"A recipe has no soul. You, the cook, must bring soul to the recipe."
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"They're like Italian pretzels!"A phrase that my non-italian father uses each time he decides to share a bag of freshly-made taralli.
To be honest, that's probably the best way to describe these incredibly crunchy rings. One crunchy bite after the next, any taste tester will realize that these treats are highly addictive, just like a pretzel!
Update: I recently learned that April is #NationalPretzelMonth, so this is also a great Italian spin on a pretzel!
To be clear, there are different kinds of taralli. Some are made to sweet where others are savoury. Often taralli are baked, rather than boiled then baked, buuuuut I think the extra steps that my Nonna takes really make all the difference.
Nonna Carmela's taralli are crunchy like crackers and savoury beyond belief. They are the perfect snack food!
My Nonna Carmela has been making taralli since she was a elected chef of the household as a child, back in Roseto. I've learned that it's not an exact science. In fact, there really isn't even a reipe that my Nonna follows.
She'll simply adjust the amount of flour or eggs depending on how many batches she'd like to make that day. If the dough looks a little drier than usual, she'll add another drizzle of olive oil.
That said, this recipe is not at all finicky. You have Nonna Carmela's permission to add more of (or subtract!) an ingredient based on your culinary judgement.
And don't worry, even if they aren't perfectly round or unhook during baking. Trust me, no one cares about appearance when the taralli taste this good.
I think I've probably eaten over a million taralli, but none that compare to my Nonna's.
I remember those magical days in the basement kitchen with Nonna. The pungent smell of yeast, the gentle hum of the lime green refrigerator, and the tic-ticking of the rooster shaped timer above the stove.
We'd start early in the morning as there would usually be lots of baking to be done that day in preparation for a big party or festival. I have to admit my Nonna was (and still is) notorious for her baked goods!
Anyways, we'd hunkered down as soon as I would arrive at her house. Soon she'd be instructing me to get eggs out of their cardboard carton and beer bottles from the cantina. I'd watch her in pure awe as she'd make a well in the middle of a flour pile, beating eggs rapidly without them spilling over and onto the table. It was stupefying!
Then before I could realize what was happening next, Nonna would be kneading the dough, prepping it for my little hands to try. When it was finally time to shape the taralli, she'd always make me a dough doll, complete with a bag and hat and whatever other accessory seemed fitting! Not only was Nonna a chef, she was also a stylist!
When we had finally made about ten giant Ziplock bags, the work for the day had ended. I'd always feel so tired, wanting nothing more than to take a nap, but a laborious day in the kitchen never seemed to faze Nonna. She'd simply take off her white linen apron and make herself a chamomile tea, grinning as I'd moan about all the work we'd done.
Though time has passed and the role of taralli-maker has been passed down to me, I am so grateful that I was able to learn from the best baker/chef/Nonna ever!
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Taralli di Nonna Carmela
* Makes lots! *
• 6 eggs
• 2 tablespoons salt
• 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
• 3 cups olive oil
• 12 cups flour
• 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
• 1 bottle beer
• ½ cup water
Mix the eggs, salt, and oil in the bowl until it is combined.
Pour the flour on a wooden board, making a hole in the centre. Add the eggs, fennel, and beer into the well, beating until smooth.
Begin incorporating the flour into the egg mixture until it is fully combined. If there is too much flour or it is dry, add a little water.
Knead the dough, adding the oil if necessary, until elastic.
Cut the dough into sections and let it rest in re-sealable bags for 30 minutes.
When the dough has risen, divide it into pieces.
Roll out small pieces of the dough into long strips, pressing the ends to form a ring.
Bring a pot of salt water to boil, adding the taralli. Let them boil until they float to the top of the water.
When they are boiled, remove them from the water and place them on a baking sheet. Cook the taralli at 425° degrees until golden brown.
Enjoy the crunch!