May it Please the Palate

Food Movies to Make You Hungry

By Nick Roumel
Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, Ann Arbor
An article/movie review I wrote about the movie Chef got me thinking about my favorite food movies. I would rank them as (3) Julie and Julia; (2) Babette’s Feast; and the top spot goes to Big Night. These are movies that didn’t just make me hungry, but made me weep with some kind of ineffable combination of joy and frustration.
Julie and Julia got kudos for Meryl Streep’s spot-on channeling of Julia Child, but Amy Adams was underappreciated as her foil, who in 365 days, plowed through each of the 524 recipes in Child's “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Her movie character was criticized by both her husband and Child (not to mention most reviewers), but she persevered despite a heartbreaking Beef Bourguignon disaster. Child’s recipe for that classic requires meticulous preparation:
Babette’s Feast is the story of two sisters, living in remote Denmark, who reject all marriage proposals and grow old leading a devout but small Christian sect. A mysterious housekeeper (Babette) shows up at their door and serves faithfully for 14 years, cooking bland Danish meals, until winning the lottery. She persuades the sisters to let her celebrate by cooking a classic French dinner for their small congregation, and reveals she was once a celebrated chef in Paris. Much excitement ensues as wondrous ingredients are brought in from Paris, but the sisters worry that the sumptuous meal will inspire sin and devilry. They therefore vow (and this drives me crazy) to make no comment whatsoever during dinner, and persuade the other villagers to do the same – except for one unexpected guest who is not in on the plan, and completely smitten by the repast, which included buckwheat cakes with caviar and sour cream, turtle soup, quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce, and a grand finale dessert of “Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée” (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruits). 

Big Night stars Tony Shalhoub (Monk) and Stanley Tucci (who was Mr. Child in Julie and Julia) as perfectionist Italian brothers and New Jersey restaurateurs. They refuse to sell out to American tastes, as does the nearby rival restaurant. For example, they spurn a diner’s request for a side of spaghetti in lieu of lovingly crafted risotto.

A promise that jazz great Louis Prima will visit their restaurant inspires one “Big Night,” climaxing with the successful unveiling of the lovingly prepared and monstrous “Timpano.” This fabulous entree renders their diners babbling with sensual joy, and reduces their rival (who, maddeningly, had lied about Louis Prima) to grudging, profane praise.

I have always wanted to make that Timpano - a plump pasta casing stuffed with meatballs, cheese, tomato sauce, salami and harboiled eggs – but I think I’d have to take two weeks off to make this recipe:
‘Big Night” Timpano
By MOLLY O'NEILL (New York Times) 
For the pasta:
2 cups flour 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
3 large eggs, lightly beaten 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork 
1 pound ground beef 
1 teaspoon fennel seed 
1 egg, lightly beaten 
1/2 cup chopped parsley 
1 cup fine bread crumbs 
For the sauce:
1 medium onion, diced 
1 medium carrot, minced 
1 medium rib celery, minced 
4 cloves garlic, minced 
2 tablespoons tomato paste 
4 tablespoons chicken broth or white wine 
2 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, passed through the medium disk of a food mill to remove seeds 
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil 
2 teaspoons salt 
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

For the timpano:
1/2 pound penne or other short-shaped pasta, cooked al dente, drained and reserved 
3 tablespoons olive oil 
6 hard-boiled eggs, cut in quarters 
1 pound mozzarella, cut into 1-inch cubes 
1/2 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami 
1. To make the pasta, mix the flour and the salt together, then stir the salted flour with the eggs and the oil. Continue to stir until the dough comes together in a ball. On a floured work surface, knead the dough for 10 minutes, or until silky smooth. Wrap with plastic and set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
2. Combine all the meatball ingredients. Roll into about 65 balls, using 1 tablespoon of meat for each. In a large nonstick frying pan, cook as many meatballs as will fit in 1 layer over medium heat, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Repeat if necessary. Set aside in a bowl at room temperature.

3. In the same pan used to make the meatballs and utilizing the fat left in the pan, cook the onion, carrot, celery and garlic over medium heat for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve the tomato paste in the stock or wine and stir into the vegetables. Cook the mixture for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and basil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

4. To make the timpano, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the penne with 2 cups of the sauce. Roll out the pasta on a lightly floured surface to make a 26-inch round. Grease a 3-quart stainless- steel bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil and gently mold the pasta sheet to the contours of the bowl; there should be enough hanging over the edge to fold over and cover the filling.

5. Spoon 1 cup of penne into the bowl. Top with 1/2 cup of the sauce, 12 pieces of egg, half of the meatballs and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Repeat the process, this time using 3 cups of penne, 1 1/2 cups of sauce, the remaining eggs, meatballs and cheese. Top with the remaining penne and sauce. Create a final layer with the salami. Fold the pasta over the filling and brush with 1 tablespoon of oil. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

6. Bake the timpano for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 45 more minutes. To check if it's done make a small hole at the top using a knife blade. If steam comes out and the cheese is melted, it's done. Otherwise, bake for 10 to 15 more minutes. To serve, remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Carefully turn upside down onto a large platter and slice into wedges.

In Big Night, the Timpano is carefully unveiled and joyfully welcomed by the brothers, like a perfect baby after a long, difficult labor. Who knows if yours will turn out like a Hollywood ending – or a movie disaster.
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://may