Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Daring Bakers Puff Their Stuff with Vols-Au-Vent

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent, based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard, from the cookbook  Baking With Julia, by Dorie Greenspan.

Our Challenge was to make Puff pastry (aka pâte feuilletée), form vols-au-vent cases, and then fill the cases with a sweet or savory filling.

I totally procrastinated on this Challenge, hoping the summer heat would fade into crisp, cool autumn weather...HELLO, Southern California, summer is over! I'm ready for apple pie and snuggle time, not baking, half-naked, in a blistering kitchen!

I ended up dedicating the bulk of my weekend to this Challenge and prepared savory and sweet versions of my vols-au-vent!  For my savory version, I chose Tyler Florence's Ultimate Shrimp Bisque

And for my sweet version, Gale Gand's Free-Form Pear Tart with Almond and Cinnamon

A vols-au-vent, French for "windblown" to describe its lightness, is a small hollow case of puff pastry. A round opening is cut in the top and the pastry cut out for the opening is replaced as a lid after the case is filled.

Steph chose vols-au-vent specifically because they do a beautiful job of showing off the hundreds of flaky layers in the homemade puff. They can be made large enough for a full meal, or made small for little one-
bite canapés, the choice was ours.

Here's a little Puff Pastry Primer 101, provided by Steph:

Puff pastry is in the ‘laminated dough” family, along with Danish dough and croissant dough.  A laminated dough consists of a large block of butter (called the “beurrage”) that is enclosed in dough (called the “détrempe”). This dough/butter packet is called a “paton,” and is rolled and folded repeatedly (a process known as “turning”) to create the crisp, flaky, parallel layers you see when baked. Unlike Danish or croissant however, puff pastry dough contains no yeast in the détrempe, and relies solely aeration to achieve its high rise. The turning process creates hundreds of layers of butter and dough, with air trapped between each one. In the hot oven, water in the dough and the melting butter creates steam, which expands in the trapped air pockets, forcing the pastry to rise.

I made Fine Cooking's Classic Croissants about a year ago, when I participated in the Cook the Issue Challenge, but I've never attempted Puff Pastry (croissants contain yeast, puff pastry does not).  When a recipe called for Puff Pastry, I had always turned to Pepperidge Farm for their Puff Pastry Sheets, or Puff Pastry Shells aka vols-au-vent.  Never again.

However, we happened to have some PF Puff Pastry Shells in the freezer, so I decided to bake one along with my homemade ones and do a little visual and taste comparison.   Mine is on the left; the Pepperidge Farm one is on the right.  Visually, they both look pleasing, with nice puff and layers.  The difference is in the taste and texture.  The challenge recipe resulted in light, flaky, buttery, and clearly superior vols-au-vent. 

This is the dough, after incorporating the butter and the first few turns.  It's rolled out, and then folded in thirds

Which completes a "turn"

And here are a few of the vols-au-vent ready to go into the oven

Now, onto the fillings.  The bisque isn't really a "filling" for these, but I liked the presentation and it was nice having a bite of pastry with each spoonful of bisque. 

Tyler's Shrimp Bisque can be found in his cookbook, Tyler's Ultimate:  Brilliant Simple Food to Make Anytime, and on Food Network, here.

When you start preparing a recipe like this, you know it's going to be delicious by the beautiful, fresh,  ingredients :  Carrots, celery, onion, leeks, thyme, bay leaf, and orange zest.  Brandy and heavy cream doesn't hurt either.

Large shrimp, with the shells used to make the stock

The vegetables, herbs, spices and shrimp shells are sauteed in olive oil

Then the pan is deglazed with brandy.  Water and cream is added and the bisque reduced for about 45 minutes.

The bisque is strained and the shrimp are added briefly until cooked through.  This is a very rich soup, but the flavors are incredible.  For serving, I placed a vols-au-vent in a shallow bowl, perched a few shrimp on top,  ladled in the bisque, and garnished with orange zest and chives.

The Pear Tart I chose for my leftover puff pastry dough was originally published in Fine Cooking #84, and can also be found here.  Obviously, I used my homemade puff pastry, rather than the frozen puff pastry called for in the recipe.  Also, I added a few dried cherries which had been soaked in cherry liqueur.

