Taganu is our special Easter dish. It gets its name from the clay pot in which it is traditionally baked. According to legend, the ingredients are items that are readily available in a Sicilian household, Pasta, Eggs and Cheese. The special ingredient is Tuma cheese. Tuma is a mild, young cheese that is generally available in the early spring. As far back as we can remember, our family has made Taganu the day before Easter. In our family, we make meat balls, break into pieces and dot into the Taganu. Our cousin uses a meat ball mix but makes a layer of meat instead. Some people add ricotta cheese. In every case, our families enjoy making and eating Taganu for Easter.
We used to live in a community where the owner of the local grocery chain and the local Italian deli descended from our town in Sicily. It was easy to find that specific ingredient that is the basis of one of our dishes. A few weeks before Easter we stopped by the “Italian Store” across the street from our church and placed our Tuma order. We moved away from our community five years ago and our challenge, still, is to find ingredients. We live in the Los Angeles area where literally anything can be found but not every day and not everywhere. Tuma was one of our challenges. We moved here just before Palm Sunday and our first California Easter was looming before us. We spent two Saturdays combing through every Italian Deli we could find looking for Tuma cheese. It did not exist!!!! That first year we resorted to using Muenster cheese. It was a fair substitute but not the real thing. We made it a goal to find Tuma. We Googled, quizzed our ethnic friends and looked for Tuma in every grocery store. In the process we found sources for other things. We found an Armenian market for fresh and reasonably priced produce, a Middle Eastern market for olives, and fresh herbs and an Italian Deli right around the corner for the right kind of Ricotta cheese but no Tuma. During one of our visits to the Middle Eastern market for oil cured olives, we spotted something that looked like Tuma in the deli case! It was spelled ” Touma” and we were not positive that it was the same thing so we bought some to try. It was Tuma! We found it! Our next Taganu was going to be perfect! After our quest for Tuma, life gave us a little surprise. While looking through the cheese case at our local Costco, there it was! Touma cheese in little one pound wheels! Our current community has a concentrated population Touma eaters and it is available year round at Costco! Who knew! This year’s Taganu was delicious! Although there is a basic recipe, each family adds its own special touch.
Here are Taganu made by our family and friends!
This Taganu was made by my sister Rose in Sicily. She bakes hers in the traditional pot! This is the essence of Taganu in my opinion.
This image is our friend Ignazia and her special Taganu. This Taganu was made by her daughter-in- law Debbie. Debbie is Sicilian by marriage. Debbie makes a beautiful “regular” Taganu but, because Ignazia has a low sodium diet limitation, they had to adapt her Taganu. Ignazia makes her own cheese…and Debbie uses it to make a special No Salt Taganu.
Cara and Monica’s Taganu
This Taganu was made by our cousins, Cara and Monica. Cara and Monica are third generation Sicilian American (and 1/2 Irish.) They learned from their grandmother and keep the tradition for their branch of the family!
This Taganu was made by our friend Rosaria. Rosaria is second generation Sicilian American, a busy mom, and recently transferred to Australia. Even far from home, she maintains the tradition of Easter Taganu!
Here is our family recipe: We like a large, deep Taganu. We have a clay Taganu but it is a bit shallow, so we bake ours in a cast iron enameled dutch oven. Our recipe fills a 6 ½ quart pot. In a successful Taganu the rigatoni is filled with the cheese and egg mixture and the dish is dense with minimal empty spaces.
Ingredients: 2 Pounds Rigatoni 2 Pounds Tuma, Sliced Thin 2 Pounds Grated Pecorino 18 to 20 eggs (we use extra large eggs) One Bunch Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley 2 Cups Low Sodium Beef Broth (we use homemade broth) 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon Fried Meat Balls (we use 10 – 12) Black Pepper to taste Instructions:
- Remove stems and chop parsley.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, cinnamon, parsley, a bit of pepper and several handfuls of the grated pecorino . We like the egg mixture a little thick.
- Cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Do not over cook.
- Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes. Add a few ladles of the egg mixture to the pasta and thoroughly mix to coat.
- Spray a deep baking dish with cooking spray.
- Set aside about one cup of egg mixture for the final layer.
- Set aside about two cups of grated cheese for the final layer .
- Begin by covering the bottom of the pot with the egg mixture.
- Add one layer of pasta and dot with large pieces of fried meatballs.
- Sprinkle with a handful (or two) of pecorino.
- Add a couple of ladles of egg & cheese mixture.
- Cover with a layer of Tuma.
- Continue layering until pot is almost full. We like to stop with a layer of the Tuma.
- Mix the eggs and 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.
- Let stand to settle ingredients.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Before baking, carefully pour the beef broth along the outside edge of the Taganu and allow to soak in.
- Place the Taganu on a baking sheet in the oven should the mixture overflow the pot.
- Bake 1 ½ to 2 hours or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let Stand to set.
Taganu can be eaten hot from the oven (our favorite way) or room temperature.