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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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Sunday
Jun152008

paul's 'big night' timpano

Seven years after the Italian-themed movie 'Big Night' solidified our romance, we bring the movie's star dish - timpano - to life

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I noticed him right away while browsing an online dating site. His picture showed an athletic-looking man in his early 40s wearing a black T-shirt tucked into his jeans standing under an avocado tree on a bright, sunny day.

His profile read: “I love life, ideas, people with big hearts. I write. I paint. I am a jazz musician in addition to being a business consultant... I like Picasso, Diebenkorn, Mozart, Stravinsky, M.F.K. Fisher, Strunk & White, garlic and olive oil... I don't want to be the answer to my lover's life – I want to be the one with whom she finds the right questions.”

I knew I had to meet him.

I lived in Trinidad and Tobago, where I was working as a wire service reporter. He lived in Los Angeles.

I barely remember what I wrote in the e-mail introducing myself (other than to point out the obvious -- that I liked great food and jazz too). To my surprise, he wrote back. Our e-mails grew lengthier and more numerous, until we finally decided it was time to talk.

We set up a phone date, and agreed to treat it like a real date. I showered. He shaved. And we each poured a glass of wine before the call.

The call was schedule for 11 p.m. my time, 8 p.m. his time. The phone rang right at 11 p.m.

I took a gulp of wine. “Hello?”

I was nervous, but his voice, which had a playful, energetic quality, put me at ease.

The call lasted four hours. By the time we finally had to say goodbye, we were whispering.

That conversation led to hundreds more; first we would talk once a day, and then every morning and every night.

During one call, Paul said, “I love you,” and I said it back. We knew that the phrase meant what it meant at that moment and that there was a chance that the physical chemistry wouldn’t work. But we were willing to take that chance.

Two months after the daily phone calls and 'whisper dates,' Paul booked a flight to Port-of-Spain. I stood by the gate at the shabby, dimly-lit airport for more than an hour wearing tight, short, black pants; an elegant white button down top; and Mary Jane style high heels.

I waited, nervously shifting from one foot to the next. I had nothing to lose. We had already figured we would be great friends if it didn’t work out physically. He had even offered to sleep elsewhere, but I said that wasn’t necessary. If things didn't work, he could always sleep on the couch.

After what seemed like an eternity, he appeared through the doors. He wore a green, v-neck sweater, jeans, and black boots. He was overdressed for the Caribbean but very handsome. He spotted me right away and held my eyes as he walked toward me. Without speaking, he put his hand on my lower back, pulled me into him, and kissed me briefly on the mouth.

“Hi,” he said, smiling.

“Hi,” I said back, still locked in his embrace.

After hearing his voice for so long, seeing him in person was like suddenly putting on a pair of 3-D goggles at the movie theater. It was revealing and exciting and overwhelming all at once. We packed his suitcase into my car and we drove toward the sprawling city of Port-of-Spain with the windows open to the humid, Caribbean night air. As I steered onto the highway, he put his hand on my thigh, just high enough above the knee to show his desire, but low enough to be polite.

When we settled into my apartment, he unpacked three bottles of red wine, a few of my favorite magazines (Atlantic Monthly and Harpers), a Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane CD, and a DVD of the movie, ‘Big Night.'

We spent the first two nights adjusting our 3-D goggles into a real, cohesive vision and demonstrating that our physical chemistry would match up quite nicely to our telephone proclamations.

On the third night, we watched ‘Big Night.' We laughed harder than we needed to. The themes of family, authenticity, love, sacrifice, and great food, affirmed a set of values that would define our lives together.

That weekend in Trinidad led to our engagement to be married and our eventual move to the Washington, D.C. area, where Paul is from originally.

On the second night at our new apartment, which was empty save for a futon and a steaming hot carton of General Tsao Chicken, we watched 'Big Night' again on Paul's laptop. We laughed just as hard, and we knew once again that we had made the right decision.

Seven years later, as a gift for Paul’s 49th birthday, I recreated the dish that the movie made famous. Timpano, a deep-dish pie that includes layers of pasta, salami, provolone, meatballs, egg, and tomato sauce, reminded us of the time we first met and how the themes of abundance, appetite, and love still define us.

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Timpano

This recipe is inspired by the recipe in the book "Cucina & Famiglia: Two Italian Families Share Their Stories, Recipes, And Traditions" and adapted with a bechamel sauce, a variation on the tomato sauce, and Mario Batali meatballs.

Dough

4 cups flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Butter
Olive oil
1/2 cup water, divided

Filling

2 cups Genoa salami, sliced from the whole salami at 1/4 inch, and then cut into 1/2 –inch sticks
2 cups Provolone cheese (aged 12 months), sliced at 1/4 inch and then cut into 1/2-inch sticks
12 soft-boiled eggs, shelled, halved lengthwise
2 cups meatballs (recipe follows)
4 cups meat-based tomato sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups béchamel sauce
12 cups cooked ziti (cooked the time on the package minus 2 – 3 minutes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

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Cook the pasta until just slightly undercooked, drain, and immediately cool with ice cubes and cold water.

