There is no time for Timpano!

Made famous in Stanley Tucci’s wonderful foodie film Big Night (here) where the chef’s doomed attempt for a successful restaurant results in a jaw dropping, show stopping dish. Here’s the story of my own doomed attempt for a successful party resulting in a doomed attempt at a successful timpano.

Done well, a timpano is a glorious celebration of the best of Italian comfort food – Recovering carbaholics look away, this is not for you. Pasta, meatballs, provolone, parmesan, eggs, salami, sausages, tomatoes and more all packed tightly into a thin pasta dough drum, hence the name, Timpano. When baked, cooled and sliced, this is a greatest hits of Italian food, a glorious cross section of unctious proteins and carbs. Done badly, this is still great but will be a sloppy mess that has cost you a few afternoons and lots of pennies. You may get away with calling it deconstructed, but technically, surely you needed to construct it first.

Moisture control and patience are the key. Most recipes online are pretty wet with ragu and rough layers of par boiled extruded pasta (that’s tubes to you and I – but how often do you get to use the word extruded?), which can leave lots of air pockets and therefore be quite uneven. To counter this, for the pasta layers I’m making my own fresh pasta fusilli, but shaped in huge coils for even placement – and then cover each layer with mascarpone and ragu. Fresh pasta means less water and, so hopefully won’t be too wet to bake and will have no messy uneven layers or air pockets. In theory.

Let’s start with basics. Ragu. Everyone’s got their own recipe for this, there’s no right and wrong – just make sure it’s quite thick and not too watery.

Here we have softened onions and garlic, then added chopped tomatoes, chopped red pepper, seasoned with salt, pepper, basil, colatura, Worcestershire and bottarga. I’m also making a vegetarian timpano alongside this, so am keeping the ragu vegetar er, pescatarian friendly for simplicity. This will keep for a few days, so is easy to make in advance. Make twice as much as you’ll need for the timpano, as you’ll want to ladle a couple of hot spoonfuls of this over the sliced timpano. For a 12″ timpano, you’ll need twice the amount in the picture below.

Traditionally, the recipe calls for whole hard boiled eggs, but am switching these for quails eggs, to hold the overall shape better and provide a more varied flavour in a mouthful. Boil and peel the quail eggs. Did you ever peel fifty eggs? Nobody ever peel fifty eggs. “My boy says he can peel fifty eggs, he can peel fifty eggs!”

I can peel fifty eggs.

I can heartily recommend never peeling fifty eggs again.

Meat. Brown off some meatballs, and if you can get hold of it, some sweet Italian sausage.


Slice the provolone and salami. Set all these components aside.

Prepare your layers before rolling out the timpano case, as once it’s in the bowl you’ll need to work quickly to prevent it getting too soggy. Roll out the timpano casing, as thin as you dare – or in this case use a pasta roller and eggwash seal the overlapping strips.

Having once failed to extracate one of these from a deep casserole dish, I figured this time, I’d use a huge 12” cake tin with a push out bottom instead. Grease the tin, and add a thin dusting of toasted polenta flour. Gently lay the pasta dough in the bowl.

Layer in Ragu. Pasta coil. Marscapone, Provolone slices. Ragu. Quail eggs. Meatballs. Pasta coil. Italian salcissia sausages. Ragu. Repeat repeat repeat. When near the top, pour over a few beaten eggs to help seal the ingredients and then fold over the dough into a ‘lid’ forming a tight seal. Repair any holes or cracks. Do not drop.


This can sit in the fridge for a day or so, or go straight in the oven for about an hour. Allow LOTS of time for this to cool.

* * * * A PASSAGE OF TIME * * * *

I’ve wrecked one of these before by being impatient – try and remove it too early before the cheeses and fats cool and coagulate – you’ll have nothing but a huge pan of party surprise. This is where using a false bottom cake tin was (fortuitously) inspired – the drum seal had broken at some point in the bake (probably by using strips rather than rolling out in one piece tut tut) and I was disheartened when I pulled it out of the oven to see a bubbling ragu round the sides, there was no way this was coming out in one piece. Time to start managing expectations and preparing everyone for a bowl of PAN SURPRISE!


As it was cooling, here came the Christmas miracle – the false bottom was perfect for allowing the rogue escaping ragu juice out of the tin, but leaving the timpano in place. After it had cooled for about an hour, I was amazed I could shuffle the sides of the tin and it wasn’t stuck or completely ripped.

Flip it over onto a baking sheet and then remove the tin, miraculously the walls held, all was not lost. Sure, it wasn’t the dry baked drum I was hoping for, but it was in one piece and looked like it would slice without falling apart.


When feeling brave enough, insert a chef ring into the centre to hold the shape, and cut into the timpano and remove a slice. Ladle over some of the reserved ragu, loosen your eating pants and tuck in!


