I was invited to spend Sunday morning at my Italian relative’s home. I'm not related to this family by blood, but by a long history of friendship between our families that has spanned over half a century. They were going to make taralli, and asked me to join them. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to witness this old Italian tradition.
Taralli is a cross between a pretzel, a cookie, and a biscuit. It was first introduced many centuries ago in the Puglia Region of Italy. It gets it’s unique flavor from a combination of flour, white wine, olive oil, and anise or fennel seeds.
Making taralli is not an easy undertaking. It takes time, patience, experience, and the cooperation of many hands working together. Great-grandpa Nick was the head chef and did the vast majority of the work, but the rest of the family was quick to jump in to help when needed, or to banter back and forth to keep things moving along.
There seemed to be an unspoken understanding in the kitchen while Nick worked… he was teaching his family how to carry on this beautiful cultural tradition. While watching this labor of love, I realized I was witnessing the passing of the torch. I think everyone sensed it because even amid all the ribbing, there was a reverence and respect for Nick, the tradition, the knowledge, and the job at hand. It was beautiful, and I feel blessed to have witnessed it.
2 tsp. dried yeast 1/2 cup white wine, warmed 1/2 cup warm water 1/2 tsp. sugar 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 5 cups LaPina flour 1 Tbsp. crushed anise (or fennel) 2 tsp. salt
Stir yeast and ½ tsp. sugar into ¾ cup warm water (110 degrees) and let stand until dissolved. Stir to mix.
In a large bowl stir together flour, crushed anise, and salt. Add remaining water, wine, oil and yeast mixture and stir until soft dough is formed. Place on a floured surface and knead until elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.
Divide dough into small pieces. Roll a piece into a long strip, about the thickness of your middle finger. Cut into lengths of 7-inches and cross the 2 ends over and press loop together gently with a quick tap. The taralli should be in the shape of the pink breast cancer bow.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover oven racks with chicken-wire to prevent taralli from falling through racks. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, over medium high heat. Add the taralli, a few at a time. When they rise to the top, remove with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean counter or cookie sheet to dry slightly. Repeat with rest of taralli. After 10-15 minutes, turn the taralli over on dry surface to allow them to dry on the other side.
Place boiled and dry taralli on chicken-wire covered oven rack and place in preheated 375 degree oven. Bake until golden and crisp, about 40 minutes.
Let them cool gradually. Serve at room temp.
MAKES ABOUT 4 DOZEN
Taralli is great when served with a salad or soup. But the flavor of taralli is at it's absolute peak when paired with a glass of pinot grigio and shared with friends that feel like family.