Citizens, there are any number of movies where amazing food is a central thematic element to the plot: “Tampopo”, “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman”, “Babette’s Feast”, “Goodfellas” – and who could leave out “Big Night” by the unmatched actor, director and foodie Stanley Tucci?
In this superb film, the entire last 30 minutes is devoted to one unmatched meal, of which the centerpiece dish is the legendary “Il Timpano” from their native Italian village.
As noted by The New York Times:
The movie clip sums it all up:
Timballo featured prominently in the 1996 film Big Night, although the dish there is referred to as timpano (a regional or family term). Timballo is an Italian baked dish consisting of pasta, rice, or potatoes, with one or more other ingredients (cheese, meat, fish, vegetables, or fruit) included.
The name comes from the French word for kettledrum (timbale). Varieties of Timballo differ from region to region, and it is sometimes known as a bomba, tortino, sartu (a Neapolitan interpretation) or pasticcio (which is used more commonly to refer to a similar dish baked in a pastry crust). It is also known as timpano and Timbale (food). It is similar to a casserole and is sometimes referred to in English as a pie or savory cake.
The dish is prepared in a dome or springform pan and eggs or cheese are used as a binder. Rice is commonly used as an ingredient in Emilia-Romagna, where the dish is referred to as a bomba and baked with a filling of pigeon or other game bird, peas, local cheese and a base of dried pasta. Crêpes are used as a base in Abruzzo, and other regions use ravioli or gnocchi. In Sicily, it’s typically made with pasta and eggplant.
Mushroom sauce or fonduta, a rich Piedmontese cheese soup and sauce, are sometimes used, and Anna Del Conte wrote that Béchamel is the most consistently used ingredient in timballos.
Citizens, to make this dish properly as Stanley Tucci’s family did is an exercise in patience and skill. You’ll also need a proper Timpano pan – preferably of enameled steel. The dish is best made over two days with helpers and includes a genuine Italian meat sauce and proper meatballs that would bring a tear to any Italian-American eye. My take on it is resolutely traditional and I hope you enjoy this unique dish!
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 2 ½ cups 00 Italian flour
- 6 ounces lard or 6 ounces butter or 6 ounces vegetable shortening
- 4 egg yolks
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅔ pound ground beef (at least 16 percent fat)
- ⅔ pound ground pork
- ⅔ pound ground veal
- ⅔ cup whole milk
- 3 slices of white bread, crusts removed (about 3 ounces)
- ¼ cup ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- About 1 cup of flour for dusting
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 ½ cups Neapolitan Ragu
- NEAPOLITAN RAGU:
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ lb boneless veal shoulder, cut into chunks
- ½ lb boneless beef chuck, cut into chunks
- kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup dry red wine
- 2 (28 ounce) cans peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes, with juice, passed through a food mill
- ½ lb Italian sweet sausage
- 2 Anchovy fillets, minced (Ortiz brand strongly preferred)
- 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 3 basil leaves, minced
- 1 tbsp. Fresh oregano leaves, minced
- 1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
- Chicken or beef stock
- ½ lb. thick Genoa salami pieces, cut into small squares
- ½ lb. thick soppresata pieces, cut into small squares
- 1 lb. sharp provolone cheese, evenly diced
- 12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered lengthwise, each quarter cut in half
- 1 pound small meatballs
- 8 cups Neapolitan Ragu
- 3 lbs. ziti or similar pasta, cooked very al dente (about half the time recommended on the package)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
- 6 large eggs, beaten
- To make the dough: Place the flour on a wooden work surface, make a well in the top.
- Cut the lard or other fat into ¼ -inch pieces and place in the center of the well with the yolks, ½ teaspoon salt, and a teaspoon of ice water.
- Mix well with the tips of your fingers to form a lumpy mass.
- Bring together as a dough and knead for 4-5 minutes.
- Wrap in plastic and set aside. The dough may be made in advance and refrigerated overnight; return to room temperature before rolling out.
- Make the Ragu:
- In a large pasta pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil until smoking.
- Season the veal and beef with salt and pepper to taste and sear 5 or 6 pieces at a time over medium heat, until dark golden brown.
- Remove to a plate and repeat with remaining meat chunks.
- Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits.
- Stir onions and garlic into pot. Reduce heat to low and cook until onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping bottom of the pot clean.
