Tarallini, a philosophical reflection

In this quarantined world, where yeast and flour seem to have disappeared from every supermarket and, when you finally find them, you and a bunch of other customers have to fight over them as Dwight and Andy fought over Michael’s love, recipes without (or with limited amount of) these sacred goods are more than welcome. Since I want to do my part in this process of culinary pacifism, there you go with one of my favorite snacks and its history.

The official name of these little babies is taralli. Taralli were born in Italy (of course), and more specifically in Naples. Their etymology is quite obscure but it seems that the name originated from the Greek word doratos, which means “sort of bread”. This would actually make a lot of sense because, back in the days, when everything had a second life and nothing was thrown away, bakers used to keep bread’s leftovers to make these twisted breadsticks. In Naples, they used to add ‘nzogna (pork fat), almonds and black pepper to the dough and then create these typical tasty rings. Taralli became very popular and they spread outside Naples across the neighboring regions, and, in particular, in Puglia. There they were given another name, tarallini (which literally means “small taralli”) because of their smaller size. Tarallini also had a slightly different dough, made with flour, dry white wine, extra-virgin olive oil, water, salt, pepper and different spices, and sometimes they also had a sweet version (with chocolate mostly).

Notwithstanding their different names, taralli and tarallini had a very similar fate. Because of their low cost, they became extremely popular. It became very common in the osterie (taverns, basically) to consume them together with cheap wine (someone also says sea water, but this doesn’t sound very tasty, so no thanks). After a few glasses of wine, taverns could become quite belligerent places. Luckily, these golden bread rings were there to save the day, and everything was solved a tarallucci e vino, so by eating taralli and drinking wine, as the saying goes. Maybe because Italians never got out of the loop “a lot of wine, fights, tarallini and more wine, fights…”, or maybe just because they are simply delicious, taralli and tarallini are still consumed by Italians at one of their favorite moments of the day, the aperitivo (I’m not going to translate this, you just have to experience it), with white wine, beer or, even better, a glass of Spritz.  

Taralli are the perfect snack for this quarantine. They are easy and quick to make, they are filling, crunchy and fragrant, they can be made with ingredients you have at home for sure, and you can use the same white wine you are going to drink at your aperitivo.

I made tarallini, and in my version I used whole grain flour (I wish I could say that there are some good-and-healthy reasons for this, but it’s just the only one I could find) and I decided to add rosemary. But you can use normal flour and leave the rosemary out if you don’t like it (or use other spices, like oregano or fennel seeds, chili pepper powder, chopped olives or onions).

Ingredients [fig.1]:

  • 250 gr flour
  • 70 gr extra-virgin olive oil
  • 50 gr dry white wine
  • 50 gr water
  • 6-7 gr salt
  • Black pepper
  • Rosemary
Figure 1

First, mix the liquids together. Then slowly add the liquids to the flour and mix for a couple of minutes (you can use a fork at the beginning but then use your hands to knead), and then add the salt, pepper, rosemary. Keep kneading until you have uniform mixture, not too dry but not sticky either. Form a ball and leave it to rest for an hour (it’s better to leave it in a bowl and cover it with a plate) [fig.2].

Figure 2

After an hour, take your dough and cut it in 8 slices [fig.3]. Then take one slice and a time, and form small lines that you will close to create the form of a ring (in my case, I obtained 4 lines from every slice which I twisted to create a tarallino) [fig.4].

Figure 3
figure 4

In the meanwhile, take a pot, fill it with water and put it on the stove until it boils. Then put 4 or 5 tarallini at a time in the boiling water and leave them there until they come to the surface [fig. 5 and 6]. Do the same with all the other tarallini. When you are done, put the boiled tarallini on a tray or a cutting board (no paper, I’ve made this mistake already) and leave them there for a couple of hours to dry (just make sure to flip them halfway through so they can dry on both sides) [fig.7].

Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7

Preheat the oven at 200°C, put the tarallini on a tray and then in the oven for approximately 30 minutes (or until they crunchy and kinda golden).

Final touch: put them in a bowl, take a glass of the wine you opened for the recipe, go on your terrace (or your room), video call a friend and have an aperitivo together!

FIgure 8

Besides being tasty, do tarallini have a philosophical take home message? OF COURSE.

As you might have seen from the pictures, I have a natural and rare talent for making tarallini that look like little excrements (whole grain flour is indeed partially responsible). If one was to stop at their appearance and decide, because of their cruddy look, not to try them, they would definitely miss out. Maybe tarallini teach us the oldest lesson of all, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Or maybe they remind us of another pearl of wisdom, that good things can come out of crappy situations. After all, as an Italian singer would say, flowers grow from manure.