The crisp Italian treat is the perfect accompaniment to a chilled white wine.
Thousands and thousands (tens of thousands? millions?) of nonnas can’t be wrong.
They’re the ones rolling and shaping taralli in their cute little kitchens in Puglia ... or Sicily or Napoli or …. They work with quick, deft movements, talking about how easy they are to make. How good they taste. How they’re the perfect bite with a glass of cold white wine.
Taralli are a crispy ring-shaped Italian snack, made of flour, olive oil, salt, water and not much else. (But fennel or anise seed and black pepper are often added, to very good effect.) You’ve maybe seen them bundled up in cellophane bags and tucked in among other snacks at an Italian grocery. They’re akin to a crisp breadstick in texture, but not quite that. They’re hard to describe to the uninitiated. They’re not a cracker. Not a biscuit, using the British meaning, though they’re sometimes called that, because they’re usually twice cooked (the root meaning of that word).
The store-bought, usually imported, versions are quite good. But they’re so much better freshly made.
They are easy, like making cookies. I shrank from trying my mom’s recipe for years. I was afraid of it. Afraid her cryptic recipe, very short on details, would hide its secrets. And she’s 10 years gone, so she couldn’t help. But after consulting with my sister, who had made them often, I made it a project. They turned out beautifully.
Though many recipes boil the taralli before baking them, my mom’s does not. (Her recipe comes from her aunt; they were all from Campania, in southern Italy.) And it uses yeast. The dough is pretty oily, which makes for crisp taralli. It also means you won’t need to flour for rolling the taralli.
Taralli take on other flavors. Mix in a tablespoon or two of anise or fennel seed, if you like.
1 package (1¼ ounce) yeast
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105 to 110 degrees)
1 pound flour
2½ teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for sprinkling
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
Stir the yeast into ½ cup warm water in a small bowl until dissolved; allow to proof until foamy on top, 10 minutes.
Mix the flour, salt and pepper to taste in a stand mixer with the hook attachment on low speed just to combine. Add water and yeast mixture and the oil. Mix to combine, scraping down the inside of the bowl as needed. Turn mixer to medium; mix until dough comes together into a ball. If the dough is not coming together, you may need to add up to 2 more tablespoons of warm water.
Alternatively, mix in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.
Turn out the dough onto a dry wooden board; you won’t need to flour it. Knead until dough has a springy consistency, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and leave to rest in a warm place until nicely risen, about 1 hour. It will gain about 50% in volume.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Turn dough out onto a dry board. Flatten slightly with your hands. Using a bench scraper, section dough into 4 long portions. Cut those into 8 pieces each, about the size of a whole walnut. Roll a piece into a log about 3/8-inch wide and 12 inches long. Cut the log in half. Shape each log into a ring, twisting the ends into a loose knot (really, just turn the ends over each other). Transfer to a baking sheet, leaving a little room between them. They don’t expand much. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt. Continue with remaining dough.
Bake until nicely golden brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.
Note: The taralli keep in a covered container for a couple of weeks and freeze beautifully.
Makes 64 taralli.
Nutrition information per piece: 42 calories, 2 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 1 g protein, 75 mg sodium, 0 g fiber