There’s a scene in Stanley Tucci’s 1996 breakout feature film, Big Night. Actually, it’s really the scene. Brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) have a failing restaurant in New Jersey. They decide to throw caution to the wind and throw a dinner party of epic proportions. One of the dishes they make is a timpano, the holy grail of pasta pies. “A timpano,” explains Primo, “is a pasta with a special crust. And is shaped like a drum – a timpani drum. And the inside – only the most important things in the world.”
Over the next few minutes you see the brothers make pasta from scratch, cutting it for ziti and rolling each shape using a 2B pencil. They lay a huge sheet of pasta, thin and fluid as a silk scarf, onto the bottom of the basin, then add ziti and sauce, pieces of boiled egg, meatballs, salami, provolone, more sauce. They repeat the process till the basin is full. They cover it referentially with silken sheets of pasta. Cue cooking time lapse, and they are as careful with it as a newborn, hands moving around it to loosen it in its cage.
It’s one of my favourite food-related film moments and Stanley Tucci can’t stand it. “The timpano in the film does not look the way it should look in real life,” he says. “Because you can see the outlines of the pasta inside coming through the thing, and you shouldn’t – it should be smooth on the edge. I can’t even look at that scene because it bothers me so much.”
They made a number of the beloved Calabrian dish for the purposes of filming, and the crew got the hollow sound of a perfect timpano bang on. And the taste? “Awful,” says Tucci. “It was just awful. They didn’t put any salt in it because they said that that made the food spoil more quickly. We were in the air-conditioned studio, and it was like 36 degrees celsius when we were shooting. It was just horrible. Gross.”
This is an excerpt from issue 2 of Swill. Grab a copy of Swill today to read the whole thing!