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Among the more curious lessons I’ve learned through entertaining at home, the strangest has to be the conceptual link between Hooters waitresses, knife-flipping Benihana chefs and three-liter jeroboams of the elegant 2006 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino. In short: Dining, even at home, has an element of theater, in which props and visuals can have unexpected effects on pleasure.
This all started with a friend telling me about “large format” dinner parties, where a group of people pool their dollars to buy and share terrific wines in giant bottles: six-liter methuselahs, nine-liter salmanazars, even 15-liter nebuchadnezzars. To match, they make “large-format” food as well, such as the old Italian polenta maneuver in which Grandma covers the dinner table with cooked cornmeal and tells Mom to pass the sauce.
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“Timballo!” said my friend and cooking buddy Ignazio when I told him of this concept, and of my nagging sense that we’d have to try it. Born in Milan and now working in San Francisco as a software designer, Ignazio has a wonderfully thick accent. One hears it most acutely when he says the word crazy, as in, “Timballo is a crazy sort of medieval-like baked pasta-pie type thing, with all kinds of crazy things baked inside.” He also has a particular genius for the word fantastic, which he tends to rip out like an ecstatic war cry: “This party, Dan, it sounds fan-TAS-teeck. We should do it, and timballo is perfect.”