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Transfer to a bowl and mix with olive oil.

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To make the dough, place flour, eggs, salt and olive oil in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook or a large capacity food processor. Add 3 tablespoons water and process. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, up to 1/2 cup, until mixture comes together and forms a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead to make sure it is well mixed. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes.

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Flatten dough on a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour and roll it out, dusting with flour and flipping the dough over from time to time, until it is 1/16-inch thick and is the desired diameter.

Generously grease the timpano baking pan with butter and olive oil. Fold the dough in half and then in half again, to form a triangle, and place it in the pan. Open the dough and arrange it in the pan, gently pressing it against the bottom and the sides, draping the extra dough over the sides. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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Timpano was historically cooked in enamel wash basins. I hunted around and finally found this 14-inch enamel basin from Kolorful Kitchen.

Bechamel sauce (makes about two cups)

2-1/2 cups milk
1 shallot with 1 bay leaf stuck to it using 1 – 2 whole cloves
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Combine the milk, shallot, and nutmeg in a saucepan over low heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes, uncovered, to infuse the flavor into the milk. Discard the shallot, bay leaf, and cloves.

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Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir in 4 tablespoons all-purposed flour.

Cook uncovered stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula, over medium-low heat until the roux is fragrant but not darkened, 2 – 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and slowly mix in the milk, about 1/2 cup at a time. Turn the heat back on and simmer 8 – 10 minutes. Do not boil. Season with salt and pepper.

Meatballs (make in advance)

3 cups day old bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
1-1/4 lbs ground beef
3 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, baked for 8 minutes in a 400 degree oven
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-1/2 cups basic tomato sauce (3/4 cup tomato paste, 1 cup water, 2 cups tomato sauce cooked together for about ten minutes)

In a shallow bowl, soak the bread cubes in water to cover for a minute or two. Drain the bread cubes and squeeze with your fingers to press out the excess moisture (make sure you do this well). In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, beef, eggs, garlic, pecorino, parsley, toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper, and mix with your hands to incorporate.

With wet hands, form the mixture into 12-15 meatballs, each smaller than a tennis ball, but larger than a golf ball. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until almost smoking.

Add the meatballs and, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, cook until deep golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook all the meatballs for 30 minutes.

Set aside the meatballs and allow to cool. Save the sauce for another use.

Meat-based tomato sauce (make in advance)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb boneless beef chuck, cut into chunks
salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry red wine
2 (28 ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes, with juice, passed through a food mill (if you don't have a food mill, push the tomatoes through a medium-mesh strainer with a wooden spoon)
1/2 lb mild Italian sausage
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon chopped oregano leaves

Warm olive oil in a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Brown beef on all sides, about 10 minutes.

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Remove from Dutch oven and set aside on a plate. Stir onions and garlic into pot. Reduce heat to low and cook 5 minutes until onions begin to soften.

Add the wine, browned meat chunks, tomatoes, sausages, and pepper flakes and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally and skimming off the fat as necessary. Remove from the heat and remove meat and sausages from sauce. Cover well and save for another meal.

Assembly

Have salami, provolone, soft-boiled eggs, meatballs, and tomato sauce at room temperature. Toss 6 cups of the drained pasta with 2 cups of the tomato sauce.

Distribute 6 cups of the pasta on the bottom of the timpano. Top with 1 cup salami and 1 cup provolone.

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Add 6 soft-boiled eggs and 1 cup meatballs.

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Add 3/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese. Pour about 1 cup tomato sauce over these ingredients.

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Mix another 6 cups of pasta with the béchamel sauce and pour it over top of the layer of Pecorino Romano and tomato sauce.

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Top with 1 cup salami, 1 cup provolone, 6 soft-boiled eggs, 1 cup meatballs, and 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Pour any remaining tomato sauce over these ingredients. Fold the dough over the filling to seal completely. Trim away and discard any double layers of dough.

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If there's not quite enough to cover the top, take the trimmed dough pieces, form a ball, and roll it out to form a 'lid' to cover.

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Bake about 1 hour until lightly browned. Then cover with aluminum foil and bake about 30 minutes until timpano is cooked through and dough is golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 30 or more minutes. (Depending on the timing of the evening, you can let it rest for up to an hour or more with the foil on; it stays nice and hot.)

About 20 minutes before serving, grab the timpano pan firmly and invert it onto a serving platter. (We put the platter upside-down on top of the timpano and then inverted it.)

Remove pan and allow timpano to cool for 20 minutes longer. Using a long, sharp knife, cut a circle about 2-3 inches in diameter in the center of the timpano, making sure to cut all the way through to the bottom. Then slice the timpano as you would a pie into individual portions, leaving the center circle as a support for the remaining pieces. Since we were serving 11 people at one time, it helped to have a second person hold together the slices with a spatula to prevent the pieces from falling apart.

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Serve with peperonata in agrodolce from FXcuisine.com.

