Sunday, November 20, 2005

And soon, there were none left. Hungry, that is.

It’s Saturday night, the weather has turned cool, and the leaves are crunching away underfoot. Why, it must be time for our Annual Fall Solstice Party, and the ultimate Italian feast.

(click for larger image)

Ever seen 'Big Night'? This festive movie about two Italian brothers and their restaurant culminates in one very special dish- timpano di maccheroni, also known as ‘the mythic pasta dome’.

Once before, I attempted the mighty timpano, with a fair amount of success. I found the recipe in Mario Batali’s cookbook, ‘Holiday Food’. The timpano itself wasn’t complicated, but did require several different recipes to be prepared, then assembled into the final dish. When it emerged from the oven, it was indeed an impressive sight to behold. Eating it was an equally impressive feat, with alternating mouthfuls of pasta and meatballs, rigatoni and meat sauce, and threads of piping hot cheese.

It’s been a couple of years since that first trial run, so I figured it was time to invite 14 of our closest friends over for attempt number two.

The house was spotlessly clean thanks to a very hard-working DucCat.
While he was tucking the cats safely behind closed doors, I arranged rows of wine glasses, staggered flower-filled vases, and fanned out cheeky little cocktail napkins.

Oh yes, and there were some appetizers, too.

From the left, we have a wonderfully stinky Tallegio; an incredibly rich blue that I believe is St. Agur; and an ancient Piave, that had been lost for years in a warehouse, and only recently uncovered. I had to cut about an inch or so of intimidating-looking mold off, but what lay underneath was richly structured and complex. Best eaten in small, reverent bites.

Here, soppresatta and genoa, flanked by Costco’s wonderful marinated mushrooms. Simple, yet effective.

This little dish holds one of my favourite spreads, Two-Step Artichoke Tapenade, a deliciously garlic-filled dip that my sister in-law shared with me.

Behind it you see sliced and toasted kalamatta olive bread. I’d meant to prepare this as bread sticks, but ran out of time.

The dough is actually supposed to be focaccia from Baking with Julia. Since I’d waited until the last minute to settle upon making it, the dough never had the benefit of a long, slow rise overnight. I used rapid-rise yeast, and stuffed it in the oven about an hour-and-a-half later. It still tasted as good as fresh bread always does, rich from the olives, and with great texture.

Our guests began filtering in, as the timpano slowly filled the house with comforting, Italian-tinged aromas. An hour into it, I added the eggplant parmesan to the oven, a little something for our vegetarian friends, and a good ‘vegetable’ for our carniverous ones (and DucCat, I mean you).

That magic hour appeared, and I pulled forth the massive timpano. As before, there were some problems in trying to determine when exactly it was done: I let it cook for about 30 minutes longer than specified. After letting it rest for the required 15 minutes, I cut out the first piece.

Again, flashbacks to the first timpano. It didn’t slice at all neatly, and all the pasta-covered goodness came tumbling out in a steaming pile. No matter- it was time to eat!

The timpano still tasted heavenly, half the rigatoni rich with bechamel and prosciutto, the other half liberally doused in meat sauce, pocketed with fat meatballs and gooey threads of cheese. The outer shell of pasta dough had a bit of an odd texture, a little too hard in some places; it also didn’t hold it’s shape once cut into. Perhaps its just meant to be that way.

I forgot to take a photo of the eggplant parmesan, but you can see one here. This Marcella Hazan recipe has spoiled me for life against the flaccid imitations you find at your local red-and-white-checked Ialian-American restaurant. The fried eggplant is rich and complex, bathed in the simplest of tomato sauces, and liberally doused with cheese. Amazingly, there’s no garlic anywhere in this recipe; it is absolute perfection as is.

(I will admit to adding a few extra vegetables this time 'round, much to DucCat's horror. Summer squash, zucchini and portobello mushrooms were sauteed, then added at the last moment to the sauce.)

A couple of our guests brought salad: one magnificent Caesar, and one ‘harvest’ salad. Not only were both excellent, they provided our much-needed greens for the evening.

DucCat of course had a special bottle of wine tucked away for this evening:
a 3-liter Bellini Chianti, the perfect foil to a meal dripping with tomatoes, pasta, and slowly simmered meats.

For such a big bottle of wine, I was amazed at how quickly it disappeared!
Our friends are nothing if not troopers in the face of such excess.

After so much food, I hadn’t planned on making any dessert. Luckily, I’ve caring and concerned friends who pay attention to such important minutae. She came bearing an Amaretto cake, and an authentic bottle of grappa, brought back from Italy by her sister several years ago.

The amaretto cake was just fabulous, light in texture, and exuding amaretto from every airy little crumb. You can see from the shaky blurriness of the photo that I was absolutely quivering with pleasure. She has promised me the recipe, so stay on the lookout for that one!

Now, I’ve heard of grappa before, but have never tasted this liquer. I poured little shots of the ‘Julia’ for each guest, and finally hoisted my own little thimbleful.

Luckily, I was close enough to the sink to lean casually over, and spit that firewater right back out. Nasty stuff, nasty stuff, the grappa!


Aside from the fiery, nosehair-curling grappa, it was a very succesful solstice, and a great segue way into Thanksgiving and the High Holiday season!

Recipe Links:

Artichoke Tapenade
Focaccia Dough- note that I prepared this with rapid rise yeast, letting it rise only one hour. I also added 1 jar of chopped kalamatta olives to the mixture.

Eggplant Parmesan Note: for added veggie goodness, I sauteed mushrooms, summer squash, and zucchini along with this, and added it to the sauce at the last moment.

Timpano di Maccheroni
Ragu Napoletano (Neapolitan Meat Sauce)
Besciamella Sauce
Polpette Alla Napoletana (Neapolitan Meatballs)


Blogger Kalyn said...

Very impressive. I must confess I am nuts over those marinated olives from Costco, probably the easiest thing to prepare of your entire meal!

November 21, 2005 11:15 PM  
Blogger vlb5757 said...

This is some of the most wonderful food I have seen on a blog in a while! Everything looked so nice and simple. I think when you have friends over they appreciate the food but better yet, that you spend time with them while enjoying the fruits of your labor. That stuff looks killer. My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail...maybe next time.

November 22, 2005 7:35 PM  
Blogger kitchenmage said...

Excuse me while I wipe off the drool! I think you should make the pasta-spilling-its-guts thing for Halloween, or kids, or both...with more red sauce!

November 23, 2005 5:48 PM  
Blogger s'kat said...

kalyn, when it's that many people, I don't mind a little unscrew, open, pour-into-bowl!

Vicki, we're all about simple good food. And you're so right, I hate those parties where the host is running around in a state of high panic the entire time! Not happening here!

kitchenmage, what a great idea, lol!

November 28, 2005 8:20 AM  

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