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Taganu: the Easter dish of Aragona, Sicily, & Rockford, IL

Taganu: the Easter dish of Aragona, Sicily, & Rockford, IL
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  • Taganu: the Easter dish of Aragona, Sicily, & Rockford, IL

    Post #1 - April 23rd, 2011, 4:24 pm
    Post #1 - April 23rd, 2011, 4:24 pm Post #1 - April 23rd, 2011, 4:24 pm
    All four of my grandparents are from a town in Sicily called Aragona, where the Easter feast features a dish called Taganu (pronounced thuh-AH-new). A fairly large community of 'Ragonese settled in Rockford, Illinois (including my grandparents), so the dish has become traditional there, too, at least among those in the know.

    My Taganu for this year is in the oven and I thought I'd share with the class.

    It's an incredibly rich baked pasta, egg, meat and cheese dish, flavored with cinnamon (showing the area's Greek influence) and saffron (showing the Spanish influence).

    The family recipe from my father's side of the family:
    Image

    Yes, Romano (Pecorino, natch), is listed twice; it's a cup and a half in addition to two pounds. For the pan I use, I make the following changes: Up the veal to 3 lbs or more; up the tuma to 2 1/2 to 3 lbs.

    Tuma is a fresh cheese, more firm than farmer's cheese, not stringy like mozzarella; it squeaks against your teeth when you eat it uncooked. Every Italian deli in Rockford carries it this time of year. I struggle to find it in the Chicago area, though the past couple years, oddly enough, I've reliably found it at Dominick's. In a pinch, use brick cheese as a (poor) substitute.

    Every family makes it a little differently; my mother's side of the family tended to make larger quantities (the recipe I have written down starts with eight dozen eggs), uses manicotti instead of rigatoni, and broken up meatballs instead of veal. Some families line the bottom of the pan with slices of bread.

    Image

    Image

    More pictures of last year's Taganu are in a Flickr set.

    Another Flickr set has pictures of the process so far this year, and will be updated with photos of the finished product.

    Other Italians I know--even other Sicilians--have never heard of Taganu. References to it online are scarce. Here are a few other sites I've come across with descriptions and recipes:

    Disiu.it (in Italian)

    Great Chicago Italian Recipes

    Consorzio Turistico Valle dei Templi (in Italian)
  • Post #2 - April 23rd, 2011, 5:06 pm
    Post #2 - April 23rd, 2011, 5:06 pm Post #2 - April 23rd, 2011, 5:06 pm
    Thanks for sharing - and Buona Pasqua! :)
  • Post #3 - April 23rd, 2011, 6:08 pm
    Post #3 - April 23rd, 2011, 6:08 pm Post #3 - April 23rd, 2011, 6:08 pm
    HI,

    I love learning about these kinds of passed down through the family recipes.

    Thank you for sharing the experience with us.

    Regardsm
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #4 - April 23rd, 2011, 7:43 pm
    Post #4 - April 23rd, 2011, 7:43 pm Post #4 - April 23rd, 2011, 7:43 pm
    Very interesting. I love learning new things...and Rockford is just about 20 mjns away so I can look for the cheese. Thanks!
  • Post #5 - April 24th, 2011, 4:37 pm
    Post #5 - April 24th, 2011, 4:37 pm Post #5 - April 24th, 2011, 4:37 pm
    Fascinating on many different levels. Thanks so much for sharing this. Looks like something to try--and maybe invite a few (dozen) folks over for!
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #6 - April 24th, 2011, 8:49 pm
    Post #6 - April 24th, 2011, 8:49 pm Post #6 - April 24th, 2011, 8:49 pm
    Thanks, everyone. It went over well today and plenty is left. I didn't mention above, it's typically eaten cold.

    I updated this year's Flickr set with pics of it after coming out of the oven. Though they do look a lot like the ones from last year.
  • Post #7 - April 24th, 2011, 11:42 pm
    Post #7 - April 24th, 2011, 11:42 pm Post #7 - April 24th, 2011, 11:42 pm
    Looks wonderful.