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Reader Comments (44)

Angela, you could write romance novels...that was hot! lol

Your timpano is a huge piece of work and you get my respect just for the indepth cooking involved.

This would be the centerpiece of any party spread...throw me a slab and say hi to Paul...let's drink!

June 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPeter M

Thanks, Peter! I'm glad you liked the story. Come on over anytime for a thick slice of timpano and a big glass or two or three of wine. Cheers!

June 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Angela;

Your account of meeting Paul is just lovely. It has this sort of fated, metaphysical quality to it. Of course, despite all outward appearances, I'm a sucker for a good romance story, and I'm definitely a sucker for your timpano. Brava!

-Tim

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTim Carman

Thanks, Tim! I'm glad you like the story and I'm so happy that you and Carrie could join us for timpano. I look forward to our next soiree!

XO

June 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

What an absolutely beautiful story. You brought tears to my eyes. Your language is so easy and lovely... Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story and a wonderful dish. You brightened my day.

July 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoy the Baker

I loved that movie and remember thinking that the timpano was an amazing creation. Your story is so sweet and that timpano is definitely an act of love. Thank you for sharing. Maybe one day I'll be ambitious enough to try making it.

July 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

Hi, this the first time I've read your blog. I was intrigued by tastespotting. I must say that I just teared up a little bit. That was the sweetest story I've read in a long time.
The dish looks delicious, but its second seat to your sweet, sweet story.
Thanks for posting that.
-M

July 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMelis, y'all

Loved that movie. What a lovely love story, so romantic. The timpano is incredible! What a beautiful dish and I enjoyed each photo as if I were there. Thank you for sharing your story.

July 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Sue

What a beautiful love story... I'm just a sucker for those! So well-written too!
Your timpano looks delicious... I imagine it takes some time to assemble.. I'll have to set aside a Sunday afternoon to try it. :)
Thanks!

July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercandyce

Gah! I've always wanted to make that! That movie is so great. The timpano is intimadating, though. Congrats on your sweet story and on the awesome timpano! I may have to get off my duff and attempt this...

July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterironstef

Joy the baker: I'm so happy I could brighten your day! Thanks for visiting!

Annie: Thanks for the nice note! When it comes down to it, making the timpano was more methodical than difficult. Just make sure to give yourself a day of prep beforehand.

Melis: I'm thrilled you like the story -- and the dish! Thanks for reading.

Robin Sue: I'm so glad the photos made you feel like you were there. I purposely included a lot to give people a sense of the process and the layers. Thanks for visiting!

Candyce: Thanks for your kind words. If you do try the timpano, let me know how it goes!

Ironstef: I know exactly what you mean -- I've been wanting to make this dish for YEARS. I was in complete shock that it actually turned out on the first try. It's all in the prep. Thanks for reading!

July 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Oh my god -- you made the timpano! I bought the cookbook years ago after seeing the movie but never got up the nerve to make it. It looks like it turned out perfectly :-)

July 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAllen

Thanks, Allen! It was pretty great (and with a dinner party of 10-plus people, I was thankful!). I hope you get to try it one day. Cheers!

July 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

beautiful! both the food and the wonderful story, of course :D

i also met my boyfriend online, and it's really encouraging to hear stories like yours. and i am just in awe of the timpano! i came here via tastespotting, just saw your post about croque monsieur... i tried one not too far from me in the depths of new jersey, but the egg was barely runny and the ham not up to par :(

July 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

ahhh, c'etait le croque-madame! dommage ;)

July 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Thanks, Emma! I'm glad you liked the timpano and croque madame postings. And it's nice to hear about another successful online romance!

July 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

That looks so good!!

July 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

I admire you for the undertaking of timpano. All I can say is wow. What a fun time in the kitchen: it's always best making food with people you love! Great story and great-looking timpano!

Hi angela I came across you from tastespotting and was excited you made a Timpano, I make them every X-mas for my family, yours looks wonderful! I also did a post on mine, if you have time check out my Dec 07 post in my archives, it's the first one. Nice blog you have.

July 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterProud Italian Cook

Kevin: Thanks!

Eatingclub Vancouver: Thanks! This was indeed so much fun to make, especially with two days full prep!

Proud Italian Cook: Yes! I saw your piece this morning. Nice twist on the classic recipe! The photos are great too. Thanks for sharing!

July 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

That was a great story. I met my love online! We have been together for seven years. Married with kids!

THat Timpano is impressive. What an undertaking! It's beautiful... bellisimo!

July 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLori

this may be the most perfect food combination in pie-like form I have ever seen. I must have it.

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Thanks, Lori! That's so great that you met your husband online too -- and now you have kids! That's terrific. Glad you liked the recipe!

Brian: It's a killer combo for sure. The salami, meatballs, and provolone all blend together beautifully. Thanks for your comment!

July 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Stumbled upon your blog after a Big Night - Dinner and a Movie event where we live. What a treat to find yours - thanks for posting all your hard work - it looks delicious!

August 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterThe Review Lady

Review Lady: Thanks for the comment! BTW, I enjoyed reading about your Big Night evening! How fun.

August 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

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