When traveling through Puglia, the “heel of the boot” of Italy, food is everywhere. Beneath majestic olive trees, there are fields of red earth planted with vegetables, and the night air smells like celery. Long expanses of wheat fields produce the local flour used in excellent crusty bread, and then there are the raucous fish markets, teeming with wriggling sea creatures. And we haven’t begun to get to the exquisitely creamy burrata cheese, the oh-so-sweet tomatoes, or the heady Primitivo wine, thus named because it describes your ability to make a sentence after a few glasses.
On one occasion, while traveling through Puglia with friends, we stopped in a bar in Martina Franca to have an aperitivo, and the waiter asked if we wanted stuzzichini – appetizer snacks – with our drinks. When we said yes, out came bowls of soft bocconcini of mozzarella, plump green olives, oven-baked black olives flecked with hot pepper, bits of salami, tiny one-bite pizzette, pickled lampascioni, sun-dried tomatoes, and crunchy taralli, spiced with fennel seeds and black pepper.
In other words, a meal for most people. When we commented to the waiter about how this could suffice as dinner, he laughed and said, “Only if you aren’t pugliese.” And so, wanting to fit in with the locals, we headed off to dinner. We found more taralli in the breadbasket at dinner, and they became our addiction during the trip.
Learning to make taralli will just be one of the many things we’ll be doing on our Pleasures of Puglia culinary tour, but since that is months away, I decided to make a batch at home. You’ll find my complete taralli recipe at the end of this post, but here are the basics:
Taralli are quite simple to make, with an unleavened dough of flour, salt, extra-virgin olive oil, and white wine. You can leave the dough plain or spice it with fennel seeds or cracked black pepper.
Take walnut-sized pieces of dough and shape into thin ropes about 5 inches (10 cm) long, then bring the ends together to form a ring. It’s okay if they look like a teardrop.
Next, the rings are briefly cooked in a pot of boiling water until they float to the surface, then removed with a slotted spoon and left to cool and dry on a clean cloth.
Place the taralli on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until the taralli are golden brown. Cool on a rack and serve with an aperitivo – drink the rest of that white wine you used to make the dough – or fill a breadbasket and serve at dinner.
Read more about what we’ll be doing on our Pleasures of Puglia tour.
TRADITIONAL TARALLI RECIPE FROM PUGLIA
Prep Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Yield: About 100 taralli
Serving Size: Unlimited!
- 4 cups (1 lb, 500 grams) flour
- 1 tsp (10 grams) salt
- 2/3 cup (150 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup (200 ml) dry white wine
- optional spices:
- 1-2 tsp fennel seeds or cracked black pepper
- In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt.
- Add the oil and wine, and mix with a fork until the dough forms into a rough mass.
- Dump the dough onto a wooden board and knead it for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth.
- If you want to add any optional spices, knead them into the dough (or divide the dough and add spice to ½ of the dough) – knead well to distribute the spice.
- Cover the dough and let it rest, along with your arms, for 15-30 minutes.
- Pinch walnut-sized pieces of dough, roll first between your hands, and then against the wooden cutting board, so that the dough forms a thin rope, about ½ inch (1 cm) in diameter and 4” long (10 cm).
- Shape each rope into a ring, and seal the edges together by pressing lightly, then set aside the taralli rings on a wooden board and cover with a towel.
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil.
- Put 6-10 of the taralli into the boiling water, and when they float to the surface – this will only take 30-60 seconds – remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a cloth to dry and cool.
- Tip: Try not to plop one tarallo on top of another when dropping them into the pot, and if they stick to the bottom, give them a gentle nudge with the slotted spoon
- Put the cooled taralli on baking sheets and bake in a preheated oven at 375°F (200°C) for about 25 minutes, until golden.
- Remove and cool on racks.
- Store in a closed container to keep them crisp, and serve with an aperitivo – they are the a nice accompaniment for the rest of that dry white wine – or pile them into a breadbasket at dinner.