Before placing the sliced pears on the pastry, you put a little round of almond paste and a dollup of sour cream in the middle.

The pears are decoratively placed over the top and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar.  I added my dried cherries and folded the pastry edges up around the pears.  The tarts are then baked for about 20 minutes.


I gave a few tarts to Jim & Carmen, and Mom, and will take the rest to the office tomorrow.
I've been cooking and blogging most of the weekend, so it's time to relax a bit before bed.  Here's the Challenge recipe for Vols-au-Vent.  It's long, but really not that difficult.  Read through the recipe a few times, watch the Julia Child video, keep your dough chilled, and make sure your oven is at the right temperature before baking!
Thank you, Steph, for broading my baking skills!
Vols-au-Vent, based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard, from the cookbook Baking With Julia, by Dorie Greenspan

Equipment:  Food processor (will make mixing dough easy, but this can be done by hand as well); Rolling pin; Pastry brush; Metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended); Plastic wrap;
Baking sheet; Pachment paper; Silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended); Set of round cutters (optional, but recommended); Sharp chef’s knife; Fork; Oven...duh..;-) and Cooling rack

Preparation Time:  It takes about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while waiting for the dough to chill between turns)  It can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule.  It takes an additional 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after the puff pastry dough is complete.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent
Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:  Well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below); egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water); your filling of choice
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside;
  • Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.);
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.
  • (This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)
  • Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.
  • Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well;
  • Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.);
  • Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)
  • Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.
  • Fill and serve.
*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While we were encouraged to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, we had the option of cutting the recipe in half.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…We are using the recipe as it appears printed in the book. Here's the video.


2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter
Extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes. Yes, this was easy.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps. 
Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.  
To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it.  You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.  Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

After refrigerating the dough for 30 minutes, after two turns, I took it out and squeaked in two more turns. The butter started coming through the dough a little, so I think I'll stop at this point and either refrigerate the dough overnight, as stated above.

Steph’s extra tips:

*While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.  (I forgot about this tip, but my dough was extremely easy to roll)
*Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.
*Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don't want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.
*Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don't roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.
*Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.
*Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.
*Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.
*When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.
*Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.
*You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.
*Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).

***Be sure to visit The Daring Kitchen and The Daring Bakers' blogroll to see hundreds of beautiful and creative vols-au-vent, and fillings!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Coronado Jubilee! A Southern-Style Seafood Boil at Spreckels Park

Our good friends, Jim and Carmen, enlightened us about Jubilee, a natural phenomenon that occurs from time to time, during the warm summer months, on the shores of Mobile Bay, Alabama. During Jubilee, blue crabs, shrimp and fish swim swarm toward the shore in a desperate search for more oxygen-rich water. People rush down to the water with washtubs, gigs and nets, and gather a bountiful harvest of seafood. Jubilees cannot be predicted with certainty, and remain a mysterious and welcome gift from nature. 

Although the Summer Concerts in the Park season just ended, we decided to return to the Park last night for a little After-Party, which we nicknamed Jubilee. The conditions were ideal: A warm summer evening, near-empty park, breeze blowing through the trees, a group of friends, and our own bountiful harvest of seafood and vegetables. It was an old-fashioned, eat-with-your-hands kind of dinner that we all enjoyed tremendously.

Everyone contributed some ingredients to John's big pot of boiling spices.  Alec & Nina brought corn, red-skinned potatoes, and clams for the pot, and fresh bread from Bread & Cie.

Nina whipped up these amazing compound butters...

AND Chocolate Mousse Pie, garnished with shaved chocolate and whipped cream, for dessert   Nina adapted Emeril's Chocolate Mousse Tart recipe and Gale Gand's 'Mmmmmud Pie' crust (Oreo cookie and unsalted cashews).

Kai & Hillari brought artichokes, crawfish and freshwater prawns.  Kai also whipped up Garlic Aioli and Chipolte Mayo for artichoke and seafood dipping. 

Hillari took a whirl in the kitchen with a pot of Jambalya Rice. Bravo, girl!

