Timbale of Macaroni and Sweetbreads


This nineteenth-century-sounding dish can in fact be found in one of the greatest books of that century, the École des Cuisiniers of Urbain Dubois, but I first saw it in the book that inspired me from its first pages and continues to do so, The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney. Use a whole chicken breast, with an equal quantity of ham. Smoked mushrooms, tongue, truffles, are all welcome additions, and the dish could be made with the braised meat from lamb or veal shanks as well. The purpose of the forcemeat, which firms as it cooks, is to hold the macaroni in place and give structure so that the timbale will stand up when unmolded. You will need a smooth metal or heatproof glass 2½ quart dome-shaped mold. This one is for a rainy day or when you can count on lots of help in the kitchen. It can be done in advance.

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  • 2 pounds sweetbreads
  • ½ pound thin macaroni (like spaghetti but larger, with a hole in center)
  • 11 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 cups chicken and ham forcemeat
  • 1 pound fresh shiitake, domestic, and/or wild mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups tomato sauce


Braise the sweetbreads following the instructions. Let cool in the braising liquid until needed, then strain and reserve the braising liquid and break the sweetbreads into half-inch pieces.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Put in the macaroni, stir a few times until the water comes back to the boil, and cook the macaroni until just a little more al dente than you would normally eat it, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, rinse under cold water, and lay it out on towels separately so the pieces do not stick together.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in the braising liquid and continue to whisk until smooth. Simmer for 45 minutes, occasionally skimming off the scum or skin from the surface. Stir in ½ cup of the cream and simmer 10 minutes more.

While the sauce is cooking, spread about 4 tablespoons of the butter over the inside of the mold. Twist a piece of macaroni into a tight circle and put it at the center of the bottom of the mold. The idea is to get the macaroni to stick to the butter as you line the mold. Put the mold in the refrigerator if the butter is too warm. Line the inside of the mold completely with the pasta. When finished, refrigerate the mold to set the butter.

When the butter is set, spread the macaroni with a ½-inch layer of the forcemeat, leaving some to finish off the timbale. Put the mold back in the refrigerator to set the forcemeat.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and toss in the butter. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook another 2 minutes. Put the mixture in a bowl and combine with the sweetbreads, cream sauce, and half the tarragon; season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cool.

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Spoon the sweetbread mixture into the mold and spread the top with the remaining forcemeat. Spread a parchment paper circle with 1 tablespoon of the butter and place on the forcemeat. Put the mold in a large pot and pour boiling water into the pot to come three-quarters up the side of the mold. Bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the mold from the pot and let sit for 15 minutes to settle. Unmold onto a serving platter. Some juices will leak out and can be left on the platter or removed as you wish.

While the timbale is settling, heat the tomato sauce with the remaining ½ cup cream. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and serve with slices of the timbale.