    I'm a little confused about dipping the cheese and pasta in the egg. Do you toss it with the beaten egg mixture before you start layering or is this some additional beaten egg?
  • Post #8 - April 25th, 2011, 9:34 am
    Post #8 - April 25th, 2011, 9:34 am Post #8 - April 25th, 2011, 9:34 am
    Yr right, that's not especially clear. Here's how that works: After cooking, draining and cooling the pasta, you add a couple ladles of the beaten egg mixture to it and stir to coat. And as you are adding layers of tuma, you dip each slice of cheese in the beaten egg mixture before laying it down.

    (Except, as noted, for the final, top layer of tuma, which goes on dry.)
  • Post #9 - April 25th, 2011, 10:08 am
    Post #9 - April 25th, 2011, 10:08 am Post #9 - April 25th, 2011, 10:08 am
    That looks delicious and I definitely wanna try making it. Thanks for sharing!
    Fettuccine alfredo is mac and cheese for adults.
  • Post #10 - April 25th, 2011, 1:43 pm
    Post #10 - April 25th, 2011, 1:43 pm Post #10 - April 25th, 2011, 1:43 pm
    Thanks. A few more questions:

    About how long is the complete baking time?

    As you make it, about how many slices/servings does the recipe yield?

    How well do leftovers freeze?

    It has interesting parallels to other dishes: Timballo Siciliano, of course; Greek patitsio; and Jewish noodle kugel. Probably they all derive from the same Middle Eastern roots.
  • Post #11 - April 25th, 2011, 3:47 pm
    Post #11 - April 25th, 2011, 3:47 pm Post #11 - April 25th, 2011, 3:47 pm
    LAZ wrote:Thanks. A few more questions:

    About how long is the complete baking time?

    Two hours or more. Typically I start checking at an hour and 45 min., and every fifteen minutes thereafter. This year, it was a good 2.5 hours. Variance, I think, has much to do the amount of broth you end up putting in. I've never measured out 3/4 cup; I just warm up "some" and put in "enough," which I know from having made it before.

    I should also note: the recipe says it's done when a knife comes out clean, but that does not mean totally dry. If you cook it til the knife comes out dry, it is overcooked and will be very dry. It comes out...mostly dry? A little moist? I know what the knife is supposed to look like when the Taganu is done. :)

    Also: we typically let it cool at least half an hour, often more, after de-panning and before cutting it up. At the very least, it's easier to handle when it's cooled a bit, not sure if it needs to "rest" as well. And a parchment sling makes de-panning a much easier procedure.

    As you make it, about how many slices/servings does the recipe yield?

    probably 30-40 slices? usually sliced about 3/4" thick. It's very rich, so as a main dish, two or three slices is plenty filling. At Easter, it's served alongside everything else, so one just takes a slice or two.

    How well do leftovers freeze?

    It freezes well if, of course, you take care to wrap it well. The texture of the egg suffers just a bit after freezing and thawing, but it's fine. I always freeze a brick or two.

    It has interesting parallels to other dishes: Timballo Siciliano, of course; Greek patitsio; and Jewish noodle kugel. Probably they all derive from the same Middle Eastern roots.

    Indeed. Aragona is in Agrigento, even more Greek influenced than other parts of Sicily. I see the parallel with kugel but they are very different dishes. And I've seen occasional references to it as "a timpano they make in Aragona" or etc.
    Last edited by chuckfalzone on April 25th, 2011, 3:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #12 - April 25th, 2011, 3:56 pm
    Post #12 - April 25th, 2011, 3:56 pm Post #12 - April 25th, 2011, 3:56 pm
    I'll also add a warning for anyone who does try their hand at making it: it's easy for it to end up too salty (what with all that Romano cheese). Tuma is unsalted (perhaps very lightly salted? I think it's unsalted), so if you can't find it, and substitute another cheese that is salty, you need to cut back elsewhere. Or if you use canned chicken broth, you could easily end up with something inedibly salty if you don't make adjustments.
  • Post #13 - April 26th, 2011, 10:53 am
    Post #13 - April 26th, 2011, 10:53 am Post #13 - April 26th, 2011, 10:53 am
    chuckfalzone -- Many thanks for that outstanding post! I certainly would love to try this dish some time...

