Tallerina is retro comfort at its best

  • Tallerina is a casserole of ground beef, cheese, egg noodles, black olives, corn and tomatoes, all layered in a pan and cooked in the oven or on the stove.

    Tallerina is a casserole of ground beef, cheese, egg noodles, black olives, corn and tomatoes, all layered in a pan and cooked in the oven or on the stove. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

 
Posted2/17/2021 6:00 AM

My birthday is tomorrow, and this year I am craving a dinner that reminds me of my childhood, a connection to a more carefree time, and something my mom would make. As I looked through the three-ring binder of my mom's recipes, recipes she typed with her old manual Smith-Corona typewriter, I found just what I was looking for, Tallerina.

Ground beef, cheese, egg noodles, black olives, corn and tomatoes all layered in a pan and cooked on top of the stove or in the oven, resulting in what I have learned is a favorite retro meal of many.

 

I am curious about food and recipes, where they come from, who created them, and if there was a reason why? So, I set out to figure out the origins of my beloved Tallerina and found slightly different versions of my mom's recipe.

In an Internet search, one person said the Nebraskan version contained tomato soup instead of diced tomatoes, and another commented they used cream-style corn instead of corn kernels. Some even included cream of mushroom soup. Another mentioned it was a favorite their grandma used to make for them as a child, which she had first made in her high school home economics class. Another interesting comment said the recipe dated back to 1943 and was served to her husband while in the service and stationed in California before being sent overseas.

Then there were the slightly different names; Tallerina, Tallerine, Tallarene George, Talerini, Beef Noodle Casserole, but no matter the slight differences in the recipe or name, the consensus from all who wrote about it was it was one of their favorites.

It seems there may be a reason for the name: when I searched the Internet for the meaning of the word Tallerine, I discovered it means compassion, creativity, reliability, generosity and love of domestic life. Perhaps this is one reason so many have an emotional and nostalgic connection to this recipe?

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While this may be true, in the end, it really tastes good. My mom's version doesn't contain creamed soup, but I can imagine adding something a little creamy to help hold it all together would be a nice addition. Some of the recipes didn't worry about maintaining layers either, combining all ingredients in a bowl before baking instead; I can see that adjustment too. Personally, I like to add a little extra corn, as I like the texture and slight sweetness it adds.

Do you have a version of this recipe, sort of a homemade version of Hamburger Helper? If not, feel free to make changes in this recipe to make it your own, perhaps by substituting ground turkey?

When considering changes to the recipe, you may want to keep in mind the following: this recipe has layers of flavor, both in its preparation and physically, which helps its final balance, so omitting an ingredient like garlic or onions will change the way the ground beef tastes. Olives, and their juice, provide salt to this recipe, so if you omit the olives, you may want to consider adding salt in another way.

This is a simple recipe, and some like to "jazz it up" by adding herbs to the ground beef, substituting jalapenos for the green bell pepper, and in the case of my husband, a sprinkle of hot sauce over the mixture when on his dinner plate. According to my friend Ann's 1968 Houston Junior League Cookbook, you can even make it "company ready" by adding Swiss cheese!

So, try the original recipe first, and then add your own twist if you'd like, and if you are able, join me in serving it tomorrow, as I enjoy this as part of my birthday dinner.

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

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