Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Crushing Disappointment

The symptoms were so familiar -- the wistful sighs, the increasingly-elaborate daydreams, the corresponding decline in work productivity. How could I concentrate on copyright infringement when I simply had to Google my beloved's name one more time? (You never know! There might be new information out the last ten minutes...oh hush.) Past companions dwindled and retreated in comparison to my new, glowingly perfect love.

Oh yes, I was caught in the throes of a new food crush.

And it was a bad one. I've been minorly obsessed with Italian and Italian-American food for a while now, but not even my mom's eternally perfect spaghetti sauce could tempt me during my fascination with the pasta timbale. (Or timpano, or timbalo. I have seen all sorts of variations -- if someone has a definitive definition, lemme know.) Layers of pasta and sauce and meatballs and more sauce and different pasta and yet more sauce? All baked together into a glorious gooey dome?

Yes, please.

So I persuaded Devorit that we should make some version of my crush for Christmas dinner. Historically, my family has never made a big deal out of the final meal of the day on December 25th -- no turkey, no ham, no goose. Actually, dinner's usually spaghetti, because we love it and it's, obviously, not too difficult after the exhaustion of the day.

But this year we would try something different. And I was starry-eyed over that timbale for a solid week. The elaborateness of it captured my heart -- layer after painstaking layer, we would assemble a masterpiece.

So much excitement on Christmas day! We had made up a double batch of tomato sauce the day before, in between assembling the traditional Christmas Eve soups (more on those later), so that step was out of the way. Devorit printed out our recipe...we started to read, breath caught, pulses high.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

The recipe had some strange quirks, we agreed. It seemed to call for an awful lot of Arborio rice (6 cups uncooked). And the instructions about cheese were inconsistent -- the ingredient list included pecorino romano, parmesan, and caciocavallo, but the instructions periodically referred simply to "cheese," with no clear antecedent. Nor did the volumes add up. At various points, we were instructed to add 1 cup of sauce, half the sauce, the remaining sauce, two-thirds of the sauce, and the remaining sauce once more. A puzzlement.

We forged ahead anyway. I was confident we could pull it off -- and I'd dreamed of this dish for so long!

This was a mistake.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. 6 cups of Arborio rice did indeed cook up to an unholy vat of fluffy starch, one that soaked up all the sauce we could fling in its direction. At one point, Devorit was up to her biceps in rice, mixing with both hands, because believe me, no spoon in the kitchen was going to move that mass. We'd luckily doubled the tomato sauce, so there was enough to go around -- barely -- and we guessed at the cheese component as best we could.

About a gadzillion sticky hours later, the timbale emerged from the oven in a sultry cloud of fragrance. Fraught with anticipation, we sliced, served, spooned...and it was devastating. My food crush was just okay. Nothing special. Neutrally pleasant, I guess. Sort of something I can imagine being served in a mediocre cafeteria, with a square of plain red Jell-o and a side of nearly-limp green beans.

(I haven't included the recipe here, both because it's rather untrustworthy and because I can't recommend that you invest the time.)

I'm a big girl; I know crushes don't always work out. But I thought we'd be together for the long haul, timbale and I, and I'm just a little sad about the end of our relationship.

But, psst. I think I've got a crush on cioppino now.


  • At 1:06 AM, Blogger Cyndi said…

    Great story! Now I want to research timbales myself. But I'll NEVER make something with 6 cups of rice. 1 maybe. Could even go 2. Was it supposed to feed 25? : )

  • At 1:37 PM, Blogger ilva said…

    But wasn't it supposed to be made with pasta?? No don't give up-find a GOOD recipe! Maybe i can find one here? shall try? I can scan and send you! But then I will have to know whether it's rice or pasta timballo you want to make!

  • At 10:06 PM, Blogger Cate said…

    I have a good cioppino recipe, if you're ready to meet that crush head on. :)

  • At 10:49 PM, Blogger Cate said…

    PS - Gave you a heads up on my site tonight. ;)

  • At 11:17 PM, Blogger Alicat said…

    what a good post. :o) I've always wanted to try that recipe..but..oi..the rejection might be too much to handle after all that hard work :)

  • At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Clare Eats said…

    oh that is so sad :( I am sure ur next cruah will work out better ;)

  • At 9:00 AM, Blogger BNA said…

    Hi Cyndi! Yeah, it was supposed to feed 10-12. We counted on plenty of leftovers, but sheesh!

    Oh my goodness, Ilva, please, research away -- I think a pasta version is the way to go. I may be taking a long vacation from rice after this experience.

    Hiya Sweetnicks! And thanks so much for the shout-out. I would love your cioppino recipe. Onward and upward, right?

    Hello Alicat...I know, it was just so sad. But at least we had our starch quota met for January.

    Hi Clare -- oh, I have a good feeling about my next crush. I think cioppino and I will get along verrrry well.

  • At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Rorie said…

    Timbale - like they made in Big Night? I think that was pasta. You are a very, very ambitious girl!

  • At 10:49 PM, Blogger e! said…

    I've never made a timpano before, nor have I ever eaten one.


    I am fairly certain I know where you can find the best recipe for it.

    Try Linda Carucci's "Cooking School Secrets For Real-World Cooks" (I got mine off of Amazon).
    I've made a handful of dishes from that book, and they've all been incredible.

    Good luck!

    P.S. That recipe calls for pasta, and not rice.... I think.


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