Taralli Barese No. I ***
5 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/8 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar [to proof yeast]
1 packet traditional Brewer's yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast)
Olive oil for greasing containers to place the dough in overnight for resting
Olive oil for brushing tops of taralli
A large pot of water to boil taralli in
***For the ORIGINAL, TRADITIONAL recipe followed by Jerry Vessia's sister (Mrs. Portzia Vessia's) see Italy Revisited/Taralli/ "Taralli Barese No. II."
To activate the yeast:
o Warm up the 1 1/8 cup of water (Water should be warm, not hot).
o Take the pot of water off from the stove and stir in the sugar.
o Add the yeast to the warm water and then cover the container [to keep warm].
o Let the water rest for ten minutes. If after ten minutes the yeast has bubbled up, it is activated and can be used to make the tarallucci dough.
To make the tarallucci dough:
o Mix the flour, salt and fennel seeds together.
o Mix the wine with the warm water in which the yeast has been dissolved in.
o Add the solids to the liquids and work into a fine tarallucci dough. Knead for ten minutes. [N.B. If one is not using an electrical appliance to knead the dough one makes a mound with the flour on a wooden board and then makes a well in the flour and slowly incorporates the solids with the liquids. However, if one has a Kitchen Aid or its equivalent then one can mix the liquids in the bowl, and then slowly add the flour, first using the beaters to incorporate the dough, and then [after the 4th cup of flour] using the dough hooks.]
o Divide the dough into two portions and shape into balls.
o Using olive oil, grease two medium-sized containers with lids.
o Place the dough in the oiled containers and place the lids on them.
o Cover the containers with blankets. If the room is very cold, use more than one blanket (Eiderdowns work well).
o Let the dough rest for six to eight hours (or overnight).
To make the tarallucci:
o Remove the rested dough (It should have doubled in size and feel light and puffy) from one of the containers.
Shape into a log and place on a wooden board.
o Break off a piece of the log, about the size of half an orange, and roll it between your palms and fingers to form a rope about 8 inches long and 2 inches thick [One can also turn the dough into a rope on the wooden board but it is easier if one does it between the palms of one's hands, though obviously one can utilize both methods -- one can roll the dough on the wooden board and in between the palms of one's hands -- going from one to the other, depending on what works best].
o Cut the rope in half and then again roll the piece between your palms and fingers to form yet another rope about 4 to 6 inches long and 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick [Basically, one is stretching the dough, so that one gets more from less] -- the size of a thick bread stick. [N.B. If the dough is not stretching as it should be for whatever reason, then skip No. 3. Take a smaller portion of the dough, and roll it between the palms and fingers to form a rope. This will result in fewer number of tarallucci, but they should, nonetheless, be O.K. in the taste department.]
o Shape the ropes into double loops or "8s" [See picture].
o Place the tarallucci on a linen tablecloth and continue until all the dough is processed.
Cooking the tarallucci in boiling water
o Bring a large pot of water to boil.
o Place three or four tarallucci at a time in the boiling water and then remove with a slotted spoon as soon as they rise to the surface -- about a minute or less (Not more, or they will get soggy).
o Place the tarallucci on aluminum baking sheets to drain them or place them on a clean linen tablecloth [Do NOT use kitchen paper towels, as they will stick to the taralli and ruin them completely.]
o Let the tarallucci rest for about 5 minutes.
Baking the tarallucci
o Place the rack on the upper top half of the oven.
o Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes (The reason the oven is preheated is not only to get the right temperature, but also because the broiler comes on at the start and as one does not one to subject the containers in the oven to the broiler, one needs to wait for it to turn itself off).
o Brush the tops of the tarallucci with olive oil (Optional)
o Place the tarallucci on greased aluminum baking sheets or ones lined silicon baking mats (The baking sheets don't have to be made of aluminum but this material does seem to work better, as the bottom of the tarallucci don't cook as fast as with other types of material, thereby making it less likely that the bottoms will burn).
o Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until the tarallucci look golden brown. If the bottoms are cooking faster than the tops, flip them towards the last 10 minutes or so. (N.B. The longer the tarallucci cook the crispier they will get, but the longer they cook the bigger the risk they will burn -- so one has to keep a close eye on them.).
o Remove from oven and cool before serving.
When Gerry Vessia was growing up in the 1950s in the small town of Palle del Colle which is an hour's drive from Bari, Puglia, his mother made these bite-sized pretzel-shaped taralli frequently. Presently, he does not know the exact recipe, but he does know the ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, wine and fennel seeds. So Mary Melfi, a co-contributor, used the dough for regular-shaped "Taralli Baresi" to make the tarallucci di vino as they were called in Palle del Colle. They are more difficult to make than the regular-shaped taralli. They are also more difficult to cook -- the more pinches one makes in the dough, the harder it is to get a crunchy taralli. Nonetheless they are very tasty. The shape is unusual and so makes for a more interesting presentation..... N.B. Mrs. Portzia Vessia, Jerry's sister, came for a visit to Canada and gave her brother, the exact proportions for the recipe. See Version II. Photo: Mary Melfi.