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Investigating Food in Film: "Timpano Di Maccheroni" in Big Night

Timpano di Maccheroni
Timpano di Maccheroni
Photo by the Selfish Cook.

It's little surprise many famous movie scenes involve food; there's a certain pleasure in watching characters eat the foods we enjoy in real life or grapple with the familiar challenges of cooking, say, lobsters. But have you ever been watching a film and someone mentions a food you've never heard of? Or there's a dining scene and you can't pay attention to the dialogue because you're too distracted wondering what the heck they're eating? This series is devoted to answering those questions.

When Domino's first debuted "pasta in a bread bowl", I remember thinking how a certain generation of Italians would roll over in their graves if they saw in what ridiculous ways their cuisine had devolved. I thought the idea of serving carbohydrates in a carbohydrate container was unbelievably vulgar, and, God, so American. Seriously, can we eat anything besides bread and fat?

Well, I shut my yap pretty quick upon watching Big Night, one of the best movies for foodies if only because of its numerous scenes depicting mouthwatering Italian dishes and harried kitchen prep. It's also good if you harbor lingering romantic feelings for Stanley Tucci.

Anyway, Big Night showed me that Italians could be just as crazy-pants as Domino's R&D employees because they, too, embrace a carb-meets-carb dish called timpano di maccheroni. "What the hell is that?" were, I believe, my exact words when the timpano appeared in all its glory.

In simplest terms, timpano is a giant half sphere comprising different layers of pasta (usually rigatoni), meatballs and sauce that is encased in dough. After baking it for a short bit in the oven, you slice it like a pie and serve to your guests, all of whom, I presume, are running a marathon the next day.

Now here, I think, is where I'm supposed to tell you about my goofy attempt to make timpano myself and all the hilarity that ensued. Sorry, I am way too lazy for that shit, but I do tip my hat to the many lay cooks and home chefs who have successfully wrangled with this monster pasta dome.

Some people (specifically, Mario Batali) have claimed that timpano di maccheroni is "not nearly as tricky to prepare as it looks." Those people 1) have no clue how Texas humidity affects dough and 2) never experienced my sloppy, accident-prone cookery. Trust me, if I made a timpano, it would swell to twice its original size and then spontaneously combust all over my kitchen.

Should any Houston chefs want to serve this monster, especially around race season, I will be first in line with a bib and my own fork.


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