I realize I normally use this blog to pontificate upon research-related brilliance, but (now this may come as a shock to some of you readers) I am brilliant in other ways. Among my many talents (including my ability to be incredibly modest) I'm a pretty good cook...and I'm always up for a challenge. So for a recent dinner party, I felt the need to practice so I could one day perfect the zenith of Italian ridiculousness: the timpano.
My dad made said timpano for Christmas this year, and it was a two day affair. After recovering from the food induced pleasure-coma, I did some searching of my own. Other bloggers have embarked on such an adventure, however their interest was spurred by a Stanley Tucci movie called "The Big Night," in which two Italian-American brothers open a restaurant (and then I think they close it? I didn't see the movie), and the grand finale to their ostentatious feast was none other than the timpano. The timpano is a dome of homemade dough filled with just about every Italian food you could think of: meatballs, pasta, sauce, salami, eggs, cheese, etc. See pictures below.
So it was a "big night," if you will, for Stanford history grad students. We had a first-year party last quarter, and I cooked dessert: a barrage of pies thrown together in a last minute tornado that nearly destroyed my kitchen (in the end, it merely covered my kitchen in chocolate). This time, I was appointed as one of two hosts, and the timpano felt like the perfect experiment. I used my dad's recipe (I'll post the recipe in full at the end) but I made some last minute adjustments.
The first major challenge was finding a pan. I should have listened more carefully to my dad when he told me that a stainless steel mixing bowl would work out just fine; instead I spent more time than necessary on the internet trying to find bowls that might work, and deciding whether or not to simply order the timpano bowl from the Kolorful Kitchen website, which had reasonably priced products but ridiculous costs for shipping. Finally I stormed into Sur la Table in a frenzy, telling the saleslady "Ok, I need a bowl, it needs to be between 6-8 quarts, it needs to be domed shape, and it needs to go in the oven." The very kind lady pointed me to (ironically) a stainless steel mixing bowl, 20% off. And all that time I spent on the internet...
The day before the dinner party, I made the marinara and meatballs, making the meatballs smaller than normal. Step 1, accomplished. :) I also prepared all the ingredients, including the salami, provolone cheese, 20 eggs (yes, 20 eggs. Did I mention that timpano is Italian for cardiac arrest?), romano cheese, 2 pounds of rigatoni, and other important ingredients I already had on hand.
The next afternoon, after a major exam and dance class, I ran to meet a classmate who lent me a rolling pin (another important thing I needed that I didn't think of until the last minute), and then spent nearly 2 hours transferring ingredients, cooking utensils, plates, the kitchen sink, etc. to my co-host Andy's apartment, an apartment in the brand new graduate housing, complete with 2 fridges, a dishwasher, and 5 times as much space that I have in my kitchen.
Then began the work. I started by chopping up the salami and cheese into small pieces while cooking the hardboiled eggs. The recipe called for block provolone, but I couldn't find any so I had to use slices. I also stuck in some asiago cheese, since I had some on hand. I then began to cook the rigatoni (it is important that the rigatoni be super al denti, since it still cooks more in the oven) while making the dough. The recipe said I should use a mixing bowl with a dough hook to mix the flour, eggs, olive oil and water, but what graduate student has such a fancy accoutrement? So I kneaded it by hand. For awhile, I began to be quite worried that the dough was coming out funny; it seemed far too sticky. But the more I mixed it, the more it came out ok. I did end up having to add a little bit of extra flour including the flour I used to roll it out to 1/16 of an inch. This was probably the most exhausting part of the whole process.
Then came the second major panic. I only bought 2 pounds of rigatoni, thinking that already sounded ridiculous enough. But the more I thought about it, the more I became concerned that the 2 pounds wouldn't be enough (the recipe called for 3, and said to use a 6 quart bowl, while mine was 8). So I began asking Andy's roommates for any pasta they had on hand just in case. Very quickly the third panic followed: it seemed I did not make enough sauce. This problem, however, I very quickly solved. I had read a series of recipes for this crazy dish online, one more complicated than the next (one called for 4 different homemade sauces and meatballs using 3 types of meat! Yikes!). But many of them called for at least two types of sauces: one layer of pasta with meat sauce and another with a layer of beschamel. This seemed not only creative and delicious, but an easy solution to my lack of bolognese sauce. So I whipped together a beschamel based upon Mario Batalli's recipe, a white sauce with the complex ingredients list of butter, flour, and milk. I also added a shallot (which I had on hand) salt and some cloves (the recipe called for nutmeg, but I didn't have any).
Finally, the dough was rolled, the eggs were cooled, the sauces were complete, the ingredients chopped, and my feet were screaming in pain and I was covered in flour: it was time to throw it all together. I generously (and by generous, I mean dripping) greased the pan with some melted butter and olive oil, and then draped the dough over the bowl, pressing gently to mold it to shape.
I started with a layer of rigatoni with beschamel, followed by salami and provolone. My friend watched with fascination as I heaped handfuls (using both hands) of salami and cheese into the bowl, wiping the grease from my hands onto my skirt. I giggled and looked up and said "you know, this is almost gross..." He laughed and told me I probably shouldn't sell it with that line at the party.
