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Taralli are a type of baked Italian snack, very similar to a pretzel or circular biscuit. Shaped into circles or ovals, they are boiled, then baked. The dough is made with olive oil and white wine and has no leavening in it. Plain taralli are the most traditional but they are also made with a variety of added ingredients and flavorings. In shape and baking methods they resemble miniature bagels, but the lack of leavening means they are more crunchy than chewy and soft.
Italian taralli are made from 00 flour, a type of flour ground to a powder as fine as talc. It has a mellow flavor and makes very supple dough that yields a tender baked product. The most comparable North American flour is all-purpose, or a mixture of cake and all-purpose flours. Finely ground flour, and the combination of boiling and baking, give taralli a unique combination of silky and crisp textures.
There are very few ingredients in the basic recipe: flour, olive oil, dry white wine and salt. The dough is soft and relatively wet compared with most yeast doughs. After kneading it is allowed to rest, then rolled into miniature ropes. The ends of these are crossed to make circles, ovals or a conventional pretzel shape with protruding ends.
A few rings at a time are dropped into boiling water and then removed when they bob to the surface. Some cooks salt the water, which makes the final product saltier. After drying, the taralli are baked in a hot oven, usually 350 to 450 degrees F (about 177 to 232 degrees C) for 30 to 40 minutes. The finished product is golden-brown and crunchy.
Taralli originated in southern Italy but are increasingly available in other regions and even internationally. Many variations are now available, the most common of which is the addition of fennel seed, which gives them an anise flavor. Other possibilities include sesame seeds, chili powder, rosemary, dried tomato, oregano, basil, dried onion flakes or crushed red pepper. More unusual are sweet variations which may include cinnamon, raisins or nuts in the dough.
As a snack, taralli are often served by themselves, but they also make a good accompaniment to a variety of wines. Sliced cheeses and dry salami are a good match with their flavor and texture. Properly made taralli can be stored for long periods of time and are suitable for long distance shipping.
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