“In my family, we used to call this an Easter Pie,” said Anthony Gambino, who with brother Nick had prepared a timpano that we tasted last weekend at their restaurant, Cucina Paradiso. “But we’re Sicilian,” he added.
“My grandmother also made an Easter Pie that was much like this, but she called it a calzone,” I offered. “She was Genovese.”
With that we fell silent and looked the beautiful timpano, a pasta enclosed cake of salami, meatballs, sauce, cheese, hardboiled eggs, peas and, yes, more pasta.
I wondered aloud, “Why is it that timpano is almost never found on restaurant menus?”
“Because people don’t understand it,” said Gambino. “When we opened, we were serving polenta, and we couldn’t give it away. No one knew what it was. It was strange. Now, you see it everywhere.”
Aside from the fact that maybe 98% of the American dining public don’t know what timpano is, another reason restaurants don’t serve it is because it’s very time-intensive. Ingredients have to be prepared and assembled, and then you have to roll out the pasta to envelop it all, cook it, and let it cool. It’s usually served at room temperature. “People like things hot or cold,” said Gambino. “Room temperature, they usually can’t deal with.”
Gambino has a timpano in the window of the family restaurant, and he wants people to see it… partly because it’s so beautiful, and partly because he wants to tease an upcoming event. The Gambini are planning a night of free timpano (a slice will be offered to each guest who comes for dinner) as well as a chance to see the movie “Big Night” (the climactic scene of which features two Italian brothers/restaurant owners – get it! – who serve a timpano to a hugely appreciative restaurant full of people). This event, which features the movie, complimentary timpano and Wells Street Popcorn, as well as a full menu to order from, takes place on July 27; reservations start at 8:30 pm and the movie starts at 9:00 pm.
Years ago, when I was doing a series of radio pieces for WBEZ, I interviewed Grant Achatz, of Michelin three-star Alinea, about the emotional impact of food. He told me he’d seen people in his dining room weep when he served a dish that involved venison and burning leaves, which conjured memories of autumn, bonfires, etc. This seemed, at least to me, a little hard to believe, even though the tear-inducing emotional impact of food was enshrined in, for instance, the movie “Ratatouille.”
When we tried the Gambini’s timpano, I tasted something I remembered tasting in my grandmother’s Easter Pie, ineffable, familiar yet hard to pin down. It could have been the Genoa salami, but I’ve had that salami many times before and never caught that note. Maybe it was the combination of the salami, warmed with cheese and eggs. Who knows?
Inspired by the timpano we enjoyed at Coda di Volpe in Chicago, Carolyn made a timpano a few months ago, and I liked it a lot, but this was some next-level pasta cake.
Anyway, sitting in the Cucina Paradiso dining room eating timpano, I was getting a little moist in my left eye, which was probably because I’d injured my eye by falling on my face in Yucatan a few weeks ago. But I was NOT freaking crying. Just want to be clear about that.
So on July 27 at Cucina Paradiso, you can watch a fine movie, enjoy some complimentary popcorn and timpano, have dinner, and see what it all does for you. Perhaps you’ll agree, as they say in “Big Night,” that timpano is filled with “all the most important things in the world,” which the guests in the movie salute, appropriately, as “Paradise!”