Blake’s Big Night

I was driving home from my first filling-the-larder shopping trip yesterday when the announcer on the country music radio station playing in the car announced that newlyweds Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani celebrated their first Christmas together as husband and wife by making what the announcer called “domed pasta dishes” with Gwen’s Italian family.

“Timpani!” I yelled out loud, talking to no one but the announcer since I was all by myself. I was simply very excited — tickled pink, in fact — that I knew exactly what he was talking about. I had made a timpano with my sisters and several nieces many years ago, way back in 2014.

Timpani (the word comes from the fact that the enormous bowl resemble the timpani drums often found in symphony orchestras) are literally every sort of Italian food all stuffed into a huge metal bowl, and baked. Once they are fully baked and cooled sufficiently, you dump them out onto a big tray and slice into them, revealing total and complete yumminess.

Timpani are traditional in Italy, where they are called timpalli. I don’t know why Italian-Americans changed the name. Frankly, I don’t care because a timpani by any other name would taste delicious. (My apologies to William Shakespeare.) Americans became familiar with the dish after watching a movie called Big Night, starring the wonderful actors Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci. In the movie, Shalhoub and his brother — both immigrants from Italy — open an Italian restaurant. Shalhoub’s character wants to offer food prepared they way it is in Italy, while his brother wants to offer the more Italian-American food, like spaghetti and meatballs.

The movie is clever and touching and I wish everyone could watch it. It culminates in the brothers’ “Big Night” which they think will save their restaurant. The “Big Night” features a timpano.

As for our version, we lined the timpano bowl with pizza crust, and proceeded to fill it with a layer of cooked ziti in marinara sauce, a layer of cooked Italian sausage, a layer of mozzarella cheese, a layer of prepared meatballs, a layer of grated pecorino cheese, some beaten egg over it all, and a layer of red sauce. And then we did it again. The bowl was filled to the brim.

We baked it for an hour-and-a-half at 350 degrees. After taking it out of the oven, we left it to sit for a bit. We did so to give it a chance to cool. I think part of the reason we did so was because we were terrified that we would turn the bowl over onto the tray, and a mess of Italian slop would fall out.

We finally gathered our nerves and prepared to turn the bowl. We each took a turn at giving the bowl a lucky knock…..

We lucked out, because the bowl emptied perfectly. I don’t think Blake and Gwen’s could have been any better….

As I heard about Blake and Gwen’s holiday celebration and recalled our ladies’ night timpano, I began to wonder what ever happened to that bowl. It’s not exactly something that could get lost in our little house. The location remains a mystery. Next time I want to make a timpano, I may have to give the Sheltons a call.

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