    A couple of historical notes...

    • I strongly suspect that one of the primary cheeses used in this sort of dish back in Sicily would be caciocavallo or a local (and young) pecorino but even today, in the age of global foody-ism, caciocavallo remains a cheese seldom seen in this country; Sicilian primo sale is, however, starting to turn up occasionally in specialty shops. Be that as it may, Italian immigrants here in the States had to make adjustments and so the use of more readily available Italian cheeses makes perfect sense. As you say, part of the salt-issue has to do with the large amount of pecorino romano used and the use of a younger, less salty cheese would be reasonable (and likely closer to the Old World way, I should think). Your cautionary comments about adjusting down the use of salt in the broth and such are spot on and important.

    (In my experience, tuma cheeses in the States vary a good bit with regard to saltiness -- some are indeed very low in salt and some not quite so low. To be honest, I haven't encountered one here in Chicagoland that I love but I just had one back East as part of the cheese accompaniment to our Easter affettati that was outstanding -- perfect level of salt, perfectly fresh and 'milky'.)

    • Over the years I've done a lot of research on these sorts of festive dishes from southern Italy and coincidentally have just of late had occasion to return to that topic for the preparation of a publication I'm working on. This taganu definitely fits nicely into a broad family well represented throughout the Mezzogiorno. Though there are generic similarities between this dish and dishes made further afield in the Mediterranean world and beyond, I think taganu sits squarely in the tradition of the Regno delle due Sicilie / Regno di Napoli. The saffron and cinnamon are, along with the extravagent use of eggs and cheese, true to the nature of this dish as an especially festive one, as a dish proper to the most important holiday of the Catholic calendar...

    Again, many thanks for the fine post...

    Saluti,
    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #14 - April 26th, 2011, 2:46 pm
    Post #14 - April 26th, 2011, 2:46 pm Post #14 - April 26th, 2011, 2:46 pm
    Thanks for the context and perspective, Antonius.

    Re: the use of a younger pecorino, what I've been told in my family is that the idea is to have a fresh sheep's milk cheese (the tuma*) and an aged sheep's milk cheese (the romano pecorino). You're right, of course, that in Aragona, it's likely not romano, but tuma seems to be a sine qua non for the young cheese, and other recipes, including those (like this one) from Italian websites, generally follow the pattern of two cheeses, one being tuma and the other being a grated, aged pecorino.

    *Sadly, the tuma I'm usually able to find is made from cow's milk. It serves the purpose, but I'm always on the hunt for a better source.
  • Post #15 - May 1st, 2011, 1:37 pm
    Post #15 - May 1st, 2011, 1:37 pm Post #15 - May 1st, 2011, 1:37 pm
    This is awesome, thank you for posting! I have been making and eating a variation of this dish for the past 20 years, thanks to my best friend, and we've always known very little about it. We use the fresh basket cheese that only comes out at Easter rather than tuma and parmesan as the salty counterpoint but otherwise it's the same.

    Thank you!
  • Post #16 - May 3rd, 2011, 11:18 am
    Post #16 - May 3rd, 2011, 11:18 am Post #16 - May 3rd, 2011, 11:18 am
    Ah, yes, I'm not really familiar with basket cheese but I've heard people say it is similar to tuma.
  • Post #17 - May 3rd, 2011, 5:17 pm
    Post #17 - May 3rd, 2011, 5:17 pm Post #17 - May 3rd, 2011, 5:17 pm
    chuckfalzone wrote:I see the parallel with kugel but they are very different dishes.

