Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef Camille Becerra is going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.
Today: Spend an afternoon making a Timpano, Big Night-style.
Timpano is the Italian pasta dish made famous in the movie Big Night. It’s sort of a refined ziti, which is encased in a shell of pasta, baked, and then unmolded.
More: If you love Stanley Tucci, read his Piglet judgment from last year.
This recipe is certainly not for the faint of heart: Your day will be full of tension as you dedicate yourself to making sure your timpano does not get stuck, will not collapse, will look beautiful, and will taste delicious. I hope you will be adventurous, though -- why not have a big night of your own?
Let's begin with the sauce; you want one that is rich and thick. A runny tomato sauce can ruin a timpano. For a larger timpano, make a double batch. This is how I make mine:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 anchovies (optional)
1/2 cup red wine
5 cloves garlic
One 16-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, blended, then passed through a sieve
3 large, very ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters, blended, then passed through a sieve
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Sauté the onion and anchovies in olive oil until the onions are translucent. After 10 minutes add the wine, then allow it to reduce by half. Transfer everything to a blender along with the garlic and purée until smooth, then return everything to the pot. Simmer with the tomatoes (both canned and fresh), oregano, and salt for 3 to 4 hours.
While your sauce is going you’ll want to get the rest of the components together. Here's what else you'll need:
1 oven-safe mold (I used a pot that was 6 inches wide and 4 inches high)
1 pound ricotta
1/4 head escarole, grilled (optional)
1 raw egg
Pinch chili flakes
4 cups dried pasta (such as penne, ziti, or rigatoni), cooked
Enough cooked pasta sheets to cover your mold and top (wide lasagna sheets can also work)
1 pound meat such as sausage, pancetta, or meatballs, cut into small pieces
3 to 4 medium boiled eggs, halved (a smaller mold may only be able to fit 3 eggs), plus one egg for an egg wash
1/2 pound mozzarella
I thought it would be great to stuff the pasta with a ricotta filling instead of mixing everything together like traditional timpano. I grilled some escarole and minced it finely, then added it to ricotta with an egg and seasoned it with salt and chili. This mixture gets piped into each tube of pasta; I used a pastry bag.
Line your mold with pasta sheets, and then begin layering. I started with the ricotta-stuffed pasta, then added a layer of pasta sauce, and tapped the mold against the table. The fewer pockets of air in the timpano, the better its structure will be.
Continue to layer your ingredients: Add meat, tap down. Add mozzarella, then more pasta. Tap again. Then sliced eggs, and more sauce. Tap. Finish with one more layer of mozzarella, pasta, and sauce, and tap one last time.
Cover with the remaining pasta sheets and an egg wash, then bake for 45 minutes to an hour.
After your timpano cools, take it out of the mold and slice into it. Behold your masterpiece. Then enjoy your big night.
Photos by Camille Becerra