Tarallini: A Unique Italian Snack
December Has Hit With Full Force
As I write this, we have entered into a new month, and to quote Sammy Cahn:
Oh, the weather outside is frightful."
When you are (the unofficial) Carb Diva and faced with a long day of nothing to do (weeding the garden will have to wait . . . until spring), well, you bake, of course. And I can't think of anything better to fill a long afternoon than making a batch of tarallini.
If you haven’t been to southern Italy, the name “tarallini” might be new to you. Tarallini are a popular snack cracker in that part of the world, but unlike other crackers they are not rolled flat and baked. Tarallini are little rings of dough that are briefly boiled and then baked until crisp.
Actually boiling a cracker or “bread” is not all that uncommon. Bagels, pretzels and hard breadsticks all begin with a baptism in a simmering pot of water.
Seems a little off, doesn’t it? I mean, when we bake bread we are usually placing a wet slab of dough into a hot oven to remove the water, right? But the boiling of breads before baking creates a distinctive exterior—it sets a crust that gives these memorable breads their chewy texture.
Are You Ready for a Brief History Lesson?
If you have read my previous articles, you know that I love exploring the history of food. Today I promise to keep this lesson short and sweet.
The history of “boiled bread” goes back a few centuries—at least six (and maybe more). Maria Balinska wrote of the advent of the bagel in her book The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread. Barlinska thinks the original recipe came to Poland from Germany as part of a migration during the 14th century.
From Germany to Poland
German immigrants were brought to Poland to help provide people-power to stimulate the economy, and they brought with them pretzels. There is a theory that the pretzel morphed into a round roll with a hole in the middle. But Balinska has another theory:
"17th-century Poland was the breadbasket of Europe, and King Jan Sobieski was the first king not to confirm the decree of 1496 limiting the production of white bread and obwarzanek (bagellike rolls whose name derives from a word meaning "to parboil") to the Krakow bakers guild. This meant that Jews could finally bake bread within the confines of the city walls. Furthermore, when Sobieski saved Austria from the Turkish invaders, a baker made a roll in the shape of the king's stirrup and called it a beugel (the Austrian word for stirrup)."
However, I believe that the bagel has survived the centuries not because of its heroic legend, but because it lasts longer than freshly baked bread. The boiling gives the roll a crunchy, protective crust.
So Why Am I Talking About Tarallini?
I could have written about pretzels or bagels, but tarallini have a special place in my heart. They remind me of my sister, and they remind me of Italy.
My sister Carol now lives back in the United States, but for 15 years she lived in Italy. On one of my visits with her, we abandoned the flurry of travel and touristy things to spend a relaxing afternoon in her apartment—sipping wine, eating cheese and prosciutto, and nibbling tarallini. Tarallini—small, unsweetened biscuit rings that are commonly made in Gambatesa, southern Italy.
Tarallini are made in an unusual way; rings of dough are boiled in water before baking. There is no yeast or leavening in the dough and they are not really crisp. In fact, they seem almost stale—but the taste is amazing, and I'm sure you will fall in love with them as I did.
(By the way, this recipe makes a LOT of tarallini. If you want to halve the recipe, simply break the 1 egg into a cup, beat, and divide in half. Use just one-half of the egg in this recipe and set the other half aside to use later, or discard.)
Carb Diva's Tarallini al Pepe
- 8 to 10 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/3 cups dry white wine or vermouth
- 1 1/3 cups olive oil
- 1 egg
- Sift together 8 cups of flour, salt, and pepper in large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the wine, oil, and egg. Mix with your hands until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, adding more flour if the dough is too sticky, and a little water if it is too dry. Knead well, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. Let rest for 15 minutes.
- While the dough is resting fill a large, deep pot with water; turn on the heat and bring to a boil.
- To shape the tarillini, break off a small piece of dough, a ball about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. On a smooth, flat, unfloured surface, roll the dough under your palm and fingers to form a "rope" about 7 inches long. Pinch the ends together to form a ring. When all the rings are formed, drop them a few at a time into the boiling water. After about a minute they will begin to rise to the surface. Let them hover at the surface for a moment and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the boiled tarallini on a lint-free kitchen towel and let them rest and dry out for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Bake the tarallini on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. (They can be placed close together but not touching). Keep a close eye on them after the first 10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
You can flavor your tarallini in many ways. The recipe I have provided is seasoned with black pepper. Other popular choices are:
- chopped fresh rosemary
- dried oregano
- fennel seeds
- sesame seeds
Or, you can leave them plain.
How to Serve Tarallini
Of course, you can simply eat them out of the bag (if you purchased them) or warm from the baking sheet (if you made your own). But why not use this unique treat in a special way?
My favorite way of eating tarallini is with a few slices of prosciutto and some flavorful Italian cheese.
After your tarallini are baked and cooled, prepare a glaze
- 400 grams of powdered sugar (approximately 3 1/2 cups)
- 2 egg whites
- In a bowl put the egg whites, mix vigorously with a wooden spoon and add, a little at a time, the sieved sugar to obtain a smooth cream.
- Take the tarallini, dip them in the icing and turn them until they are well covered then remove them from the bowl and put them to dry on a wire rack until the glaze has hardened.
- You may decorate with sprinkles as shown in the photo above.
This is a popular Easter treat in Italy, but for the Christmas holidays, you could change the color of the sprinkles to red and green, or even edible glitter.
Or, Take a Dip
Tarallini also lend themselves to being the perfect "cracker" for a dip. Warmed marinara is wonderful; so is basil pesto. Sour cream with chives is refreshing, or try this lightened version of spinach artichoke dip.
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1 (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
- 1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, sour cream, one-half of the Parmesan, and the next 6 ingredients (through spinach) in a large bowl; stir until well blended.
- Spoon mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.
- Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.
- Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.
Do you think you might try to bake your own tarallini?
© 2015 Linda Lum