This was the most EMOTIONAL recipe for me that the Sunday Slow Bakers have made yet. I grew up on taralli. (I don't remember a packaged cracker until I discovered Ritz in high school). I'm sure I must have been given these as teething biscuits. I buy taralli on every trip to Italy, and hoard them, until just before we are leaving to go back. I usually end up with a bag of stale, broken pieces. I don't care. I used to think I couldn't get more, and they were never as good as my memory of mom's. As you can see the freshness date on these expired in May '08.
About once a month, my mom and three aunts would get together at Aunt Annie's, and make taralli...HUNDREDS of them for each family to share. There were two big pots of water going on the stove, gallon bottles of wine that the uncles were "stealing" glasses of, the huge tin can of olive oil, and "taralli flour" on the formica kitchen table. Each sister had their job: one kneaded and rolled dough (no Kitchen Aid in sight), they took turns boiling and filling stacks of cookie sheets to go into ovens in the kitchen and the "summer kitchen" in the renovated garage. We would bring home huge tupperware containers of the taralli to our house until it was time to make them again. They were a daily snack for me, and ALWAYS served after dinner with wine and fruit at my aunts' houses.
I vaguely remembered that they seemed "complicated", and have not thought of tracking down a recipe to try them myself. During our visit to Puglia in 2003, I was given a regional cookbook with a recipe (in Italian). I was able to discern the ingredients and amounts, but the directions were vague at best. ("Boil until a fava bean floats".)
Gina's recipe from Dolce Italiano is like a smell and taste memory come true. As the scent from the first batch filled my kitchen, I felt 9 years old. I literally cried with the first taste. I LOVE these taralli. I just don't even have words.
4 1/2 c. "00" flour
2 T. kosher salt
1 T. granulated sugar
2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
2 T. finely chopped oregano (I used Rosemary)
1 c. plus 2 T dry white wine
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
* for half the dough I added 1 T. freshly ground black pepper and 2 T. grated Grana Padano
additional flour for dusting the bowl and kneading
I divided my dough into two pieces before adding the herbs and red pepper flakes.
I then added red pepper flakes and fresh rosemary to half and fresh cracked black pepper and grana padano to the other half. Mom made hers with "finnoccio" (fennel seed). You can experiment with herbs.
Place flour, 1 T. salt, sugar, herbs OR pepper and grated cheese into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add wine and oil, and beat to make a smooth dough. Continue beating for about three minutes for a firm and velvety dough.
Lightly brush a bowl with olive oil and sprinkle it generously with flour. Place dough in the bowl, and dust the top with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 2 hours. You can also refrigerate dough overnight in an airtight container, and bring it to room temperature before proceeding.
Preheat oven to 375 with rack in center of oven.
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Season with 1 T. salt. Prepare two baking sheets by brushing them lightly with olive oil. Have paper towels ready to drain taralli as they come out of the water.
Turn the dough onto a floured board or counter, and knead it lightly. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, leaving 3 pieces in the bowl, covered, while you work with the fourth piece. Roll dough into a long rope, and cut into 4-6 pieces. Roll each piece into a ring, and press together, or make a small "knot" at the top.
Working in batches of 4 taralli at a time, drop rings into simmering water. They will sink, and then rise to the surface. Let them float for 30-45 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon or Chinese skimmer. Place boiled taralli on paper towels to drain. Then transfer them to prepared baking sheets, until all your taralli have been boiled. Bake taralli for 25-40 minutes until they are golden. (My oven took about 40 min.) Let cool on a rack. Store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks. Pour yourself a nice glass of vino and enjoy!
The dough rested, and I tried to imagine how much 00 flour I will be able to fit in my luggage on our return from Italy in September. I am almost out!
It was fun to watch the 'little guys" float to the top.
Later, Brad became my floater/timer, while I rolled out more.
My anticipation was almost overwhelming when I put them in the oven.
I called Brad in for the taste test. We ate one warm and the tears started. The texture and taste are exactly what they should be. It was a moment of many feelings. Bittersweet joy, wonder, and much gratitude to Gina.
I served the first batch to Fiona and Steve with wine that night. Ego stole one off my napkin. This recipe is a TREASURE to me.