Monday, October 25, 2004

"Big Night"s

I spent several days in Sorrento Italy this past April, staying at a fabulous B&B that is also a cooking school (see Each evening's cooking lesson would begin at 4pm and end just prior to the evening meal which was served at 8. As you might have guessed, the cooking lesson involved preparation of the evening meal, and to varying degrees, students participated in that preparation. This was delightful, and Chef Biagio is a masterful cook, enabling preparation of amazing, multi-course meals every evening.

What made things even more delightful was the fact that we prepared these meals for, and ate these meals with, 20-30 people from multiple countries every evening. The dinners were long, with me always among the last to leave. And the conversations and connections made with the many guests were truly wonderful.

These great experiences made me determined to attempt to recreate them, albeit on a much smaller scale, in my home. And I've been delighted to have been able to do that with success -- involving guests in the preparation of the meal, dining for hours, and creating or strengthening multiple connections.

At one of these dinners, a plan was hatched to tackle the preparation of timpano, an amazing and complex Italian dish that plays a prominent role in the movie, "Big Night." And our version of "Big Night" was held this past weekend in the home of a friend.

The many ingredients of the timpano -- quail, pasta, meatballs, chicken livers and hearts, fresh peas, hard-boiled eggs, multiple varieties of wild mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella, ragu napoletano, and more -- were prepared by the 9 participants working in a coordinated and collaborative manner over several hours. Then came the climactic point at which the prepared ingredients were placed in layers within a pastry dough that lined, and later also covered, a gigantic bowl.

After cooking the timpano in the oven, the long feast ensued.

The timpano was magnificent.

One of the extra special moments of the evening was the toast just before the meal -- a toast "to collaboration."