Jim and Carmen supplied a big bag full of mussels, and Banana Pudding for dessert (see recipe below)

Brad volunteered the sausage, and a few of his famous one-liners and Bradleyisms for the evening

John was head chef, in charge of all the cooking equipment, and the remaining ingredients:  Chicken, asparagus, broccoli, okra, boiler onions, heads of garlic, spices, and lemons.  He tended the boiling pot and made sure each ingredient was added in proper order

As each batch was cooked to perfection, he strained and dumped it all into a large pan to keep everything hot.

He then poured it all out, on our picnic tables covered with butcher paper. 

What a feast!

John also made his version of Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits.  Hot out of the oven, I ate three one of these on our way to the park.

We all sat on the grass, gathered around the table, and ate until we couldn't stuff another piece of food in our  mouths.  It was a feeding frenzy!  Within less than 30 minutes, all that remained were discarded piles of crawfish and shrimp heads and shells, clam and mussel shells, knawed on ears of corn, artichoke leaves, garlic and onion skins, and remnants of spice seeds rolling about the table.

No plates or utensils.  We just rolled up the butcher paper full of shells and such and threw it in the trash.

After a short break, we invaded the dessert table - Nina's Chocolate Mousse Pie, Carmen's Banana Pudding, and my Coffee-Toffee Pecan Tartlets.

Carmen brought back some pecans from her recent visit to Mississippi and I knew I wanted to make some sort of pecan pie with them.  In my new issue of Fine Cooking, #101, I found  Coffee-Toffee Pecan Pie.  I used the recipe and made tartlets.

The ingredients include espresso powder, bourbon and crushed chocolate-toffee candy pieces (such as Heath or Skor). Very rich, great in tartlet version, and perfect for our Jubilee!  

I divided the dough and blind-baked the tartlet shells, just as you would for the pie shell.  I had enough  leftover dough to make a slightly larger tart, using a 4" cheesecake pan.  That's the one shown in the photo above.  Unfortunately, the smaller tartlets didn't photograph well at the park.

There you have it - our Coronado Jubilee!  There was even talk of an Annual Jubilee....

 Here's a few more photos from the evening...

Hillari demonstrated a few yoga positions  - it's hard to see, but she has a glass of red wine in her hand!  Thank you again, Alec, for that incredible French wine!

Max & Olivia took over the gazebo, where the band usually plays, and lip-synced a few songs.

Carmen shared stories of her new play, and idea for a screenplay.  Carmen also shared the recipe for Organic Banana Pudding:

3 (3.8oz) packages of Dr. Oetker Organics Cooked Vanilla Pudding & Pie Filling Mix
6 cups of organic milk
2 tubs of Trader Joes Ultimate Vanilla Wafers
12 medium organic bananas (not too soft, not too firm - just right for slicing) Full yellow with a bit of green and no spots.
1 quart of organic whipping cream
1/2 cup Trader Joe's organic powdered sugar

Make the pudding according to the recipe on the box. Build your desert while the pudding is still warm.

1) Line the bottom of your serving dish with a layer of wafers.
2) Slice bananas as thin or as thick as you like (it's a preference, but I like mine thin) making a layer of bananas to cover the wafers.
3) Cover the layers with a thin coat of the pudding.
4) Repeat until you've used all the ingredients. I usually have about six layers of each ingredient
5) Chill in refrigerator for about two hours or until it doesn't feel warm on the outside.
5) Sweeten your whipping cream to taste with the powdered sugar, whip it up and pile on top of the chilled pudding.
6) Serve chilled.

You can have as much fun as you want with it. Some people put toasted coconut on the top and inside ... pickled cherries. The old fashioned version was always made with meringue on top and lady fingers or thin layers of vanilla cake.

Brad and Jim doing a little happy dance

Kai & Hill, all lovey-dovey after a delicious meal...

Chef John and yours truly, Miss Blogs-Alot. 

Thank you! It was a great Jubilee and a very memorable summer Concert in the Park culinary season!  See you all soon.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Finale for Coronado Concerts in the Park: Last Supper

Our culinary challenges for the summer have been so extraordinary and diverse.  Shall we take a moment to review?  We kicked off this summer's Concert in the Park Season with Challenge Fill Me Up Until I'm Stuffed. Next was Challenge Cherries, followed by Challenge Spanish Tapas, Challenge Beer, Challenge Chile Peppers, and Challenge All-American. After the Fourth of July weekend, we embarked on culinary travel around the world:  Sailing the South Seas, Passage to India, Basque Country, and Journey to Russia.  We took a two week break from our travels with Challenge Citrus and Gourmazing Fast Food, and then set off to Greece and Peru.  If you are ever planning a theme party, this group has you covered with lots of ideas and recipes!  I wanted to highlight some of my favorite dishes from each chef, but it was absolutely impossible after looking back at all the incredible dishes everyone created throughout the summer.

