Ask the internet what taralli are, and you’ll get a range of answers. Some will say it’s an Italian cookie, made around Easter. Others say it’s a cracker from southern Italy. Linguists will inform you that it’s a “toroidal Italian snack food.” Unless you’re a person who knows what “toroidal” means (in which case, brava), you’ll open another search tab to learn the delightful answer: “doughnut-shaped.”
Originally from Puglia, taralli are all of the above — crunchy little doughnut-shaped snacks, either sweet or savory, that are often served as stuzzichini, or appetizers, during aperitivo hour. The singular is “tarallo,” but no one in the history of taralli has eaten just one, so no real need to remember that.
When in Italy, especially in the south, check your restaurant’s bread basket and you’ll likely find some taralli. It’s said that Puglia’s agricultural pillars are wheat, wine, and olives, and all three star in this lovely little snack in the form of flour, olive oil, and local wine.
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Taralli can be as simple or complex as you wish, possibly also involving a bit of yeast leavening, or fennel seeds, black pepper, tomato, chili flakes, or sugar for flavor. Or more! Stop in a southern Italian grocery and you’ll find as many taralli flavors as there are types of potato chips in an American supermarket.
Savory taralli are the perfect addition to any snack situation, but especially your cheeseboard. Crackers are fine, but taralli are both prettier and tastier. The salty, satisfying crunch is perfectly pairable with just about any cheese, but especially your sturdy Italian favorites — think Parm, pecorino, fontina. If you want to get real Italian with your taralli, dunk some in your favorite wine while sitting on the couch.
While you can buy both plain and flavored taralli online, making your own is fairly simple and yields both delicious taralli and the satisfaction that comes from using leftover white wine for an excellent cause.
- 4 cups 00 flour (substitute all-purpose flour if you can’t find 00)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ¼ cups dry white wine
- Optional flavors, such as 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, chili flakes, or fennel seeds
- Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add oil and wine a bit at a time, gently mixing until all liquid is absorbed.
- Put dough onto a wooden board and knead until smooth, 5 to 7 minutes. (If using spices, knead them in as well to distribute.)
- Put dough into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in fridge for 30 minutes.
- When you’re ready to shape the taralli, remove the dough from the fridge. Using a sharp paring knife, cut about a ¼-ounce piece from the dough. With lightly wet fingers, roll first between your hands, and then against the wooden cutting board, so that the dough forms a thin rope, 3 to 4 inches long. Repeat this process with all the dough.
- Shape each rope into a ring and seal the edges together by twisting slightly like a twist tie. Set the rings aside and cover with a towel.
- Time to make the doughnuts! Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil.
- Prepare a baking sheet with a drying rack on top of it, and preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Put 5 to 10 taralli into the boiling water at a time, and cook until they naturally rise to the surface, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Remove each one with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a drying rack atop a baking sheet.
- Dry any water off the baking sheet. Put the sheet in the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden.
Remove and let cool completely.