I now remember why I only do one of these every five years. It’s expensive, terrible for you in terms of fat and carbs, a total gamble whether it works or not, but the taste is incredible, with only one slight drawback. As it’s Christmas, to misquote Bad Santa, with this much stodge and richness, you won’t s*** right for a week.

Happy holidays!

 

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Fig infused vodka (and vodka infused figs)

Whilst the High St is trying to convince us to start feeling Christmassy, November is still way too early for all that. You can get in the spirit, by getting in the spirits though. Boom boom. 

Late autumn brings figs, which don’t keep long, but can be part of your festive plans with a bit of forethought. You could make fig pickles or fig jam, but as with any kind of choice, the booze option is best. Here’s a really simple recipe for fig infused vodka, which has the wonderful byproduct of er, vodka infused figs. Waste not, want not, yeah?

This is really simple. Quarter a dozen or so fresh figs, place in a mason jar. Cover with two 70cl bottles of vodka (doesn’t have to be too fancy, but c’mon it is for Christmas, at least break out the name-brand booze for baby Jesus). Add a tbsp caster sugar and seal the jar. Leave in a cool place for a week or so, giving it a gentle shake every day.

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The vodka will act as a solvent and extract a pretty pink colour and strong fig flavour from the figs. Strain through a coffee filter. 


Move the fruit to a smaller mason jar, pack quite tightly – then cover the figs with some of the vodka and you have two great things – an amazing fig vodka for cocktails, and a jar of boozy figs for garnishes or to add to a cheeseboard. Win win! Hic hic!

(Rat)atouille

I’ll confess I haven’t seen the movie, but seeing the final clip inspired me to make the eponymous dish from the film. Who wouldn’t, just look at it! This is really simple, just requires a very sharp knife, a fair amount of workspace and more patience than I can normally muster. 


In a tagine or casserole dish, spread a tin of chopped tomatoes across the bottom and crush some garlic into the mix. Add some herbs or odobo seasoning if you have it.

This one used courgettes, aubergines, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes but whatever round vegetables you can find will work. Slice each vegetable as thin as you can without it losing form. Do one type of vegetable at a time and lay each slice separately on the counter. When cutting the  tapered ends keep these to one side, as you’ll use the smaller pieces separately. 

Move onto the next vegetable and add each slice onto the slices already laid out. Pair similar sized slices together where you can. Alternate dark and light coloured vegetables for a better visual look and slice the tomatoes last. 


Once you have your mini stacks, stack a few together and place in the tagine.


Complete the circle, and using the smaller pieces overlap in the centre until complete. Add a few wedges of tomatoes or peppers to fill any gaps as it obviously flares out at the outside edge. I was going to add twelve wedges like a clock face but as you can see there’s ten because I…. (wait for it) …lost (don’t you dare) track (oh no) of time (get out).


Bit of olive oil on top, put a lid/parchment paper on top and slow roast for a couple of hours. Easy! 

This is so simple and looks fantastic, all it takes is a bit of fiddly prep and you have an Instagram worthy supper.


NB If you do see a rat in the kitchen shoot it in the face. They’re not cool and they are clever. That restaurant would have been shut down in minutes. Here’s the clip though, enjoy! Ratatouille

Herb inlaid pasta

Homemade pasta? Ah, what’s the point? It’s only two ingredients, available everywhere, and inexpensive. But… you can’t buy it like this. There is only one reason to bother making your own pasta, and this is it.


Pretty simple to make, prepare your pasta dough as normal and roll down to a 7 gauge thinness if using a pasta machine or 2mm if by hand (by hand – are you crazy?)

Remove the stems from some parsley and thyme, and pick some small young basil leaves. Sprinkle over a long sheet of pasta. Gently place another long sheet over the top and gently push the two together. Run through the pasta maker on a 6 gauge, and trim the ends off. 

  You can cut this into strips as tagliatelle, or into squares as fazzoletti (below). 

 
Let them dry if using as they are, or stack them individually with a layer of cling film between each piece to keep them pliable if using them to make fagottini bundles. Easy!

Zero Calorie Noodles? (Ramen broth agar noodles)

Thought that would get your attention. Ignore the adverts from supermarkets selling you lo-cal, lo-carb, lo-taste, hi-price ready meals – only last month they were stuffing you full of booze and cheese offers that would make a gout-ridden king balk. 

New year, eat a bit less, drink a bit less, run around a bit more. But never sacrifice flavour and taste, eating is one of life’s pleasures that you get to do everyday. 

Ok, back to the recipe. Calorie free noodles. Essentially, a spicy ramen broth, stabilised and thickened with agar, then piped through a silicon tube. 

The broth is pretty simple, lemongrass, ginger, chilli, garlic, coriander, kombu and a vegetable stock cube. Add a litre of water and bring up to a high simmer – looking to get as much flavour as possible out of these ingredients into the broth. Twenty minutes should do it. 