This past Sunday, we put on quite a finale for the last Coronado Concert in the Park of the 2009 Season, with the theme of "Last Supper." 

I'll warn you now, this is a quite lengthy post.  Get comfy, pour yourself a glass of vino, and stay for a few minutes.  I found this bottle of Chianti, My Cousin Vino, and thought it was appropriate for my dish of the evening, Timpano!

Not too long ago, we rented the movie Big Night, after seeing a photo of Timpano.  I know, the movie came out in 1996 and I am over 10 years late jumping on the Timpano bandwagon.  However, after seeing the movie, and because I've never created such a pasta masterpiece, I promptly ordered a Timpano pan from Kolorful Kitchen.  It's a 6 quart, 14" enamel basin, that comes in a variety of colors.  At $17.00, plus shipping, it's a steal.  It's a necessity for Timpano, but also makes a beautiful and decorative accessory for the kitchen.  Ours hangs on the wall and adds a little character to kitchen. 

Here it is with the 2 lbs. of dried pasta (rigatoni or ziti) you will need for this recipe.

My beautiful, burgundy marbled, Timpano pan has been displayed for several months now, patiently waiting for me to try my hand at Timpano for my own "Big Night."  Our theme for the final Concert in the Park, Last Supper, provided all the inspiration I needed.  In Big Night, the Italian brothers are desperate to keep their restaurant afloat and plan a magnificent, extraordinary feast, starring Timpano.  Unfortunately, it was the restaurant's last supper, but the guests had a marvelous time.

Coronado Concert in the Park, Last Supper Timpano
Adapted from Mario Batali's Pasta, Old-Fashioned Style, to Cover: Pasta al'Antica Per Timpano
and Cucina & Famiglia: Two Italian Families Share Their Stories, Recipes, And Traditions

2 pounds rigatoni or ziti pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pasta Frolla, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups toasted bread crumbs
Ragu Napoletano (Neapolitan Meat Sauce), recipe follows
2 cups Provolone cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes  (about 12 oz.)
Besciamella, recipe follows
2 cups Genoa Salami, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 12 oz.)
Neapolitan Meatballs, recipe follows
8 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup butter

I prepared this over two days and my recommendation is to prepare the Ragu Napoletano, Basic Tomato Sauce and Neapolitan Meatballs, in that order, on Day 1.   You can also cut up the salami and cheese and hard-boil your eggs.

On Day 2, or the day you plan to serve the Timpano, make the Pasta Frolla, Besciamella, boil the pasta, assemble the Timpano, and bake.

Ragu Napoletano (Neapolitan Meat Sauce):
Yields 4 cups

1/2 pound veal, cut into chunks (I mistakenly bought ground veal, but it worked out fine)
1/2 pound beef chuck, cut into chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup red wine
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled San Marzano tomatoes and juices, passed through a food mill (I have yet to invest in a food mill, so I used an immersion blender)
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausages
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch hot chile flakes

In a large pasta pot or Dutch oven, combine the veal, beef, onion, and oil over high heat and cook until meat is seared on all sides and meat juices have evaporated, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until wine evaporates and meat is darker brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, sausages, salt, and chile flakes.

Reduce heat to simmer and cook about 3 hours, stirring occasionally and skimming fat as necessary.  Remove from heat and remove meat from ragu. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and allow to cool.
This is a wonderful, rich, meat sauce.

Basic Tomato Sauce:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
Salt, to taste

Onions, garlic, carrot and thyme

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft.
Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds one week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer. Yield: 4 cups.

Neapolitan Meatballs (Polpette alla Napoletana):

3 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/4 pounds ground beef, preferably chuck
3 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup pecorino, grated
1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted for 2 minutes in a 400 degree oven
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce, recipe follows

In a shallow bowl, soak the bread cubes in enough water to cover. Remove the bread cubes and squeeze by hand to wring excess moisture.

