Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Timpano, or "Mambo Vegetaliano"

This quixotic enterprise began with a conversation about "the best food movies," which included Babette's Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman, Ratatouille, and Like Water for Chocolate. But no such list would be complete without Big Night, featuring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci as Italian immigrants running a small Jersey Shore restaurant in the 1950s. (The brothers are named Primo and Secundo,  and the restaurant is called "Paradise," but I'll refrain from drawing any Dante or Milton-related parallels. Go watch the film; then we can talk!) 

I won't spoil things by giving  away the whole plot, but suffice to say that food - its quality, preparation, and the vast number of things it evokes and represents - sits squarely at its emotional center. The climax is a huge, elaborate dinner party prepared in anticipation of the restaurant's most famous guest, Louis Prima, from whom a word of praise could save the brothers' struggling business and their shot at the American Dream. 

Among the multiple courses prepared for this feast is Timpano di Maccheroni, an outrageously baroque concoction named for its resemblance to a drum (if you hadn't already figured that out). The dish consists of multiple layers of pasta, sauce, sausage, meatballs, and cheese, encased in a pastry dome and baked. (Full disclosure: one traditional recipe also features sliced hard-boiled eggs, but that would have made me gag even as an omnivore so we're going to forget all about it.)

While we were discussing the film, it occurred to me that a veganized timpano might be an excellent project for a snowbound afternoon. We've had no shortage of those in central Massachusetts, so an occasion presented itself almost immediately. I did a little research, laid in supplies, and lo: within a few hours, the daunting task was accomplished. 

Making this dish was huge fun, although I should warn you that even with the help of numerous shortcuts (Primo makes his own pasta, sausage, and meatballs - from meat), it was not an endeavor for the faint of heart. Which is to say that if you want to make one, you should probably clear the afternoon. I'll also note that this post takes the prize for the greatest number and volume of meat and dairy analogues in a single recipe, since I'm generally a whole foods kinda girl.

Of course, the results were pretty spectacular, and now that I've done it once, I'm going to plan a whole party around the next one. Think cocktail dresses, skinny ties, Louis Prima on the hi-fi, Campari and soda aperitifs, extravagant antipasti, and gallons of Chianti. Because as Secundo's sleazebag frenemy Pascal so succinctly puts it, "You must bite your teeth into the ass of life and drag it to you! HEY!"

Timpano di Maccheroni
~ 4 cups all purpose flour
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 6 tbsp. very cold margarine or shortening
~ Prepared egg replacer for 4 eggs
~ 1/2 cup ice water

~ In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and margarine or shortening; mix with your fingers until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.
~ Add the egg replacer and enough of the ice water to make a soft dough.
~ Knead for a minute or two, then wrap in plastic and set aside in the refrigerate.

Red Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup diced onions
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup chopped mushrooms
~ 4 good handfuls baby spinach, chopped fine
~ 1 tsp. oregano
~ 3 cups marinara sauce, prepared or homemade

~ In a large, deep skillet, sate the onions, garlic, and mushrooms in the oil over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the spinach and oregano and stir until just wilted.
~ Add the marinara and cook another few minutes. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

White Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1/4 cup each: vegan parmesannutritional yeast
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, basil
~ Pinch nutmeg
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1.5 cups vegetable stock (I used mushroom broth from soaking dried porcini)

~ Combine the soy milk and broth, and bring to nearly boiling in the microwave.
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat, then add the flour and stir to make a roux
~ Raise the heat to medium, and gradually begin adding the heated milk/broth mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
~ Add the vegan parm, nooch, salt, basil, and nutmeg. Continue cooking another 5 minutes or so, until slightly thickened. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

~ 1 lb. penne or ziti, cooked and drained according to package directions
~ 1 12 oz. package vegan meatballs, baked according to package directions 
~ 3 vegan Italian sausages, cubed and browned in a little oil
~ 2 cups grated, vegan mozzarella
~ 1 cup vegan parmesan
~ A large, oven safe bowl, generously greased
~ Extra red sauce, for serving (optional)

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Mix 2/3 of the cooked pasta with the red sauce, and the remaining pasta with the white sauce, and set aside.
~ On a large, floured board, roll out the dough into a large, very thin circle (I'm talking about an absolute maximum 1/8" thickness; thinner, if you can manage it. In the film, Primo gets it practically translucent; maybe next time. There should be enough pastry to fill the oiled bowl, with sufficient overlap to cover the top completely. You will probably have some extra, but no worries - just snip it off and discard. Better to have too much than not enough!)
~ Place half the red-sauced pasta in the bottom of the dough-lined bowl, and press down gently but firmly with the flat of your hands. 
~ Arrange half of the cooked meatballs and half of the sausage on top of the pasta, press down again, then sprinkle on 1 cup of the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the vegan parmesan.
~ Make a layer of the white-sauced pasta layer, then top with the remaining meatballs, sausage, mozzarella, and parm, pressing down with each layer.
~ Finish with the remaining red-sauced pasta, then press down on the whole mess with your dainty little hands one last time.
~ Fold the overhanging dough over the top and seal. You might want to dampen your fingers a little to do this; you don't want your timpano to leak.
~ Place the bowl on a baking sheet, and cook at 350 degrees for an hour, until the dough is lightly browned and firm to the touch.
~ Remove the bowl from the oven, and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.
~ Cover the top of the timpano with a large platter, and very carefully invert the whole business. Say a little prayer, and then gently remove the bowl from the beauteous, golden dome. Allow the timpano to rest another 15-20 minutes or so.
~ With a long, sharp knife, slice like a pie into individual portions. 
~ Please note that this dish is so ridiculously dense and filling that a simple green salad is really all the accompaniment you could conceivably need to make this The Most Outrageous Italian Meal Ever. That said, you can serve some extra marinara at the table if you like, and a glass or two of Chianti wouldn't come amiss, either.

Ecce timpano!


  1. Sounds great! Alas beware... campari isn't vegan!

  2. Ooh - really? That's too bad; thanks for letting me know before we bought some! I wonder what might be a good sub?

  3. Campari has been vegan since 2006.

    1. I only just saw this comment; thanks for the info!