- Add tomato paste. Pour ½ cup warm chicken or beef stock into tomato paste can to loosen any residual paste and then pour into pot. Cook to warm the paste through, about 2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes along with additional 1 cup warm stock or water. Stir in basil and oregano. Cover with lid partially on and simmer about 30 minutes.
- Return meat to pot, along with any juices that accumulated in bowl plus anchovy and pepper flakes. Cover partially with lid and simmer, stirring frequently, until meat is very tender and tomatoes are cooked, about 2 hours. Warm chicken or beef stock (or if you must, water) may be added to sauce, in small portions, if it becomes too thick.
- Remove from the heat and remove meat and sausages from sauce. Cover well and save for another meal.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and allow to cool.
- Purée in a blender, or push through a food mill for a smooth consistency. Return to pan. Adjust seasonings.
- Make meatball mixture:
- Soak torn bread in hot milk: Heat the milk in a small pot until steamy. Turn off the heat, tear the bread into little pieces and soak it in the milk until it partially dissolves. Mash it until you get something that resembles a paste. Turn it out onto a plate to let it cool.
- In a large bowl, combine the beef, veal, pork, ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, eggs, salt, parsley, oregano, black pepper, garlic cloves and the bread-milk mixture. Mix it well with your hands until it barely combines.
- Don’t overwork the mixture or it will become tough. It is OK to have some discernable bits of bread or meat in the mix; better that than overworked meatballs.
- Form meatballs, roll in flour: Wet your hands and form the meatballs. Make them small, ½ the size of ping pong balls.
- Once you roll the meatball in your hands, roll it in the flour to give it a good coating. Set each one on a baking sheet as you work. You might need to rinse your hands a few times as you make the meatballs.
- Brown meatballs: When all the meatballs are formed, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on at least two sides. Don’t worry about the center getting cooked through, as you will finish these in the sauce.
- Finish cooking meatballs in tomato sauce: Once all the meatballs are browned, arrange them in the sauce, turning each one over in the sauce to coat.
- Cover the pot and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Reserve meatballs and sauce.
- Flatten dough on a lightly-floured work surface. Dust top with flour and roll it out, dusting with flour and flipping the dough over from time to time, until it is about 1/16-inch thick and is the desired diameter. (To calculate the diameter for the dough round, add the diameter of the bottom of your timpano basin, the diameter of the top of the pan and twice the height of the pan.)
- Grease the baking pan generously with butter and olive oil. Fold dough in half and then in half again, to form a triangle, and place in pan. Open dough and arrange it in the pan, gently pressing it against the bottom and the sides, draping extra dough over the sides. Set aside.
- Heat oven to 180c. Have salamis, provolone, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs and ragù sauce at room temperature. Stir ½ cup stock into sauce to thin it. Toss pasta with olive oil and allow to cool slightly before tossing with 2 cups of sauce.
- Layering the filling:
- Distribute 4 generous cups of pasta on bottom of timpano. Top with 1 cup mixed salamis, 1 cup provolone, 3 of the cut-up hard boiled eggs, 1 cup meatballs and ⅓ cup Romano cheese. Pour 2 cups sauce over ingredients.
- Repeat process to create additional layers until filling comes within 1 inch of the top of the pan, ending with 2 cups sauce. Pour beaten eggs over the filling.
- Fold pasta dough over filling to seal completely. Trim away and discard any double layers of dough. Make sure timpano is tightly sealed. If you notice any small openings cut a piece of trimmed dough to fit over opening. Use a small amount of water to moisten these scraps of dough to ensure that a tight seal has been made.
- Bake until lightly browned, about 1 hour. Cover with foil and continue baking until the timpano is cooked through and the dough is golden brown (and reaches an internal temperature of 250F), about 30 minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow to rest for 60 or more minutes to allow timpano to cool and contract before attempting to remove from pan. The baked timpano should not stick to the pan.
- To test, gently shake pan to the left and then to the right. It should slightly spin in the pan. If any part is still attached, carefully detach with a knife.
- To remove timpano from pan, place a baking sheet or thin cutting board that covers the entire diameter on the pan on top of the timpano. Grasp the baking sheet or cutting board and the rim of the pan firmly and invert timpano.
- Remove pan and allow timpano to cool for at least 60 minutes. Using a long, sharp knife, cut a circle about 3” in diameter in the center of the timpano, making sure to cut all the way through to the bottom.
- Then slice timpano as you would a pie into individual portions, leaving the center circle as a support for the remaining pieces. The cut pieces should hold together, revealing the layers of filling you built up earlier.
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