Timpano | Authentic Italian Timballo Recipe
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
The timpano, also known as "timballo," is an impressive pasta dish that verges on the excessive and flirts with indulgence. In essence it is a giant, drum-shaped (hence the name, as in "timpani" drums) pie crust stuffed with layered pasta, ragù, meatballs, sausage, multiple varieties of cheese, peas, eggs, and perhaps anything else you happen to have in the fridge.
Don't let the exaggerated appearance fool you: the dish isn't just a sight to behold, it's delicious! Making a timpano is no easy feat, if not for the wide range of techniques involved than for the time commitment needed (ours took 10 hours from start to serving), but the brave cook who attempts it will be rewarded with a truly satisfying and tasty accomplishment.
This masterpiece dish is perhaps best-known in the United States from its appearance in the 1996 film "Big Night," a masterpiece in its own right. The timpano portrayed in the movie presents a combination of regional styles and ingredients, making it a less-than-authentic version, albeit one steeped in tradition. We decided to try our hand at the Neapolitan version, the style of which is reflected in this recipe.
On the subject of "recipe," it should be noted that this is more of a guide than a straightforward how-to. We chose to make a rather large timpano, but it can certainly be scaled down which will require some intuition on the cook's part in determining, for instance, how many meatballs to make. Luckily this dish is quite flexible in many regards, and can be adapted easily to your own taste, capacity and capabilities. Don't like boiled eggs? Omit them. Prefer sausage to meatballs? Make more of the former to replace the latter. In short, take the ingredient amounts with a pinch of salt and consider them to be ratios for you to scale as desired. You also shouldn't be surprised if you end up with surplus of some components after assembling the timpano, depending on how much of each you choose to add.
One last note on timing: all of the timpano fillings must be added at room temp or colder, so the order in which each component is made isn't terribly important as long as everything is ready for assembly by the time you roll out the dough.
We strongly encourage you to watch our video on how we made our own timpano, which should give you a much better idea of what's involved and how you can adapt this recipe to your own needs and preferences:
- 36oz. (2400g) canned pure tomato purèe
- 6oz (170g) tomato paste
- 10 sweet Italian sausages
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Fresh black pepper
In a large pot, bring olive oil up to medium/high heat and add the diced vegetables. Sautèe for about 3 minutes, then add the sausages and brown them on all sides, about 10 minutes.
Add the red wine and allow to reduce until it has completely evaporated, about 15 minutes. Pour in the tomato purèe and add the tomato paste. If your tomato purèe is on the thick side, you may want to add about 12oz. of water (1/3 of the amount of tomato). If your tomatoes are on the watery side, omit the water.
Salt and pepper to taste, then allow to simmer on low heat, partially covered, for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Remove sausages from the sauce and allow to cool, but simmer the ragù a further 30 minutes before turning off the heat.
When the sausages have cooled to the touch, slice them into 1/4-inch thick pieces and set aside for later.
The Pasta Brisè Dough
- 7 1/2 cups (900g) all-purpose flour
- 4 sticks (450g) unsalted butter
- 6 tbsp ice water
Cut the butter into small chunks and keep refrigerated until you are ready to mix the dough.
Mix flour, butter, water and 2 pinches of salt. If you're making a large quantity like we did, you'll want to to this by hand and use a dough scraper to fully chop and blend the butter into the flour. If you decide to make a more modest quantity, you can pulse the mixture in a food processor.
Quickly knead the dough until it is smooth and uniform, you don't want any chunks of butter remaining. Cover in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge until it's time to roll, but at least for 30 minutes.
- 2/3 lb (300g) ground pork
- 2/3 lb (300g) ground beef
- 50g (about 1/2 cup) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 50g (about 1/2 cup) grated pecorino cheese
- 100g (about 1 cup) bread crumbs
- 3 eggs
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Chopped parsley to taste (we used about 1/8 cup)
- Fresh black pepper
- Vegetable oil (you need just enough to cover a submerged meatball in a small pot)
Mix all ingredients (except vegetable oil) together by hand. Roll into 1-inch balls.
Bring frying oil up to a high temperature. We don't use a thermometer, we simply drop a small piece of meat in to make sure the oil is hot enough. A small test piece should crisp up quickly.
Working in batches or one at a time, use a slotted spoon to ladle the meatballs into the oil. Stir very gently as they cook and remove when they have turned golden brown. Place on a paper towel to cool.
- 8 eggs
Place eggs in a large saucepan and cover completely with cold water. Turn heat to high and bring water to a rolling boil. Remove pot from heat, cover and eggs to cook for about 12 minutes. Remove from water and set aside to cool before peeling and slicing them.
- 1 1/2 cup (250g) peas (frozen is fine)
- 1/4 yellow onion, diced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5oz. (50g) chopped pancetta
- Fresh black pepper
In a medium pan, add olive oil and onion and sautèe for about 3 minutes over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add peas and cook for a further 4 minutes before adding a 1/2 cup of water. You want to reduce the water until it has completely evaporated and the peas are soft. If the peas need more time, continue adding small amounts of water while reducing.
Salt and pepper to taste, then allow to cool for later.
- 1.5kg (a little over 3 lbs) ziti pasta - use your judgement here, depending on the size of your pot.
Bring a very large pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt LIBERALLY. As they say in Italy, the water should taste like the sea which, in the case of such a large pot, means a lot of salt. 3-4 small handfuls are a recommended starting place.
Add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes. The pasta will bake further so it shouldn't be completely cooked at this point. Drain and mix with a few ladles of your ragù in a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool for later.
- 400g (about 1 1/2 cup when chopped) provolone cheese
- 50g (about 1/2 cup) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 50g (about 1/2 cup) pecorino cheese
Chop the provolone into small chunks and grate the Pramigiano and pecorino cheeses. Keep separate and set aside for later.
Rolling the Dough
When all of your components are prepared, it's time to roll the pasta brisè dough! This is the trickiest part of the process, as the buttery dough can melt quite easily. We recommend doing this in a cool environment.
Cut off about 1/4 of the dough before rolling and keep refrigerated until ready to seal the timpano shut.
Butter the inside surface of your timpano pot (we used a large dutch oven) completely.
Remove the dough from the fridge and place on a well-floured counter. Working quickly, roll it out with a large rolling pin until it is quite thin, about 1/10-inch (3mm). The dough will be very firm and difficult to work at first. Sprinkle flour on the dough surface and counter beneath as necessary if it's sticky.
Once the dough is thin and even, drape it over the pot. You might find it useful to roll it up partially on the rolling pin and then unroll it over the pot. Gently press it down until it completely molds into the curves of the pot.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).
Ladle a thick layer of pasta into the bottom of the timpano, then spoon some ragù sauce over the ziti. Don't go overboard with the sauce, just enough for flavor. If the timapano is too liquid, it will collapse! Layer the other components in the following order: sausage slices, peas, sliced eggs, provolone cheese, meatballs, grated Parmigiano and pecorino. Then add another layer of pasta and ragù and repeat the other layers. You can repeat this as much as you like or as your pot allows, but be sure to finish with a final layer of pasta and sauce.
At this point, roll out the remaining pasta brisè and place the sheet on top. Make sure that the dough is pressed into a good seal so nothing leaks out. Poke several holes witha fork into the top, and brush the surface with a beaten egg.
Bake for about 1 hour, or until the surface of the pasta brisè has turned a golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30-40 minutes.
To invert the timpano, place a cutting board flush against the top of the pot. Holding it firmly in place, flip the dish over and gently slide the pot up and away. Slice and serve immediately.