What do you make for dinner when a group of Pagans are coming over the day before St Patrick's Day, your last name is Dougherty and your husband is half Italian? That's the question I pondered in the first few days in March. It had to be a big deal— something with lots of steps, complicated ingredients and the ability to shock and amaze a bunch of Pagans. Turducken? No, all that de-boning would be exhausting. Boiled dinner? No, too obvious a choice. Timpano? Yes, yes, yes— there were lots of ingredients, it involved making homemade pasta dough and I was in uncharted territory— always fun when 10 people are coming over for dinner. I had a secret weapon— my friend, Gina. She had no fear of pasta dough, makes a mean red sauce and was game for a kitchen adventure.
Renee introduced me to 'The Big Night', a movie about two Italian brothers who host an extravagant dinner to save their restaurant from closing, right after we met in 2007 and it's now one of my favorites. The last course in the movie is a timpano and, while Louis Prima never showed up, it was a grand moment when they rolled that timpano into the dining room. It's a great movie— funny, poignant and has a killer soundtrack. It's hard to go wrong with Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci, Minnie Driver and Isabella Rossellini in the same cast.
Since Gina and I had both seen the movie, had a solid prep list and knew our way around the kitchen— I figured we were on our way to timpano success. There was one catch, I was nervous about the pasta dough— Gina assured me it was no big deal and whipped up a batch in about 5 minutes. Pasta dough is very resilient, much more than I expected, and that dough opened up a whole new world for me— homemade pasta. Meghan and I have one batch under our belts— I never would have attempted that without watching Gina make our timpano pasta. Pagans, pasta dough, Meghan and The Big Night will be forever entwined in my food memory bank and seriously, once you make your own pasta, the dried stuff loses it's luster.
I poached a pheasant in red wine and duck fat— it was as close as the timpano was going to get to a boiled dinner.
I shredded the pheasant (add about a half of a cup of the poaching liquid to the shredded pheasant), made meatballs (recipe here) and cooked rigatoni and ricotta mushroom panzerotti (available here) al dente. The key to a successful timpano is prepping all the ingredients in advance and assembling the pasta masterpiece right before you plan to cook it.
Pancetta started the party and was the first layer in the timpano. Gina's sauce was like the United Nations— it brought the whole pie together and unified many different flavors and textures.
Ricotta panzerotti, hard-boiled eggs and meatballs— the second layer of the timpano.
Rigatoni, more hard-boiled eggs and shredded pheasant— the third layer of the timpano.
Ricotta, mozzarella and red sauce— the fourth and final layer of our pasta pie.
We had a small moment of panic when I tried to unearth the timpano from the pot. The pot weighed about 10 pounds (I'm not exaggerating) and I was worried it would fall apart on the way out. Ted, the proud owner of miles and miles of army green webbing, concocted a cutting board/webbing solution that worked perfectly and the timpano left the pot unscathed.
Cutting into that 10 pound masterpiece was a little scary. What if the best laid plans of Mary and Gina went awry and all the Pagans had to go home hungry? We didn't have a back-up plan and it turns out we didn't need one. The timpano held up nicely and tasted great but it really did remind me of a huge calazone with a lot of stuff in it. It's a meal I'm glad we tackled but it's not one I plan on making any time soon. Maybe it will become my Italian St. Patrick's Day dinner and I'll save the corned beef for hash the morning after.
A Pagan's Timpano(Adapted From Stanley Tucci's Cucina & Famiglia Cookbook)
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp olive oil 1
/2 cup water
Butter, olive oil and bread crumbs to prepare the pan
10 pieces of pancetta, thinly sliced
2 cups ricotta
12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled, halved
1 pheasant, simmered in 375 ml red wine, 12 oz rendered duck fat & 1/2 cup olive oil for 3 hours 14 - 18 meatballs, depending on the size of your pan
8 cups marinara sauce (homemade or good quality store-bought)
3 pounds rigatoni, cooked very al dente (about half the time recommended on the package) and drained
2 pounds ricotta panzerotti (you can substitute any filled pasta), cooked very al dente and drained
8 cups mozzarella, shredded
1 cup Parmesan, shredded
4 large eggs, beaten
Dough Preparation Using Stand Mixer
Place all ingredients in the bowl except for the water. Turn the mixer on slowly and add 3 tablespoons of the water. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together and forms a ball. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board to make sure it is well mixed. Set aside to rest for5-10 minutes, or refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before rolling.
Flatten out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough to 1/16″ thickness, dusting with flour and turning from time to time, to prevent sticking. Generously grease the pan with butter, olive oil and bread crumbs. Fold the dough in half and then in half again, to form a triangle, and place it in the pan. Open the dough and gently press it into the pan against the bottom and sides. Allow the extra dough to drape over the sides.
Cooking the Pasta Cook the pasta in a very large pot of salted water until it is half done (it will finish cooking in the oven). place in a large bowl and toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.
Assemble the Timpano Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the bottom of the pasta dough lined pan with the pancetta slices, half of the rigatoni, 2 cups of mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan and marinara. Second layer: panzerotti, meatballs, half of the eggs, 2 cups of mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan and marinara. Third layer: remaining rigatoni, poached pheasant, remaining eggs, 2 cups mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan and marinara. Fourth layer: ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan, beaten eggs and remaining marinara sauce. Fold the pasta dough over the filling to seal completely. Trim away and discard any double layers of dough.
Bake the timpano until lightly browned, about 1 hour, then cover loosely with aluminum foil and continue baking until the timpano is cooked through and the dough is golden brown, about 30 minutes. The internal temperature should reach 120 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to rest about 45 - 60 minutes. The timpano should not stick to the pan. If it does, carefully run a knife around the edges to loosen. Placing a serving platter or cutting board on top of the pan and invert the timpano onto a serving platter. Remove the pan and allow timpano to cool for at least an hour. Using a long, sharp knife, slice the timpano as you would a pie into individual portions. Serves 16.