July 27, 2021
Melinda Head

Food Fantasy: Dreaming of Italy

If food was an Olympic sport, Italy would win a gold medal, hands down

“Italian food is a culture, not just a cuisine.”

Fresh ingredients. Local ingredients. Few ingredients. That pretty well sums up the Italian food most of us crave …

“Don’t mistake uncomplicated for bland.” (Stanley Tucci)

… unless you are dreaming of the elaborately-prepared timpano showcased in one of my favorite food movies, “Big Night” (1996). Big Night’s timpano is worthy of any celebration, especially after winning an Olympic medal. Tokyo athletes, listen up - when the Games are over and you are ready to celebrate, we are challenging you!!! Post a picture of your timpano here to show off your talent and/or the fun you had making timpano. This drum-shaped dish contains a unique medley of the staples of Italian cuisine, all in one dish: pasta, hard-cooked eggs, meatballs, pecorino Romano and provolone cheese, Genoa salami, ragu sauce (or just a simple tomato sauce) and more.

As the NY Times says: “It is an excavation to eat timpano”.

"Big Night" Movie Review

I have to confess that I have attempted timpano only twice: both times were momentous occasions, as they should be for such a heroic endeavor. The first time was a gruelling day-long family affair in anticipation of our Big Night-inspired masterpiece. The final product was magnificently patterned and scrumptious inside, but our home-made outer pasta drum shell was too thick and dry, like a crust. The second time, foodie friend experience, advance preparation and a locally-sourced giant sheet of pasta resulted in more success; however, we were impatient and the insufficiently cooled inside did not hold its shape when we cut into it. Arghhhhh!

My foodie friend, Raymond Ludwin, assembling our timpano masterpiece
My foodie friend, Raymond Ludwin, assembling our timpano masterpiece

The final result

A perfect timpano example from Marie of www.prouditaliancook.com
A perfect timpano example from Marie of www.prouditaliancook.com

This is what a timpano should look like when you cut into it
This is what a timpano should look like when you cut into it

“This is so fucking good, I should kill you.” (Pasquale to Primo after eating timpano in Big Night)

Fast forward 25 years, Stanley Tucci, co-writer, co-director and co-star of Big Night, is the host of CNN’s “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy”, a new CNN series that explores the food of Italy. Unlike CNN’s Anthony Bourdain, Tucci is not a professionally-trained chef who has worked in restaurants, but his Italian heritage adds an element of authenticity that can only be acquired from growing up in an extended Italian family where food reigned supreme, as it does in every Italian household. Since Big Night, Tucci has admitted that: “Food has almost taken me over”. I am glad to hear that, Stanley – that means you’re a happy man.

Stanley Tucci in Italy

I miss Anthony Bourdain, I think we all do. His tell-all best-selling book, "Kitchen Confidential", rocked the culinary industry and his following food and travel program “No Reservations” put the immensely talented Bourdain on the map.

Anthony Bourdain in Southern Italy

“I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit, and basically do whatever the fuck I want.” (Anthony Bourdain’s pitch for No Reservations)

No Reservations went on to include a 142 episode run. Italy was covered 6 times. Here are the episodes you’ll want to seek out:

No Reservations Italia
  • Sicily - Season 1, Episode 6
  • Tuscany - Season 3, Episode 15
  • Sardenia - Season 5, Episode 20
  • Rome - Season 6, Episode 20
  • Naples - Season 7, Episode 11
  • Emilia-Romagna - Season 9, Episode 4

“Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown”, his next endeavor, was first aired by CNN in 2013, delivering 104 episodes over 5 years to a devoted audience. By then, Tony had new exotic fish to fry from different corners of the world, and though Italy did not receive as much coverage in Parts Unknown, I am sure that Bourdain’s self-professed “off brand” happiness while in Italy was a testament to the Country, which was strong enough to cause him to shed his brand armor of “the misanthrope, the curmudgeon, the malcontent, the cynic … even the asshole” (in his own words). Here are the episodes you’ll want to watch:

Parts Unknown Italia
  • Sicily – Season 2, Episode 6
  • Rome – Season 8, Episode 10
  • Southern Italy – Season 10, Episode 8

“Roadrunner” is a new documentary film about Anthony Bourdain. It doesn’t solve the mystery of his death and has stirred up some controversy by using AI to deepfake his voice for 45 seconds of narration, but, hey, controversy was Tony’s brand. Check it out for yourself in theaters or stream it on HBO Max or CNN after its theater run:

In a different class from Tucci or Bourdain, the more humble David Rocco from Canada is also a passionate food journalist. I like his original series and cookbook, “David Rocco’s Dolce Vita”, as well as its great soundtrack that should accompany any Italian food preparation, pre-dinner cocktail or after dinner digestive. Inspired by his “nonne” (grandmothers), Rocco is the master of Italian simplicity for the everyday, unsophisticated cook in his unassuming Canadian-Italian way. Isabella Rossellini, who also starred in Big Night as Stanley Tucci’s adulterous bed partner, is a big believer in David’s super-simple recipe for leftover spaghetti:

“All the pasta that is left over, you can make into an omelet. You just beat the eggs, you put it in your spaghetti, whatever sauce, and you just make it like an omelet in a pan. It’s really delicious.” (Isabella Rossellini in Bon Appetit)

“If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant”? (Martin Scorsese)

So, if timpano is above your pay grade, pasta fritta can be your next best friend. Need to carb up for your next Olympic event or just plain old workout, Rocco’s pasta fritta recipe takes less time to make than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

On a related note, can you believe that Brooklyn’s Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has just released a limited edition Kraft Macaroni & Cheese flavored French ice cream? OMG!!!

“… it’s definitely creamy, a little salty, a little cheese-funky – not unlike an ice cream version of mixing caramel and cheddar popcorn together. It grows on me every time I take another bite.” (Food & Wine)

I wonder what expletives Anthony Bourdain would string together to describe this new addition to the American culinary scene that is already sold out.

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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