BY LOIS DESOCIO
It’s the week before Christmas, which means I’ve been doing some heavy listing. Not the kind that Santa checks twice – I save gift-buying for Christmas Eve. I’m talking supermarket list. For over 30 years, I’ve hosted Christmas dinner for family and friends (party girl!), so my first holiday priority is getting that dinner menu front and center, and ready for launch.
If you’re familiar with my Thanksgiving adventure, you’ve read that my system is to pick a page, or a group of pages in the newspaper, or a foodie magazine, and make everything on those pages, no matter how outlandish the combination. And since I’m deadline-driven by nature, for Christmas, I like to add to the chaos. I seek out the most complicated and out-of-bounds menu possible, and make lists, shop, and cook for a week. My deadline is the night-before-Christmas-Eve day. Because Christmas Eve is when I hit the mall. (Attention shoppers! This is way better, bargain wise, than Black Friday.) I have all my gifts in a mind-list, and am forced to make decisions on what to buy for everyone on my list, because I’m shopping on Christmas Eve.
And also this year, to mirror how unsettling this Christmas will be (for the first time, my youngest son, who is overseas, won’t be here, and relatives that were staples in my Christmas kitchen for decades have died, or moved on), I’ve decided, for old times’ sake, to randomly (with my eyes closed) pick recipes from the past. I turned and shook my recipe ring binder, filled with everything I’ve ever made or saved, upside down (like my Christmas!), spilled a pile on the counter, and made a meal from the spill. I picked appetizers (Maple/Pepper Salmon Bites, Apricot/Cherry Salsa with Taco Chips, Butterscotch/Whiskey Eggnog), a soup (Cream of Garlic), a salad (Prociutto/Fig/Walnut with Greens), and Timpano (also served upside down).
“Timpano!,” you may ask. “What’s that?” That’s what every one of my dinner guests asked in October, when I attempted it for the first time, and killed it – in a bad way, as in ruined. I do believe, if done right, though, that it must be the perfect meal. So it’s the headliner this Christmas.
Made famous by actor Stanley Tucci in the 1996 movie, “Big Night,” timpano recipes have been resurrected and adapted in the press a lot recently (including in the December 19 Star Ledger), since Tucci came out with a new cookbook, “The Tucci Cookbook,” this past October. But, as mentioned, these are adaptations. It had taken hours of investigative reporting to find Tucci’s original recipe online. No easy task to find the whole thing, but I didn’t want to dole out $165 for his first book, Cucina & Famiglia, which has the original recipe in it.
But, as it turned out, a real timpano pan (thus named after a timpano drum, which is what the pan is shaped like), is just as elusive. And more expensive. I waited too long, and ended up buying the closest pan that I could find – a Le Creuset Dutch Oven on sale for $260. (Take note timpano-tryers – you can get a real timpano pan on Amazon for $17.99.)
It does take an arsenal of kitchen gear to prepare (pasta maker, food processor, rolling pin, cutting boards, cookie sheets, three or four big bowls, large frying pan, lobster-pot size stew pot, and, of course, that timpano pan), but once it is all kneaded, sliced, rolled, stirred, filled, encased, and baked – it is a one-dish wonder. Here’s a crash course:
Knead homemade dough, and line the timpano pan:
Fill with hard-boiled eggs, Genoa salami, homemade ziti, sharp provolone cheese, and mozzarella cheese:
Top with homemade meatballs, and a good pecorino Romano:
Mix and crown with Tucci’s ragu and more ziti:
Wrap in homemade dough. (I know – I can’t wrap.):
I’ll leave you with a “Merry Christmas,” and some visuals: Tucci’s Timpano (to die for):
And my first attempt (dead):