timballo alla Bonifacio VIII

The Pope's pie

Bonifacio VIII of Anagni sat on St Peter's throne from 1294 to 1303, according to rumour after he had convinced his hapless predecessor, Celestine V, to resign (the last to do so before Benedict XVI) by whispering through a tube that connected with his room and pretending to be God. Dante took great delight putting him in the eighth ring of the Inferno. Just where he belongs.

Bonifacio is also remembered for the schiaffo di Anagni. Having claimed more temporal powers for himself than any pope had ever dared before, he fell afoul of secular rulers, notably King Philip IV of France and Sciarra Colonna, scion of one of the most powerful Roman families. When they demanded his resignation, Bonifacio took refuge in his native Anagni, Colonna hot on his trail with an army. As the Pope sat in his palace, awaiting certain death, Colonna strode in calmly, walked up to the papal throne, gave Boniface a resounding slap (schiaffo) on the face, turned and left. Mortified, the pope died a month later.

He is also remembered for his favourite timballo, which isn't something you're likely to see on restaurant menus, especially in its original form: veal mince, ham, sausage meatballs and macaroni, baked in a rich sauce of roosters' crests (creste) and wattles (bargigli), livers and sweetbreads and mushrooms fried in lard, baked until golden, then served surrounded by a meatball ring.

There is also a cardinal's version, the timballo alberoni, named after the 18th-century Cardinal (and famous trencherman) Giulio Alberoni with macaroni, shrimp sauce, mushrooms, butter and cheese.

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