    "Kugel," of course, refers to an extremely wide range of casseroles, but the variant I was thinking of is a rich version made with fresh farmer cheese and lots of eggs and flavored with cinnamon. It would not have meat in it because of Jewish dietary laws.
  • Post #18 - April 7th, 2012, 10:30 pm
    Post #18 - April 7th, 2012, 10:30 pm Post #18 - April 7th, 2012, 10:30 pm
    Our 2012 batch of taganu, done and portioned for delivery to various places tomorrow and over the next few days. Some will stay at home with us, too, of course.

    The four pieces pictured, each of which will be sliced into 4-6 servings, are about half what we made today.

    Image
  • Post #19 - April 15th, 2012, 8:24 am
    Post #19 - April 15th, 2012, 8:24 am Post #19 - April 15th, 2012, 8:24 am
    This looks good. It differs from other Italian easter pie recipes I have seen. I am sending this to my friend Frank whose parents came from Sicily. I am not sure where. The only thing that surprises me is there is not a little bit of sauteed onion in the recipe to add some flavor. I think I would like a couple tablespoons of chopped onion especially when browning the veal.
    Toria

    "I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it" - As You Like It,
    W. Shakespeare
  • Post #20 - April 15th, 2012, 10:41 pm
    Post #20 - April 15th, 2012, 10:41 pm Post #20 - April 15th, 2012, 10:41 pm
    Every family makes it a little differently, Toria. The recipe I follow, with the veal, is from my father's side of the family; my mother's side of the family used broken up meatballs instead, which do of course include onion.

    I always threaten to make both versions "next year," but when the time comes I don't quite have the time to do so.
  • Post #21 - February 9th, 2016, 8:31 pm
    Post #21 - February 9th, 2016, 8:31 pm Post #21 - February 9th, 2016, 8:31 pm
    Hi my name is Deb Ferruggia Boulley. My parents were Rose and Sam Ferruggia. I do believe my parents were good friends of your family, back in Rockford, Il. I just wanted to thank you for sharing the Taganu recipe my grandma made also my mom and now made by me for several years. I remember possibly your grandfather of father,
    Fuzzy Falzone. Such a small world to find family and friends from Rockford.
  • Post #22 - March 24th, 2016, 9:04 am
    Post #22 - March 24th, 2016, 9:04 am Post #22 - March 24th, 2016, 9:04 am
    Any LTHers in the Chicago area find a producer of taganu?
    -
    I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be.
  • Post #23 - March 7th, 2017, 9:51 am
    Post #23 - March 7th, 2017, 9:51 am Post #23 - March 7th, 2017, 9:51 am
    missed out on this last year, hoping to find a local maker this year but am willing to drive to Rockford if needed :-)
    I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be.
  • Post #24 - March 8th, 2017, 10:50 am
    Post #24 - March 8th, 2017, 10:50 am Post #24 - March 8th, 2017, 10:50 am
    SW,

    The recipe seems to be pretty straightforward, why wouldn't you make it yourself?

    I was just reminded of this yesterday and it awoke again my interest to make it.

    Regards,
    Cathy2
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #25 - March 10th, 2017, 1:11 pm
    Post #25 - March 10th, 2017, 1:11 pm Post #25 - March 10th, 2017, 1:11 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:The recipe seems to be pretty straightforward, why wouldn't you make it yourself?
    I could, my baking skills are lacking.
    I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be.
  • Post #26 - April 7th, 2017, 4:35 pm
    Post #26 - April 7th, 2017, 4:35 pm Post #26 - April 7th, 2017, 4:35 pm
    HI,

    According to Caputo's Cheese website, tuma is available salted or unsalted.

    Regards,
    Cathy2
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #27 - April 2nd, 2021, 7:48 am
    Post #27 - April 2nd, 2021, 7:48 am Post #27 - April 2nd, 2021, 7:48 am
    Hi. I know this post is quite old, but I’m hoping I may still get a reply. The recipe you posted is not showing up for me for some reason. I was hoping you could share again for me. My family is from Aragona and traditionally ate this dish for Easter growing up. The recipe has since been lost with the older generation and I am desperately trying to recreate it this year. I thankfully remembers and have all the ingredients. I mostly am in need of instruction on the best way to construct it.

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