So this is kind of funny: I have been really focusing on simplifying (as some of you know from my January blog). I’m cutting back on to do lists, and making time for simple things like reading more, fewer commitments, just an easier approach to everything, every day.
I have been working on my March blog for a couple of weeks, listing all kinds of lofty ideas about simplifying at home, some tips and pointers I myself am using, yadda yadda, and then, the Timpano happened last Saturday. Then, I posted a photo of me and The Timpano on Facebook, and poof – bye bye “simplifying” and hello March blog about possibly one of the single most non-simple recipes ever! Ha.
Let me explain: Timpano is a dish that I first discovered watching the 1996 movie, “The Big Night” with Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub and Minnie Driver (and MANY others with whom you will be very familiar.)
The story in a nutshell: a sweet, little, totally authentic Italian restaurant (think handmade delicate pillows of perfect gnocchi) is being run by two brothers, and it’s a total bust. Across the street is a loud, crazy, totally “American-Italian” restaurant (think mega plates of spaghetti in red sauce and giant meatballs) that’s making a killing. The two brothers who own the little authentic gem about to fail get a big break in the form of a promised visit by a restaurant food critic who is sure to be blown away, write an incredible review and thrust these two into success and food stardom. The brothers begin to prepare the meal of meals for “the big night,” and the grand finale dish is a Timpano.
In 1996 I was NOT a chef, not even close. But I was already a die-hard foodie (that term was not even being used yet in 1996). I read about food, I collected cookbooks and I watched PBS cooking shows for six straight hours every Saturday. The Big Night was a dream movie was a dream of a movie being so totally about really good food. As a home cook, while I was mesmerized and amazed by this Timpano, I also understood inherently, no matter what I did with my life, making that would likely never be possible.
What is a Timpano? The Timpano is also known as “A Drum of Ziti and Sauce”. You make a huge, eggy pasta dough and roll it out paper thin. You par-cook a few pounds of ziti. You make a full on legit ragu (remove the meat and save for something else), you make meatballs from scratch. You hard boil a dozen eggs, and you dice salami, Provolone and Pecorino cheeses. You place the paper-thin pasta dough in your Timpano (as this is also the name of the enameled tin basin you will cook this in) and fill with the dough with the par-cooked pasta, sauce, meatballs, eggs, salami, and cheeses – repeat. Fold dough to seal and bake for one and half to two hours. Turn out, slice, and blow the roof off your dinner party.
But this is movie cooking. This is two amazing brothers in NYC who knew more about real Italian food than I could or would ever possibly know. So, I filed it in my mind labeled “food things of wonder that will never actually be” (also in this file are lickable wallpaper and a chocolate river as found in “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory”). This file houses foods that would bring absolute joy, but are in truth, utter fiction.
Nope. Not Fiction. I made it. It happened five years ago when we decided at The Studio to have some fun with a Chef Table and make it “food in the movies” themed. And I knew, if we were doing this night any justice the Timpano would essential! But, to make one, I had to make three. That’s right. We must test recipes before we serve them, so that’s how it went. We made one about a month before the dinner just to see if we could even pull it off and you know what? It was easy! I mean, it’s a LOT of food so a LOT of steps but if planned well, they are baby steps, a few a day, leading up to the assembly. And, frankly, once assembled, it’s just a bake-and-serve item.
I got the recipe from the Stanley Tucci Cookbook (which by the way, I have done several recipes from and really love them all – this is a great cookbook).
So, this past weekend we had a guest who’s been such a great customer since literally the week we opened, who was also here for our Big Night Chef Table five years ago, and as a surprise we decided we’d include a Timpano in his party menu. He was so surprised and so appreciative. I am not kidding, he got a little teary-eyed! Who could blame him? This thing is a marvel to witness!
And, now that I have made the beast at least four times, I do have a few little tweaks here and there, so I retyped the Tucci recipe and added my own recipe for our three-meat meat balls. Also, Stanley (may I call him Stanley? I think I can after four Timpanos…), slices his eggs, where as I leave mine whole and settle into the pasta end to end so they cut in a cross-wise pattern when the Timpano is sliced to serve (this is intuitive the first time you make this – trust me).
So here, month-three of my “Year of Simplifying” I offer you a four-page recipe for a huge, handmade pasta dough-wrapped meatball casserole! Ha! Well, I will say this, eating it is simple. And it is simply delicious.
Try it and have a huge crowd over and watch “The Big Night” for an evening of total foodie bliss.