UPDATE: This is my updated recipe for Taganu D’Aragona based on feedback from my cousins from Sicily to Los Angeles. This classic version of Taganu D’Aragona skips the bread and marinara sauce that I used last year. Thanks to everyone for all their suggestions. Taganu is a very forgiving recipe, thankfully! I had the pleasure of serving Taganu D’Aragona to the Sisters at Queen of Peace for Holy Thursday dinner.
Taganu D’Aragona is the specialty dish of my ancestral home of Aragona, Sicily. Taganu is a massive and delicious baked Rigatoni pasta, Pecorino and Tuma cheese, Italian meatballs, and egg pie, that is inverted and sliced. It was created in the 1600’s and has been served at Easter ever since! The addition of cinnamon and saffron are typical in Sicilian cuisine.
My cousin Jo was born in Aragona and wrote this wonderful post at her blog sicilianissimiinamerica.com about Taganu and shared her recipe and pictures of a few other versions. This recipe is primarily based on hers. Why mess with perfection! Some day she has to visit and teach me how to make it the Aragona way! I remember my Nonnie putting thick layers of beaten egg and Pecorino cheese on her rigatoni pasta casseroles. She made them often when I was a young child.
Taganu uses a regional Sheep’s milk cheese from Sicily called Tuma. It is similar to mozzarella. My cousin sometimes substitutes Muenster cheese. I found Tuma at our local ethnic grocer, Valli Produce. They usually carry it only around Easter and it does sell out fast!
The cheese is sliced thin and layered with the rigatoni pasta, grated pecorino Romano cheese and homemade Italian meatballs in a large pot. Taganu typically calls for 18- 36 eggs depending on the size of the pot! This recipe was made in a 7-quart quart Dutch oven and used 18 eggs. I am still on the hunt for a large vintage Taganu clay pot.
Once assembled and the ingredients have settled for a few hours, it is baked at 350 degrees for about 2 hours. Let it cool for at a least an hour before inverting. I was tickled pink when the inverted Taganu slid out without collapsing. Even an experienced cook will hold her breath during those crucial moments. It is a beautiful sight!
Taganu is good served hot, warm and cold. Slice it with a serrated knife and serve.
For more information on Taganu D’Aragona read this wonderful folk tale about the Legend of Taganu by Michele Arduengo on her blog GritsandPurls.com, and watch this YouTube video by Phil Speciale from great-chicago-italian-recipes.com. Like all family heritage recipes, there are many ways to make it. The essence of Taganu has lasted over five centuries!
Here is the classic Taganu D’Aragona recipe:
- 2 pounds rigatoni pasta
- 2 pounds Tuma Cheese sliced thin
- 6 cups approx 1 3/4 lbs grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 18 extra large eggs
- 1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon a few threads saffron
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 12 Italian meatballs fried or baked, crumbled in large pieces
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper or to taste
Grease the entire inside of a 7 quart round Dutch oven casserole with baking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment as well. Place the Dutch oven on a baking sheet for easier handling and any spillage.
Cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Do not overcook. Transfer to a baking pan lined with parchment paper to cool. It cools faster if in a single layer. The pasta can also be cooked the day ahead.
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, cinnamon, parsley, and black pepper. Mix in 2 cups grated pecorino cheese.
Add the saffron to the chicken stock, stir and let steep.
When the pasta is cool, place it in a large bowl, and add 3 ladles of the egg mixture to the pasta. Mix thoroughly to coat and allow the egg to seep inside the pasta.
Set aside about 1 cup of egg mixture and 2 cups of grated cheese for the final cap.
Begin assembling by covering the bottom of the pot with one ladle of egg mixture.
Add one layer of pasta followed by one layer of sliced Tuma. Cover that with 1 cup of grated cheese. Next layer 1 to 2 ladles of the egg mixture. Next add a layer of approximately 4 crumbled meatballs. Next pour 1/2 cup stock over the meatballs. Repeat the pasta, sliced Tuma, grated cheese, egg mixture, meatballs, and chicken stock layers. Make a third layer if you have enough left over. Finish the assembly with one more layer of pasta and sliced tuma on top. The pot should be almost full.
Mix the eggs and grated pecorino cheese which were set aside to form a thick paste. Spread on top of the Taganu to form a “cappa” or cap covering the Tuma cheese. Cover with saran wrap and let the Taganu rest at least 3 hours in the fridge to allow the layers to settle or overnight, if possible.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It is best to let the whole pan come to room temperature before baking. Remove the plastic wrap from the pan. Do not cover the pan for baking.
Bake 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean or slightly wet from the cheese. You can also make a small hone in the center to see if the center is cooked.
Allow the Taganu to cool for at least an hour. Run a knife along the edge to loosen from pan. Place a flat plate or board over the top and carefully invert.
Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature.