Crusty Tagliatelle with Meat and Sausage

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This recipe pretty much had me at crusty pasta. But then it got even better. The top and bottom crispy layers of thin egg pasta noodles (tagliatelle) give way to a tender interior of soft noodles and beef and sausage—all unified by a broth-based sauce.

Besides pasta with crunch, I was particularly intrigued about the sausage (a poultry or beef version, of course), because my Sicilian dad often brought home fresh spicy Italian sausage (he was a butcher, so it was always fresh) to fry up in little balls and add to his tomato sauce. Those little sausage balls were sometimes hard to find in the chunky tomato sauce with all the other good stuff in it, but I made it my mission to sift them out first and savor the bites. They also gave the sauce just a little more kick and flavor. I saw the potential for that to happen in a different but good way with this dish—and the sausage indeed offers a delicious flavor contrast to the beef as well as a fond nod to my dad.

The original versions of this layered dish come from the Italian Jews. Although the versions vary some, the common elements are tagliatelle (or the smaller tagliolini), sausage, poultry fat, a meat-based sauce, a crusty top, and often pine nuts and raisins. It’s usually cooked in a round dish.

The Italian Jews especially make this for this week’s Torah reading, which covers the Israelites’ escape from Egypt across the parted Red Sea and Pharaoh’s failed attempt to catch them. That connection gives the dish one of its names, ruota di faraone, or Pharaoh’s wheel (hence the usual round shape), but it is also known simply as tagliolini colla croccia (crusty fettuccine).

For my version, I omitted the poultry fat (though I know schmaltz has its fans!), and aimed for a quicker sauce. That meant skipping using roasted meat juices (which would probably taste great) and also streamlining the meat sauce. Robust tomato sauces have their place—with spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, baked ziti. This called for a lighter touch, but I didn’t want to skimp on flavor, so I added red wine and spices to the mix, and used broth, onion, garlic, and just a few tablespoons of tomato paste to give it depth without making it too thick.

As for the fruit and nut layers, I must confess that I’m not usually fond of raisins in savory dishes, especially pasta dishes. So no raisins here—but the pine nuts did intrigue me. In fact, I was sure they would be great, so it was a rude surprise to discover their taste and texture simply didn’t play well with the pasta and meat during one of my trials. So no pine nuts, either.

Now, I was seriously obsessed with the crispy part of the recipe, and in my first test, not quite satisfied with the crispiness (or the lack thereof, I should say) on the bottom when using a baking dish. Switching to a hot cast-iron skillet helped the bottom pasta layer develop a nice crust. Plus the height of the sides of my pan were just right for holding all the pasta and meat and letting a little of that top layer lift above the sides and get plenty of exposure to the crust-producing heat.

Normally, you wouldn’t break long noodles, but here I do because when the long strands got crusty, they were difficult to serve. Gently crushing the pasta right before adding it to the boiling water to cook produced shorter noodles easier to spoon out with the meat filling.

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As you might guess, the flavor of the meat and sausage is key—there’s no heavy tomato sauce for it to hide behind. Get the best quality you can. I think the sausage tastes and integrates best when chopped rather than sliced or in bigger chunks, but it’s up to you, of course. And one of these days, I will try making my own sausage, which I think would be outstanding in this dish. But store-bought is very good and oh so convenient.

To give the dish a unifying warmth, I added red pepper flakes. A sprinkle of black pepper over the top layer of pasta gives a nice seasoning to the extra crunchy top bits. However, if you don’t like a little peppery heat or are using especially spicy sausage, well, use less of the red and black pepper (or none at all).

The recipe makes a generous amount, and leftovers taste great cold—even despite losing their crunch. Whether you think of this dish as celebrating an unlikely and miraculous escape or simply a warm and hearty baked meaty pasta dish with an unlikely crunch, it makes for a casual and fun winter dinner.

Crusty Tagliatelle with Meat and Sausage

Yield: About 8 servings (Meat)

Crusty Tagliatelle with Meat and Sausage

A crusty envelope of noodles gives way to tender pasta and a beef and sausage filling inside in this update of a classic Jewish-Italian dish. The light, slightly peppery sauce lets the richness of the thin egg noodles and flavors of beef and sausage shine. And when you spoon it out, the layers will collapse together so that every forkful offers contrasting textures and flavors. You’ll need an 8½- or 9-inch cast iron skillet for baking the assembled dish. If you can’t find tagliatelle, you can substitute fettuccine, though it’s usually a little thicker.

Ingredients

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 10 ounces spicy Italian-style poultry sausage (crumbled if soft or chopped if firm)
  • 1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 gloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine, such as Merlot (one 187ml bottle)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 16 ounces dried tagliatelle (thin egg pasta noodles)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start heating a large pot of salted water on the stove.
  2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to coat. Add beef, using a spatula or spoon to crumble it, and season with salt and pepper. After it begins to brown, stir in the sausage. Cook the beef and sausage to brown well. Remove to a bowl.
  3. Add onion and more oil if needed to the hot pan. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until softened, then add oregano, thyme, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic, and cook stirring constantly one more minute. Stir in wine, broth, and tomato paste and boil for 3 minutes. Remove 1/3 cup of the sauce and set aside. Then add the reserved meat, sausage, and any juices to the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes (the mixture will be thick). Taste and add salt or other seasonings if needed.
  4. About 5 minutes before the meat mixture is done, cook the pasta, gently crushing the tagliatelle bundles so the noodles break into smaller (about 2-inch) pieces as you drop them into the boiling water. Cook according to the package directions until just al dente. Drain and immediately toss with the reserved 1/3 cup of sauce.
  5. Lightly coat a 9-inch cast iron skillet with olive oil and heat on stovetop over high heat. When smoking hot, turn off the heat and add half the sauced noodles (they should sizzle when they contact the pan). Lightly press them down and even the layer. Evenly spread the meat mixture over top, and then cover with remaining tagliatelle, gently pressing down. Lightly brush the top of the pasta with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until nicely browned and crusty on top and bottom. Using a heavy-duty oven mitt, carefully remove the pan from oven. Let cool 10 minutes. Spoon servings right out of the pan.
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