Stanley Tucci's family holiday recipe well worth the wait

"My life has been sustained by food beyond mere nourishment. The relationship forged by the acts of cooking and eating with others have had a profound affect on me and have more and more significance with every passing year. When I think of the moments that have brought me the most pleasure, the most joy, they are almost always framed within the context of food and the table. It is for this reason that this book exists."

This is the first paragraph in the introduction to Stanley Tucci's cookbook, "The Tucci Table," and I feel like I could have written it myself, as it so clearly represents my feeling as well.

Until this past year, I only recognized Stanley Tucci as a seasoned actor, but after watching his CNN series, "Searching For Italy," I learned he also has a love for food and his Italian heritage. I only wish he would consider leaving his career in acting to become a culinary tour guide.

With piqued curiosity I listened to Tucci's most recent book, "Taste: My Life Through Food." With the bonus of having the audiobook be read by Tucci himself, he documents his lifelong love of food, often reflecting on how food brought people together, especially his immediate and extended family.

He remembers his grandparents' basement kitchen where his grandmother, turning bushels of tomatoes into sauce, made homemade pizza dough and his grandfather stored his homemade wine on shelves alongside jars of the homemade tomato sauce, pickled green tomatoes and roasted peppers under homemade salami hanging from the beams.

I found myself wishing I had a hard copy of the book while craving his family's marinara sauce and feverishly copying down recipes as he read off the ingredients for this and other family favorites.

A layer of salami goes on top of the sausage for Tucci's Timpano. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

One of Tucci's holiday memories is of the Timpano. He describes how it has been a Christmas Day tradition in his family for years.

Made in a large oven safe vessel, this drumlike creation includes layers of pasta, meat ragu or marinara sauce, meatballs, Genoa salami, provolone cheese, and, strangely enough, hard boiled eggs, all encased in a blanket of thin dough that lines the vessel.

The entire thing is then baked in the oven for about 90 minutes, cooled in the pot for 30 minutes, and then unmolded (hopefully) and allowed to sit another 30 minutes before being sliced like a cake and placed atop a sauce lined dinner plate.

Tucci describes the time needed for the assembly, baking and resting process to take place, and how it often derails the timing of their annual holiday dinner, noting it is worth the wait.

The Timpano even has a role in Tucci's 1996 movie "Big Night," where two brothers try to save their failing Italian restaurant by creating a fabulous meal where the Timpano is the show stopper.

Before sharing the recipe with you, I enlisted the help of my son-in-law and embarked on creating a Timpano of our own for my husband's birthday.

After following recipes I found online for Tucci family meatballs and meat ragu, ingredients listed in the original recipe, we began layering ingredients in my large 7½ quart, enamel-clad cast iron pot, only to find we only had room for about half the amount on hand, so I have adjusted the recipe to fit into a 6-quart vessel.

Encasing the filling with the overhanging dough. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

Thanks to Pat's strong arms, we finally got the beast in the oven, where it was to bake for 60 minutes and then topped with some aluminum foil. You can imagine our disappointment when, after an hour, we noticed liquid bubbling up on one side of the pastry, prompting concern about our ability to turn it out after baking.

During the next 30 minutes of baking time, and 30 more minutes of cooling in the pan, we worried about how we would serve our masterpiece and were excited when Pat was able to unmold the pasta-filled drum onto a large baking sheet successfully. There was a small crack in one area, but the rest looked perfect. There were cheers and high-fives all around in our kitchen.

After another 30 minutes of cooling, we distributed slices of Timpano on plates with a little extra sauce to our hungry crowd. We now understand how the Tucci family feels while waiting for their Timpano to be ready on Christmas, and will someday repeat the adventure in cooking, patience, and, of course, enjoyment of this delicious triumph.

If you still have time to add something to your Christmas list, I would highly recommend Tucci's new book, as well as those that have come before. Just be sure to begin reading on a full stomach, or you will find yourself looking for something to eat, as it will make you hungry!

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

Tucci’s Timpano

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