Delicious, easy, filling and impressive – this is what a well-to-do 1920s Italian middle-class family would have thought of this dish, I presume. It is a timbale, not dissimilar from a British savoury pudding: the “crust” is made with mashed potatoes, seasoned with butter and Parmigiano; the filling is finanziera, a traditional, now rare, ragout of veal offal and chicken giblets, often enriched with ceps or even truffles.
In this version, from the 1928 edition of Ada Boni’s Il Talismano della felicità, one of the most seminal of all Italian cookbooks, with multiple editions under its belt, the filling is made up of chicken giblets, sausage, cooked yolks, veal sweetbreads, cured ham and truffles. However, signora Boni also says that its richness depends on how much you want to impress your guests and how much money you want to spend. I opted for a thrifty version, using chicken livers, plain pork sausages and dried ceps, and it was excellent.
It is baked in a charlotte mould of 18 cm (bottom) x 15 cm (top) x 10 cm (height), that is egged and crumbed twice, for extra sturdiness. One could use a pudding basin instead.
I have tweaked the recipe here and there, adding some spices, for instance, and altering some of the cooking method, but all in all this is very close to the original. And it is indeed impressive.
Timballo di patate alla finanziera
Potato, chicken liver and sausage timbale, a 1928 middle-class dish
For 6-8 portions
Butter and oil
fine, dry breadcrumbs (or whizz up some panko crumbs)
1 egg whisked with one teaspoon water
1 kg floury potatoes, net weight
a handful of Parmesan
pepper and nutmeg
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sage leaf
1 clove, ground + a pinch of cinnamon, 4 juniper berries, lightly crushed + a grating of nutmeg + a peppermill twist of pepper
3 plain pork sausages, without skin and cut up into small chunks
400 g chicken livers, cleaned and diced
half a glass of white wine, about 60 ml
a handful of dried ceps, soaked in warm water (barely to cover) for 30 minutes, drained, blotted dry and coarsely chopped. Filter the water and keep aside
a squirt of tomato paste
Start with making the purèe. Steam the potatoes and rice them, add the parmesan and the yolk. Whisk well into a lump free mash and check for salt, pepper and nutmeg. Keep aside
Preheat the oven to 170 C
Prepare the charlotte: this is the trickiest bit of this recipe, because you have to egg and crumb the mould twice. Generously butter the mould with soft butter. Add some breadcrumbs, roll them around making sure the mould is evenly lined. Add the whisked egg, roll it around carefully and gently and cover with extra breadcrumbs. Place the mould in the freezer: this will make lining the mould with the potato crust much easier.
Fry the onion, bay and sage in oil and butter. When it is light gold, add the spices and let them fry for a few seconds. Add the sausage pieces, raise the heat and turn and stir them around. When they have lost their raw aspect, add the chicken livers, turning and stirring them. When they have developed a light gold crust here and there, deglaze with the wine. Let it reduce a little and switch off. You do not want to overcook the livers – some will still be clearly pink and that is exactly what you want. Remove them and keep them aside.
Wipe clean the pan with some kitchen paper, add oil and butter and, when hot, add the ceps. Fry them for a few minutes, add the tomato paste, stir well with the mushrooms and cook for a minute or so. Add the mushroom water and finish cooking them, covered, on low heat. When the mushrooms are soft, add the chicken liver and mix everything together. This is your finanziera filling.
You have now to line the mould with the (by now cooled down) mash. This takes time and it is not a slap dash job. Keep the tips of your finger wet and proceed in a patchwork motion, remembering to keep some mash aside for the lid.
Once you have created this mash “box”, fill the gap with the finanziera ragout, dot with butter and cover the top with the remaining mash. Dot with butter.
Bake the timballo for 45-60 minutes. The top must be firm and golden. Let it rest for about 10 minutes, slide a thin sharp knife around the edge and unmould the timballo.
It is very good with buttered spinach or peas or with a sharp mustardy salad of endive.