Timpano Recipe Inspired by "Big Night" | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Timpano Recipe: 5 Tips for a Fabulous Feast

Photo Credit
Catherine Boeckmann
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Looking for a recipe that says “celebration”? Look no further than Timpano. If you’ve ever seen the “foodie” movie, Big Night, you will be familiar with this impressive Italian baked pasta dish.

When my Italian-American grandparents, aunts, and uncles visited from out of town for a special family event, I wanted to think of a dish worthy of the occasion. I decided it was time to go “all out” and finally make Timpano. This dish is more of a recipe “project” than a “let’s get dinner on the table.” I’d been wanting to try it out since Big Night. Take a look at the movie clip here.

“Timpano” is an Italian baked pasta dish that’s a meal in itself—a huge round dome of crust stuffed with delicious ingredients—pasta, meatballs, cheeses, salamis, and sauce. It’s a meal it itself.

The word timpano means “drum” in Italian.

Now, Timpano is an undertaking. Let me make sure I’m upfront about that. It’s one crazy Italian dish that is meant for a gathering—and it really helps if you have some guests in the kitchen. That said, the ingredients are not out of the ordinary: pasta, cheese, meatballs, eggs, salami, and so forth.

Timpano Recipe

For a recipe, you can use the original ”Big Night” Timpano recipe. It makes 16 servings using a 6-quart bowl.
Or, The New York Times has an adapted Timpano recipe for 6 to 8 servings using a 3-quart bowl.

Here are my 5 Timpano tips:

5 Timpano Tips

1. Use the right pan or bowl: You need to have the right size and shaped pan to create that dome shape. Traditionally, Timpano is baked in a round enamelware bowl (literally, a wash basin) which distributes the heat evenly. I would think any enameled dutch oven would be fine as long as it’s deep enough. Note that the NYTimes recipe uses a 3-quart stainless steel bowl.

Here is an example of an enamelware bowl. The traditional recipe calls for a 6-quart bowl to get that drum shape. Unfortunately, the closest size I could find was a 4 quarts (yes, I had a lot of leftover ingredients!). You can see from my photos that my timpano is not very high (that said, it turned out of the bowl perfectly!).

Be sure to grease the bowl heavily with extra-virgin olive oil and butter.

2. Call your pizza parlor: The trickiest part is to figure out the right diameter needed for the dough (crust). The crust needs to hang over the edge of the pan and then completely over the filling so it’s all sealed in.

You can make the dough yourself, but be aware that it takes a good amount of work to get dough rolled into a consisently thin (1/8-inch) sheet. I have an amazing brick oven pizza parlor in town named Grappelli’s Pizza and Stephen Faccidomo, the owner, sells his wonderful dough. When I told him I was making Timpano (a few days in advance), Steve offered to roll it out!

For the 3-quart recipe, a 26-inch diameter will do. Most pizza parlors made a traditional 24-inch round so just ask if they could roll it out to a slightly larger 26-inch round. I was able to stretch the pizza round for my 4-quart bowl. Cover the dough in plastic when you get home and then return to room temperature before rolling it back out. 

For the larger 6-quart bowl, you’ll need to make a special request or make it yourself. Remember, this is a “drum” shape so you need to:

  1. Measure across the bottom of the pan from side to side (going through the center). 
  2. Measure across the top of the pan from side to side (going through the center). 
  3. Measure the height of the pan and double it since have have to sides (i.e., multiple by 2).
  4. Add the three totals to get the approximate diameter.

3. Prepare ingredients in advance: You can prep most everything in advance if you wish. I advise making the meatballs and sauce and cooking the pasta before baking day so that you’re not overwhelmed. At Grapelli’s, Steve said, “Next time, just ask us for the sauce and I’ll get the meatballs for you, too.”  He gave me a sauce sample—and I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted better. Two more time-savers if you need them! 

Note: I think the NYTimes recipe has too much sauce. Just add enough so the pasta seems cohesive, not to make it wet or it will collapse. I add the extra sauce later on the side when serving the slices.

4. Create an assembly line: Before filling the Timpano, you need to set out individual bowls with ALL of your chopped cheese, salami, and eggs (we omitted yolks due to a no-yolk guest), plus your pasta and sauce. I mean it! You must have everything ready to go pronto on the counter because you need to layer in all the ingredients before the dough dries out. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

As you layer the ingredients (not too thick!), feel free to shake the pan so that they settle; you want a firm Timpano. In the picture below, my husband is pressing down to make it sturdier and to make more room! Fill up the pan until the ingredients are even with the edge. Then, cover with dough and seal it with a little olive oil.

5. Make sure the Timpano rests for at least 30 minutes after baking! This is CRITICAL. Don’t lose your Timpano! Here is what you do:

  • After the Timpano is finished baking and rests for 5 minutes, set a platter or cutting board on the top of the timpano pan. Then … DRUM ROLL … flip it over! My brother did the honors.
  • Keep the hot enamel dish with the Timpano sitting on top of the platter for those 30 minutes so it settles, firms up, and does not fall apart. We waited 45 minutes.  Then, the Timpano will gently release from the pan and you can lift the pan off for the “reveal!”


Cut the Timpano into wedges and serve with a bit of red sauce. A big green salad and a nice bottle of red wine is all you need to add, since Timpano is a meal unto itself.

The result? Bellissimo! The entire family was sated—and is still talking about the meal.

Dessert? I kept it very light for those who like to end on a sweet note—biscotti, a scoop of gelato, and vin santo (dessert wine).

How does it look to you? And do you have your own “big” night dinner ideas? I would love to hear about your experiences for a new food adventure.

Buon appetito!