I then topped the cheese and salami with pieces of chopped hardboiled eggs (there were 12 in all, though I didn't end up using them all), neatly arranged meatballs, and a few ladlefulls of bolognese. I then began with the second layer of pasta (this time mixed with red sauce) when I yelled out "damnit, forgot the romano!" So that layer was slightly out of place. The layers then repeated: salami and cheese, eggs, meatballs, sauce, and romano cheese. To my relief, 2 pounds was more than enough rigatoni, I ended up eating the leftover pasta with sauce all weekend. As I was pouring the final touches, four beaten raw eggs, onto the top, Andy commented "this isn't even a dish, this is a science experiment. It's like, 'what else can we fit in here?'" I laughed again as I folded the excess dough over the top, cut the edges, and got it ready to go into the oven.
Here is where I encountered mistake number 1. I was on a bit of a time crunch: the timpano needed to bake for an hour and a half, and then sit for at LEAST an hour and a half. The party started at 7 (although we probably wouldn't eat until later, no one seems to be on time for anything anymore) and it was 4:15 as I went to put it in the oven; seemed like perfect timing. I opened the oven and said relatively non-chalantly, "Andy, can I have some oven mitts, I need to take one of these racks out of the oven." He exclaimed that we couldn't do that while it was still hot, and I began to panic: there went my perfect timing. I quickly shut the oven off and opened the door to began cooling the oven down, and then we tried to take the rack out just to see what would happen. Turned out the rack wasn't heavy at all, and it was a quick process. So I stuck the timpano in the oven, turned the time to an hour, and began to clean and help Andy prepare his butternut squash ravioli.
The timer rang an hour later and my heart filled with panic as I opened the door to the oven: I had forgotten to turn the oven back on. I moaned, turned the oven on to a slightly higher heat, and mentally kicked myself. I put the oven to 370 instead of 350, and baked it for 45 minutes instead of an hour, thinking that it had at least been in a hot oven for 15 minutes as it cooled. After 45 minutes, I put tin foil on top to keep the top layer from burning, and left it in the oven for an extra 10 minutes (so a total of 85 minutes). I had no more time to be mad at my own stupidity. Andy and I quickly whipped together homemade ravioli, cleaned his apartment, and made ourselves look presentable. At 6:40, I took the timpano out of the oven, and let it cool. By 7:30, most people had arrived, and it was time to try flipping it over. I had seen my dad do it with two hands, but I struggled to even carry the massive bowl filled with food; I had no idea how I was going to flip it upsidedown. But with the help of a nearby friend, we flipped it over onto a cookie sheet, and to my complete and utter delight, it came right out of the bowl, perfectly golden and beautifully shaped (not a crumb stuck to the bowl. I guess I greased it well enough!)
I wanted to postpone dinner as much as I could so I could let the timpano continue to cool, but by 8:10, people were ready to eat. So I held my breath, closed my eyes, and began to cut into it. I cut a hole around the center to try and maintain a point of stability, and then I cut the first piece. And then came my second squeal of joy for the night: it came out beautifully, all layers in tact.
The timpano had to feed a lot of people, so after the first beautiful piece I couldn't continue to serve full pieces: not enough to go around! But most people did get to see the inside (see picture), and those who wanted a nicely shaped piece got the half shaped by the pan rather than the messier pieces I cut.
The response, if I do say so myself, seemed pretty positive. Some of my favorite quotes of the evening were: "Wow, everything you could possibly crave is in this thing! 'I feel like pasta...' well there it is! 'How about some salami?' it's there! 'Hardboiled eggs?' in there too!" And "Um, Gina, could you cook for us every night?" By the time I stopped cutting it and sat down to eat myself (not only the timpano but also Korean braised ribs, butternut squash ravioli in a brown butter sauce, and some awesome salad) there was still a pretty big chunk left. But that quickly disappeared; Andy's roommates, all healthy male law students, stood around the remains and finished it off pretty quickly. I am glad it was so popular, but I kind of wish I had a piece right now, writing all of it out.
I guess the only question that remains is, how will I top myself now?
Here are the various recipes:
I made my grandmother's sauce and meatballs, with my own kind of touches. I would double this, I wish I had had more sauce on the side.
One piece of some kind of pork, or Italian Sausage (just for flavor)
4 cloves of crushed garlic
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 cans of tomato paste
Dried oregano, parsley, and basil to taste.
Salt and sugar to taste (ok, I just do this by flavor. I'm sure that somewhere you could find real measurements, but I've never used them)
Sautee garlic and brown pork in oil. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, and then fill each can of tomato paste with water and add. Mix and bring to a simmer. Add meatballs (see below) and spices. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, making sure that you stir occasionally to keep from sticking.
Meatball recipe (again, I do a lot of this according to flavor, and I don't know the exact measurements):
1 lb. ground beef
4 slices of bread, soaked in water
2-3 eggs (I just mix it until it is slimy, sometimes that is two or three eggs)
1/2 cup of grated cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Chopped parsley to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
Take the water soaked bread and ring out excess water (should be an interesting sensation!) Mix all the ingredients together, mixture should be pretty slimy. Coat the bottom of a sautee pan with olive oil, and cook one or two to make sure that it is to your liking. Then, make the meatballs (pretty small for the timpano) and brown them in olive oil, set aside. Then, once your sauce is cooking, add the partially cooked meatballs.
Beschamel sauce (courtesy of Mario Batalli):
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.
**My personal touch: I added a shallot while cooking the butter and flour, and I added cloves. Tasted pretty good!
And below is a copy of the basic recipe for a Timpano. If you click on the picture, it will become bigger so it is readable.