Corn Pasta Squares with Beef and Mushroom Ragù

Pasta Squares, Beef and Mushroom Ragù, italian culture, italian heritage, italian american, italian news, italian traditions

Corn Pasta Squares with Beef and Mushroom Ragù

These little pasta squares, known as tacconi, hail from Italy’s Mezzogiorno, and are particularly well known in Molise and Abruzzo.  Toothsome and with plenty of corn flavor, they are made with a blend of finely ground wheat and corn flours, along with eggs and water.  Traditionally cut with a straight edge, either a knife or a rolling pastry cutter, some cooks elect to dress them up a bit by cutting them with a fluted rotello.  

 
These golden yellow patches are a brilliant match for my grandmother’s ragù di carne macinata e funghi porcini secchi, a delectably rich beef sauce enriched with earthy porcini.  The mushrooms enhance the flavor of the dark ragù, and the corn sweetens the fragrant sauce, rounding out the entire dish.  Next time the weather outside is frightful, try some corn pasta and sumptuous beef ragù for supper.  
 
Ragù of Beef with Dried Porcini
 

 

 
1 stalk celery, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 large carrot, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 small red onion, quartered
10 sprigs of Italian parsley
½  cup olive oil
18 ounces of ground chuck, preferably ground at home
¾ ounce dried porcini plus water to cover
1 cup Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
2 cups beef stock
24 ounces Passata (tomato puree)
1 clove of garlic, crushed
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano to serve
 
Make the ragù: Place the celery, carrot, red onion and the sprigs of parsley, torn from their stems, in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until well chopped and reduced to a pestata, a mixture of almost paste-like consistency.  Heat ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a 4-quart heavy bottom Dutch oven.  Add the pestata and a generous pinch of fine sea salt, adjusting the flame to medium-low.  Cook, stirring often, decreasing the heat if necessary, to prevent scorching, until well caramelized.
 
Meanwhile, place the dried porcini in a medium bowl and pour 1 cup of boiling water over them to reconstitute.  Set aside for 30 minutes. Strain the porcini, reserving the soaking water.  Transfer the drained porcini to a board and chop finely.  Set the chopped mushrooms and their soaking water aside, keeping them separate.
 
Add the ground beef and crushed garlic clove to the cooked vegetable mixture.  Cook, stirring often, until the meat is well browned, about 8 to 10 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula as it cooks.
 
Add the wine to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally. 
Add the Passato and beef stock.  Carefully add the mushroom soaking liquid, holding back the last bit which will contain grit from the mushrooms. Discard the gritty dregs.  Increase the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a very low simmer, and add the chopped mushrooms.
Cook over very low heat until thickened and dark, about 1½ hours.  Remove and discard the garlic clove.  Add freshly ground black pepper to taste, and salt, if desired.  This sauce may be kept, well covered, in the refrigerator for 3 days or frozen for 2 months.
 
Corn pasta squares
3 ounces (about ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons) finely ground corn flour
3 ounces (about ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons) 00 or all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons warm water
 
Combine the flours and place on a clean spianatoia (wooden work board) or counter.  Form a fontana, or well, by hollowing out a space in the center of the flour about the size of an orange.  Crack the eggs into the fontana, and add water.  With a fork lightly mix the eggs and water.  With each stroke of the fork, bring a bit of the flour into the egg mass, combining well, being careful to avoid creating lumps.  Once the mixture has come together into a shaggy mass, use a bench scraper to push it aside.  Scrape the spianatoia clean.  Lightly flour the spianatoia and return the dough to it, kneading until smooth, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Form the dough into a ball.  Wrap in plastic and set aside to rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
 
After the dough has rested, lightly flour the spianatoia with flour and roll the dough to 3-4mm thickness.  Cut the dough lengthwise into ¾ inch strips, and cut again crosswise at ¾ inch intervals to make ¾-inch squares. Separate the squares and place them on lightly floured lint-free towels.  Cover with a clean towel, and set aside to dry for 1 to 1 ½ hours.
 
Bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Salt the water liberally and add the corn pasta.  Cook about 15 to 17 minutes, depending on thickness.  Drain and toss briefly with about half of the hot ragù.  Serve topped with Parmigiano.
 
For a step by step lesson on tacconi, visit my web site at AdriBarrCrocetti.com

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