Big Night, Small Bites

It doesn’t have to be a “big night” to justify treating yourself to timpano. Even if it’s just a weekday meal for one, there’s no reason why you can’t have exactly what you crave.

For years, I’ve been dazzled by the specter of timpano, just like the rest of the movie-watching world, after seeing the unforgettable unveiling on screen in Big Night. Who could look away as the knife plunged deep into that thick pastry crust, revealing endless layers of pasta, meatballs, salami, eggs, cheese, and red sauce? Given that impossible depth and breadth, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a whole tomato vine in there, stems, leaves, and all.

What Goes Into Timpano?

It’s like the clown car of foods; it seems to contain much more than could possibly fit inside such a confined space, where truly anything goes. Some versions feature sausage, pepperoni, ricotta, wilted spinach, marinated mushrooms, olives, capers, pickled peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, cubed bread- At some point, you have to wonder if this was just a clever vehicle for repurposing the dregs of the fridge and pantry. The only limit is your appetite.

Unfortunately, for those eating alone, that is a considerable restriction.

How To Make A Tiny Timpano

While I’d relish the opportunity to cook up a few pounds of pasta, throw it into a flaky crust, and go to town, my stomach would hate me for it later. Even for someone who loves gluten, it’s quite the wheat bomb, to say nothing of the absurd serving size. Taming the towering timpano requires more than just downsizing, but significant redesign for a more sound construction.

  • Oversized ziti get replaced with more compact orzo to prevent gaping holes. Any other small pasta shapes like pearl couscous, pastina, or stelline are also fair choices.
  • Trade out the doughy exterior for tender zucchini, lightly roasted for a subtly smoky, charred essence and greater flexibility. Thinly sliced eggplant, yellow summer squash, or red peppers are excellent alternative edible wrappers, and can be used in concert for greater color and flavor.
  • Single serving portions take shape in standard ramekins, no fancy molds needed. Leftovers are a snap to freeze for later enjoyment and can be instantly thawed on demand.

Is A Timpano Of Any Other Size Still As Grand?

I’d answer that with a resounding “yes!” Given that the original dish was named after timpani, AKA kettledrums, I’d like to think that a more creative approach, allowing cooks to march to the beat of their own drums, only serves to better honor the concept. Rather than approaching it as a project, tiny timpanos fit into any schedule or meal plan, especially as an excellent way to use up any odds and ends on hand. Consider the following recipe more of a guideline; any night can be a big night with the right perspective.

Yield: Makes 3 Servings

Tiny Timpano

Tiny Timpano

Inspired by timpano, these miniature, single-serving versions are more like timbale, wrapped in zucchini instead of pastry for a lighter, fresher pasta parcel. Use any of your favorite mix-ins to make it your own.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes


  • 3 Medium Zucchini, Thinly Sliced Lengthwise
  • Olive Oil Spray, as Needed
  • 4 Ounces Orzo, Pearl Couscous, Pastina, or Stelline, Cooked Al Dente
  • 1/2 Cup Marinara Sauce, Plus Additional For Serving
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped or Crumbled Plant-Based Meatballs, Sausages, or Burgers
  • 1/2 Cup Shredded Vegan Mozzarella
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Roasted Red Peppers, Eggplant, Mushrooms, and/or Leeks
  • 2 Tablespoons Arrowroot Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley and/or Basil, Minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Capers or Sliced Olives
  • 1 Tablespoon Toasted Pine Nuts, Pistachios, or Sliced Almonds


  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Begin by slicing the zucchini as evenly as possible, with a very sharp knife or mandoline, to about 1/8th inch in thickness. Lay the pieces out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly spray with olive oil, to coat. Roast on the top rack of your oven for 10 - 15 minutes, until lightly blistered. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and let cool.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, sauce, plant-based meat, cheese, and chopped veggies. Stir everything together gently before sprinkling with the arrowroot, fresh herbs, capers or olive, and nuts, tossing to coat and combine.

  4. Lightly grease 3 (4-ounce) ramekins and begin lining them with the roasted zucchini strips. Make sure the edges overlap so that none of the ramekin's interior is exposed. Fill each with the pasta mixture, firmly but gently packing it in, flush with the top.

  5. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet pan and bake in the center of the oven, uncovered, for 15 - 20 minutes, until lightly browned and the filling has set.

  6. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before running a knife around the edges to loosen the individual timpanos and inverting them onto plates. Serve with additional marinara sauce, if desired.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 527Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 39gCholesterol: 120mgSodium: 1370mgCarbohydrates: 102gFiber: 17gSugar: 19gProtein: 50g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.

6 thoughts on “Big Night, Small Bites

  1. What a fascinating idea, Hannah! We loved “The Big Night” and when we lived in Cleveland, there was a restaurant that recreated it if you had enough people. We put together enough and had an absolute blast plus fabulous food and wine! What a time it was! By the end of the night, we were conga dancing through the kitchen. 😁 The restaurant later went out of business so we were glad we had the chance to go.

    1. That truly sounds like a bucket list meal! So sad that it’s gone now, but glad you could enjoy it while it was still around. Hopefully someone revives the concept someday.

  2. I absolutely agree! The allure of timpano is undeniable, thanks in part to its iconic portrayal in movies like Big Night. The sheer abundance of ingredients layered within that pastry crust is both fascinating and mouthwatering. It’s like a culinary magic trick, fitting so much goodness into such a confined space.

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