To try Regina's recipe for timpano, the elaborate, multi-layered savory pastry, click here.
Once I meet someone and they discover that I am a chef, a natural question soon enters into our conversation: "What is your specialty?" I know my immediate response: "Southern Cuisine with a French Influence." As true as that statement is, I am a closeted Italian chef, and oh, Mediterranean, love it, and Thai, absolutely. Okay, I love food and I love to cook. I am a Southern chef and a consummate Southerner but I do love everything about Italy and France, especially the Southern regions of these countries.
I have many personal theories about food that often have no scientific basis and because of that could possibly cause controversy with my readers. With that said, here comes one: I think the food in the South of many countries is typically better, with very memorable dishes. The United States, Italy, and France are good examples. Am I biased? Absolutely.
I searched through every Italian cookbook at Barnes & Noble, asked every Italian friend, and I finally asked and read enough to create my version of timpano.
Let's start with the Southern U.S., which gave us biscuits, fried chicken, gumbo, pecan pie, cornbread, hush puppies, and shrimp and grits, to name just a few. Southern France's contributions are also abundant. In the southwest they have prepared duck, foie gras, prunes, oysters, mushrooms, and truffles just about every way imaginable, and they give you rich red Bordeaux wine to go with it. How can you not admire a region that gave us confit de canard, foie gras, and pruneaux d'Agen (the crème de le crème of dried fruit)? Southeast France is the area of olives, olive oil, herbs, tomatoes, and garlic—a fantastic combination of ingredients, so ratatouille was destined to be the dish of the region. Then there is the south of France, and one word says it all— bouillabaisse.
In Italy, the southern regions are traditionally known for mozzarella, cacciacavallo (a teardrop-shaped cheese similar to a provolone), pecorino, olive oil, lasagna, and dried pasta. Southern Italian cuisine also raises the tomato to a higher level. The southern regions of these three countries all have a reverence for onion, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Whether used in a Louisiana crawfish etouffee, a bouillabaisse from Nice, or Calabrian lasagna, these ingredients spin a web of flavor.
Like many people, when I first saw the movie Big Night, a 1996 movie directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci and starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalub, I was mesmerized by a dish I had never seen nor heard of: timpano. I searched through every Italian cookbook at Barnes & Noble, asked every Italian friend, and I finally asked and read enough to create my version of it. I found out too late that Stanley Tucci's mother put out a cookbook that has her recipe in it. One day I will get it and do a comparison and continue to improve on mine.
I can tell you, it is a lot of work, but worth the effort. I recommend making the ragout ahead, and the meatballs can be made and frozen. It really is a bit much to tackle all the steps in a day's time. The day before I am going to make the dish I take those two items out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator. I also recommend putting all your other ingredients together and organized in your refrigerator, ready to go. Timpano is most definitely an ooh-aah dish. When you lift the stainless bowl off the finished pastry dome filled with so many layers, I promise you will hear everyone oohing and aahing, and after they eat it, you will receive thanks and praise.