Timpano, a Thanksgiving Tradition

Typically, the Thanksgiving Turkey is the highlight of one of the most indulgent days of the year. 3 years ago the Timpano trumped its way to being the star at our Thanksgiving Table. This dish was inspired by the 1996 movie Big Night, about a failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) who gambles on one special night to try to save the business. They plunge themselves into preparations for this "big night", spending their last savings on the food and inviting dozens of people to join them in an amazing feast centered around the timpano (which means eardrum in Italian). Below is a clip from the movie Big Night. 

It all started three years ago with a group of friends at the local dog park who wanted to have a dinner party themed after the movie Big Night, where we would watch the movie and bring dishes which were reflected in the movie. I took on the challenge of making the Timpano and began my research in preparing this dish a month in advance by purchasing the book, Cucina & Famiglia, where the Tucci's family recipe for the Timpano resides. My first attempt at making the Timpano was exactly by the book and since then I have made it my own; tweaking the recipe to the point where Thanksgiving guests from year to year have noticed the subtle differences and have become connoisseurs in their own right of this anticipated dish. I can relate first hand to the drama associated with creating a Timpano; "Is their enough sauce?" "Is the pasta al dente enough?" "Is their enough meatballs?" "Is it done?" "Will the Timpano stick to the drum when flipped over?" "Is it better than the last one"? The fuss and anticipation of the Timpano has become part of our Thanksgiving Feast and is worth every moment in creating this celebrated dish.

The making of the Timpano

Making the Timpano is time consuming and I recommend preparing a few days ahead of time. Once you make your first Timpano you may find yourself creating your own takes on the dish. My recipe has been evolving for three years now and the one provided below has been the best yet!



  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water reserved


  1. Place flour, eggs, salt and olive oil in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
  2. Add 3 tbsp water and process. If needed continue adding water 1 tbsp at a time, up to 1/2 cup, until the mixture comes together and forms a ball.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead into a smooth ball.
note: dough can be made 1 day in advance. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator. Take out of the refrigerator an hour before use.



  • 6 garlic cloves whole
  • 1 medium white onion chopped
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 2 cans of chopped and peeled tomatos
  • 2 cans of tomato pureé
  • 4 large basil leaves
  • 3 sweet Italian Sausage
  • 3 spicy Italian Sausage
  • 2 cups of water
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 tbsp of Olive Oil


  1. Place 4 tbsp of Olive Oil in deep sauce pan over medium heat. Once the oil is heated place the sausages in pot and brown evenly on all sides and remove.
  2. Lower the heat to low and place garlic in pot for about 15 minutes until the garlic is soft but not brown. You simply want to infuse the oil with the garlic. Remove the garlic and place with the sausage.
  3. Bring the heat back up to medium and saute´the onions until translucent and then place the tomato paste in and cook for 2 more minutes.
  4. Then put the cans of tomato pureé and chopped into the pot with the garlic and then add the 2 cups of water.
  5. If you have a hand immersion blender use to pureé the sauce in the pot. You want the sauce to be smooth for the Timpano.
  6. Then place in the sausages, basil, salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 2 hours.
note: the sauce can be done 2 days in advance and stored in refrigerator. Take out of the refrigerator an hour before use.

Little Meatballs


  • 1 pound ground beef, veal and pork
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 tablespoons finely grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 10 (1-inch thick) slices Italian bread


  1. Arrange bread on cookie sheet and allow it to dry out for 3 days before use.
  2. Place dried bread in a bowl; add warm water to cover. Set aside 5 minutes until bread softens.
  3. In another bowl, combine meat mixture, parsley, garlic, egg, cheese, salt and pepper; use your hands to mix. 
  4. Squeeze water out of bread and break it into small pieces. Work bread into meat until combined and the mixture holds together like soft dough. 
  5. Warm olive oil in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. Make 1 inch meatballs round and cook for 6 minutes until well-browned on all sides. (do not cook all the way through as it will cook in the Timpano).
note: the meatballs can be done a day in advance and stored in refrigerator. Take out of the refrigerator an hour before use.


An hour before assembling the Timpano you want to make sure all your ingredients are prepped and ready to go. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


  • 2 cups sharp Provolone cheese, cut in 1/2-by-1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled, and quartered lengthwise
  • 2 cups little Meatballs (recipe above)
  • 2 cups of sausages, cut in 1/2-by-1/2-inch pieces
  • 7.5 cups of sauce (recipe above), plus 1/2 cup of water
  • 3 pounds ziti, cooked very al dente (half the time) 18 cups of pasta for the Timpano
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 pat of butter and 1 tbsp olive oil to coat the enamel bowl


note: If the Timpano sticks to the bowl simply slide a knife along the edge. I have never had an issue with sticking so make sure you generously grease your Timpano bowl. 
You should be able to see the pasta patterns on the dough, if not that means your dough may be slightly too thick.


  1. Bring a pot of well salted water to boil to accomodate 3 pounds of pasta and cook the ziti for only half the time so it is very al dente. Strain pasta and run under cool water to stop the cooking.
  2. Pour 1.5 cups of the reserved sauce plus half cup of water on the ziti and combine.
  3. Generously grease timpano enamel bowl with butter and olive.
  4. Flatten dough on a lightly floured work surface. Dust top of dough with flour and roll it out, dusting with flour and flipping the dough over from time to time, until it is 1/16-inch thick and is the desired diameter. Should be about 24 inches in diameter.
  5. Fold dough in half and then in half again, to form a triangle, and place it in the pan. Open dough and arrange it in the pan, gently pressing it against the bottom and the sides, draping the extra dough over the sides.
  6. Distribute 6 generous cups of the pasta on the bottom of the timpano. Top with 1 cup of sausage, 1 cup of provolone, 6 hard-boiled eggs, 1 cup meatballs, 1/2 cup of ricotta and 1/2 cup Romano Cheese. Pour 2 cups ragu over these ingredients.
  7. Repeat step 7 and then top with the remainder 6 cups of pasta. The ingredients should be about 1 inch below the rim of the bowl.
  8. Pour 2 cups of ragu over the pasta and the 4 beaten eggs over filling.
  9. Fold pasta dough over filling to seal completely. Trim away and discard any double layers of dough.
  10. Place in oven for 1 hour. Check the Timpano frequently to make sure the top does not burn but should be golden brown.
  11. After 1 hour of cooking place tinfoil over the Timpano and cook for another 1/2 hour.
  12. Remove from oven and let cool for about 30 minutes. Say a prayer and then place a wooden board on top of the Timpano and flip the bowl over so the board is then at the bottom and then remove the bowl.
  13. The Timpano should sit for 2 hours before serving. If you cut the Timpano when it is hot it will fall apart.
  14. Using a long, sharp knife, cut a circle about 3 inches in diameter in the center of the timpano,making sure to cut all the way through to the bottom. Then slice the timpano as you would a pie into individual portions, leaving the center circle as a support for the remaining pieces. Makes Approximately 20 servings.
Happy Holidays and Timpano Making!