roasting pan, ramekins, cheesecloth
1. Chop vegetables and separate eggs. Heat water in a kettle and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, add oil, eggs, egg whites, goat cheese, roasted garlic and cottage cheese or tofu (optional); whisk briefly to combine.
3. Add onion, vegetables, fennel, salt and pepper.
4. Divide the egg mixture among ramekins sprayed with cooking spray. Place ramekins into the roasting pan equal distances apart and put it in the oven. Add simmering water to the pan until the ramekins are half-submerged.
5. Bake for five minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and cook 20-25 minutes, until the eggs set.
6. Remove ramekins from the roasting pan. Slide a sharp knife along the edge of the ramekins and invert the molds to remove the timbales. Garnish with the remaining goat cheese.
Inspiration: Look to recipes for frittatas, souffles, omelets or quiche for flavor combinations and ways to incorporate vegetables and additional protein.
A word of caution: Roasted vegetables or those with low moisture points tend to fare well in timbales — watery vegetables do not. Take the extra step of draining chopped or frozen spinach by wrapping it in cheesecloth.
For egg-based timbales: The amount of egg yolks used in timbale preparation can be reduced by half or even three-quarters. This affects the dish's color more than its flavor; to compensate, use vividly-colored vegetables or colorful vinaigrettes.
Serving suggestions: Excellent brunch fodder, timbales pair well with salads. For a delicate but protein-packed lunch, pair a roasted vegetable timbale with poached chicken and fruit purees, or serve with heavy roasted vegetables for dinner.
Per serving: calories 145 (calories from fat 78), fat 8g (2g saturated fat), cholesterol 163mg, sodium 180mg, carbohydrates 4g (dietary fiber 1g, sugars 2g), protein 12g.