  
You could stick the ingredients in a cream whipper and do a rapid infusion, but you get great flavour simmering these for a short period of time anyway. 

Rapid Infusions

Strain the broth, and add a teaspoon of xanthan gum and blend into the mixture. This will stabilise the broth and provide a more homogenous texture. 

Next set up your spaghetti making kit. One syringe. One 2m length of food grade silicon tubing. One ice bath. One cream whipper loaded with an NO2 charge. Are you having a laugh? No. Please use responsibly.

  
Weigh the stock – my litre of water produced 700g of stock, enough for one bowl of noodles (They are packed full of flavour though so an entire bowl would be way too rich, this should serve two people). The ratio of agar to liquid is 1.6%, so in this case 11g of agar. Blend this into the stock and bring up to a boil to activate the agar. Remove off the heat to fill the syringe, then slide the pan back on a low heat to keep it from setting.

Attach the syringe to the tube and gently and consistently push the liquid into the tube. A 30ml syringe, and 0.5cm tubing works well, with a full syringe coming close to filling an entire tube. Plunge the tube into an ice bath to set for a couple of minutes. Finally, attach the cream whipper to the loaded tube and very gently, force the noodle out of the tube. Without a cream whipper you can use the syringe I guess to force it out. Maybe. 

Repeat until you’re out of broth! 

It’s a bit of a pain reusing the same tubing, next time around I might order more so I can do batches quicker, but for a first attempt am really pleased. Nobody died.

The end results are fantastic – the noodles are firm enough to hold together and have the texture of cooked spaghetti, but unlike konjac noodles (which are calorie free but basically a non food, that you don’t even digest) these agar noodles are packed full of flavour! They can be eaten hot or cold – although heated above 80deg they’ll melt. Pair them with seared beef and maybe a yuzu dressed salad or spiralised courgette and enjoy!

  

A Cocktail Orange

Like gin? This will change your life (and liver). Complex, bitter, sharp, sweet? Yup, yup, yup and yup.

The days of chucking a glug of tonic in your gin are over. This is a simple upgrade for your standard mixer. Simple to make, but it does take a bit of time to clarify. 

  
Take a bunch of oranges (I used 20 but they were pretty small). Using a veg peeler, roughly peel the skin off and keep to one side. 

  
Halve and juice the oranges, and add the peel into the juice. Blend the peel and juice together. Add a tbsp of citric acid and a tbsp of fructose. Also add a few drops of pectinase to clarify the juice, then pour through a chemex (or other coffee filter).

  
This step takes aaaaaaaages. 

But! It’s worth the wait, the end result is a perfect mixer for gin (or whisky) try it as a replacement for tonic, or into a Negroni. Bliss.

 

I Can’t Believe It’s Nut Butter (and other butters)

That’s because its not butter, it’s bean butter, hahahaha, oh for 🐺 sake. Taking inspiration from chefsteps (again) and their coffee infused butter (see link below), I wondered what else would work using the same process and principle. 

This approach involves sealing together butter and whatever you want to infuse in a vac seal bag and cooking sous vide for three hours (at 80deg) and then strain through a muslin/micron bag. Leave to set.

Whenever setting up the sous vide kit, I always try and experiment a bit if there’s space in the gastro/stock pan, and test a few other flavours or hunches out. Some are amazing and some [scowling] are never spoken of again. You understand?

As Christmas is approaching I thought attempting a few flavoured butters would be a nice idea given the inevitable crackers, cheese and cold cuts to come. 

Seal 125g butter in a bag with one of the following. 

  • 60g fresh whole coffee beans
  • 30g cooked chestnuts
  • Tbsp lavender buds
  • Orange zest & juniper
  • Rosemary & olive
  • Fir tree tips (well, it is Christmas..)

Some mixed results, ah well, can’t all be winners.

Coffee butter, excellent – deep and rich – perfect for a dark rye bread or pumpernickel.

Fir tips also good, lemony and light, would pair well with white or smoked fish, and looking at the size of the Christmas tree, could probably do another ten batches before anyone notices half the tree is missing.

Chestnut was rich and earthy, would be great as a finishing butter on beef or venison. 

Rosemary and olive worked well, adding woody notes and slippery mouthfeel from the extracted olive oil.
Lavender. Hmmn. Not sure what I’d want to eat this with, toasted muffin maybe? But if your grandma needs something to rub into dry skin, I’ll send it over.

Orange and Juniper. In a moment of madness I also chucked in a star anise (was ruining some perfectly good alcohol by making some mulled cider at the same time and got carried away). This was a terrible mistake. Tasted awful and reeked pretty bad and ended up my neighbours bin as I didn’t want to stink mine out. 

Season of goodwill and all that.

Chefsteps Coffee Butter