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.


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.



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