In a large bowl, combine the bread, beef, eggs, garlic, pecorino, parsley, pine nuts, salt, and pepper, and mix by hand to incorporate bread into meat. With wet hands, form the mixture into 12 to 15 meatballs, each of a size somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball.

Some of the meatball ingredients (I love the addition of toasted pine nuts)

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan (I did half, or 8 at a time), and cook until deep golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato sauce and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add all meatballs, cook for 10 minutes and allow to cool.

This are so good!

Besciamella Sauce:
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.

Pasta Frolla
4 cups flour
4 eggs, whisked
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup ice water

Place flour, salt and egss in food processor and pulse until blended.  Add ice water, slowly, until dough holds together.  Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead for 4 to 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic and set aside.

Cook the Pasta

Place 6 quarts water in large pot, bring to a boil, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Drop pasta in and cook 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Remove and refresh under cold running water until cool, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from refreshing bath and toss with 2 tablespoons oil and set aside.


Make sure all of your ingredients are ready to go.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Roll out the pasta frolla to 1/4-inch thick. 

Butter the metal bowl and dust with the bread crumbs. Lay the pasta frolla in to completely line all of the bowl plus 2 inches over the edge and set aside.

Mix half of the cooked rigatoni with 3 cups Ragu Napoletano and 1 cup of the Provolone cubes and set aside. Mix the remaining half of the cooked rigatoni with the besciamella, the remaining cup of the Provolone cubes and the 2 cups of the salami, and set aside.

Place the white mixed pasta into the mold and press down lightly.

Place the meatballs (polpette) over the white pasta carefully in a consistent layer and press carefully down.

Place the 8 hard-boiled eggs over the meatball layer.

Place the red pasta over the meatballs and press down gently.

Stretch and fold the extra 2 inches of pasta frolla over the whole thing and press gently.

Cover the open top with foil and place in oven to bake for one hour. Check internal temperature. If it is not at 120 degrees F, place back in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest in Timpano pan for at least 20 minutes.

Invert onto a large serving platter, and allow to rest another 10 minutes.

Cut wedges and serve immediately.

Granted, it does take some time to prepare all of the homemade sauces and meatballs, but none of it is difficult.  The sauces and meatballs are amazing on their own (next time I will make double batches and freeze the sauces for other pasta dishes), and very impressive when combined together in this dish.  Also, don't be afraid of the dough - it is very easy to work with and roll thin enough to cover the pan.  So, if you haven't jumped on the Timpano bandwagon, I encourage you to do so and try this for a dinner party.  It seves about 15 people.

Now, finally, I want to share the other delectable dishes we enjoyed for our Last Supper...

Kai & Hillary's Lamb Osso Buco and extra Marrow Bones, garnished with Gremolata.  Kai even supplied special marrow spoons for scooping out all of the tasty marrow.

Jim & Carmen's Beans, with Ham hocks and Sauage, and Buttermilk Cornbread

Brad's Stuffed Pizza, courtesy of Lefty's Chicago Pizzeria in Mission Hills...if this isn't your Last Supper, it may not be too far off with 3 lbs. of mozzarella and all that sausage! 
John's Pumpkin Roll
Alec & Nina's Communion Wafers aka Truffle Brownies.  Alec also shared his fabulous Chicken Picata, but most of it was gone one before I could get a nice photo
Mom's Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch, courtesy of David Lebovitz.  Mom made half with white chocolate and a sprinkling of sea salt.  You may recall, Nina made another delicious version, for Challenge Citrus, using saltine crackers and a hint of Grand Marnier in the chocolate.
One last photo, our male Chefs de Cuisine:  Brad, Alec, Kai, John and Jim

Although it was the last concert of the season, this group just can't seem to stop cooking and eating.  We're off to the Park again this Sunday, while the weather is still beautiful, for Jubilee!  We'll have the Park to ourselves, the kids can run free, and the adults will gather around John's gigantic boiling pot of shellfish, sausage, corn, potatoes, and whatever else gets thrown in, for yet another opportunity to eat, drink and socialize!