Well if Lockdown is getting us all to ‘make do’ in the kitchen and to ‘not waste’, it’s also given us time to try out new things. And I’ve been looking at the recipe for taralli in Gino D’Acampo’s Islands in the Sun book for ages, thinking, ‘I must make those some time.’
These little snacks, a kind of small bread stick rolled into a circle, are a family favourite. Gino calls them Tarallini Sardi – Sardinian taralli – but I’ve always thought they came from Puglia in the heel of Italy, and that’s where the ones I usually buy come from. Wherever … it’s generally agreed they’re a southern Italy snack.
The reason I wanted to try making them is they’re not only a family favourite, we’ve all become addicted to them. I buy them from Corto Italian Deli in Twickenham. Such is the family addiction that two or three summers ago we had a ‘taralli tasting’ in my garden with drinks before lunch. I bought some from Corto and two other lots from elsewhere. Corto’s won!
My little grandsons love them and I always think that’s much healthier than sweet biscuits. They’ll ask for them when they come to my house and my daughter Nicola, who lives in Worcestershire, told me the other day that while on a work call in the kitchen (such is Lockdown life), her 20-month old, Rufus, seeing his mother distracted, opened a drawer in the kitchen units to help himself to a pack of taralli. When I messaged her today that I was making taralli, she messaged back that it would be ‘a family landmark’!
I know that one of the reasons I put off making them is because they need a bit of time. Apart from making the bread-like dough and allowing for rising time, you have to roll out and shape 40 little taralli, then cook them first in boiling water (like pretzels and bagels), drain them, and then bake them in the oven for about 30-40 minutes.
The mood took me this morning. I had semola – the kind of semolina flour Gino recommends using, and popular in the south of Italy – as well as some fresh yeast, which I got from Corto the other day. Gino makes the plain, classico, version but I opted to add fennel seeds – semi di finocchio – as that’s our favourite flavour. Once I got going I decided it was quite fun to be doing this and excitedly shared the various steps with the family via WhatsApp.
Taralli ai Semi di Finocchio – makes 40
- 200g semola (or ’00’ flour or strong bread flour)
- 200g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- a good grinding of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 15g fresh yeast (or use 7g dried and follow instructions on pack)
- 250ml lukewarm water
- 7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Put the semola into a big bowl and sift in the plain flour. Add the salt, black pepper and fennel seeds.
Mix the yeast with the warm water and add to the flour mixture with the olive oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon and when it all comes together, gather into a ball and the knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes.
Put the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with a tea towel or clingfilm and leave for about an hour or until doubled in size. Knead for another 5 minutes. Then divide the dough into four pieces.
Roll out each ball of dough into a long ‘sausage’ shape – about 2cm in diameter. Then cut into 10 pieces of about 8cm length. Shape each piece into a little ring.
Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready and preheat the oven to 190C/170 Fan/Gas 5.
Put the first 10 rings of dough into the boiling water. Gino’s instructions – and other recipes I looked at – talk about boiling until they rise to the top; Gino says about 5 minutes. However, mine came up pretty much immediately so I left them to boil for just a minute or two then removed with a slotted spoon onto kitchen towel to dry. I then did the rest in three batches of 10 taralli.
Transfer the drained dough rings onto 2 baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper. Put them in the preheated oven and after 10 minutes lower the temperature to 150C/130 Fan/Gas 2 and cook for another 30-40 minutes.
I have to say mine did take longer than Gino’s 30 minutes; I think in the end more like 50 minutes to get a nice light golden brown colour. Then I transferred to a cooling rack.
Once cool you can store in jars and keep for a week. However, if you have a family like mine, there’s no chance they’ll last that long …
If the family were all here for a meal, I’d tip them into a basket for a snack to go with drinks before our meal.
I was really happy with how they turned out. They were slightly chewy rather than dry and crisp all through, as I’m used to – although Nicola said she remembered us having some chewy ones one time which she liked. But they are crisp on the outside and – most importantly – wonderfully delicious! The semola gives a lovely flavour and of course the olive oil adds a gorgeous richness too. And we love the taste of fennel seeds in them, but you could bake without, or maybe add chilli flakes or another seasoning that takes your fancy.
These will definitely be on the menu the next time the family can all get together!