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Formento's To Serve Timpano, 16-Serving Pasta Dish Featured in 'Big Night'

By Janet Rausa Fuller | October 22, 2014 5:33am
 Formento's, a 1950s-style red-sauce Italian restaurant opening in the West Loop, will serve timpano, the baked pasta dish made famous in the movie "Big Night."
Timpano at Formento's
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WEST LOOP — The climactic scene in the 1996 Stanley Tucci film "Big Night" can be summed up in a word: timpano.

The elaborate, pastry-wrapped, baked pasta drum is unmolded and presented to a table of eager dinner guests in one of the most enduring moments in foodie film history.

Janet Fuller explains the delicate process of making the timpano:

Rare is the restaurant in real life that serves timpano. That will change with the mid-December opening of Formento's, 925 W. Randolph St.

Tony Quartaro, the chef of the forthcoming red-sauce Italian restaurant from the owners of The Bristol and Balena, has for months been perfecting a version of the famously labor-intensive Southern Italian dish for the menu.

"All of us have been kind of stuck with that image [from 'Big Night'] and we said, 'Why not?'," Quartaro said.

"Of course we're crazy," said co-owner John Ross.


Ross said his grandmother used to make a macaroni pie reminiscent of timpano but much smaller, "nothing to this extent" — no offense to Nonna.

Quartaro's version is encased in lasagna sheets and layered thusly: paccheri, a tubular pasta, stuffed with whipped ricotta; spinach gently cooked with shallots; a coil of sausage "that will literally take up an entire layer;" soft-boiled eggs, and mozzarella between each layer.

The whole thing bakes for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

"The key is not having it cave in after it comes out of the oven. It took us a few tries to figure out how to layer this thing and have all the components kind of adhere to each other," Quartaro said.

Success — that is, turning timpano out of the mold in one piece — is never guaranteed, but tapping on it like a drum to check its doneness helps. A hollow thump is a good sign.

"That's the beauty and courage of this thing. You don't know how perfect it is until you cut into it," Quartaro said.

His version sounds as dramatic as its onscreen counterpart: 12 inches in diameter and 6 inches tall, "but we're looking to make it a little taller," he said. The 13-pound dish will feed eight to 16 people.

The Formento's crew made a vegetarian timpano for a preview dinner several weeks ago.

"Everybody was going nuts," Ross said.

Details still to be worked out include price and whether to have it be a strictly order-ahead item or somehow, as Quartaro hopes, on the regular menu.

"This is our signature. This may be our lasagna, so to speak," Quartaro said.

Formento's will have lasagna on the menu, too — a 96-layer version.

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