Sunday, February 26, 2012
Taralli (Fennel Bread Rings)
Periodically my husband goes to a small town in Italy for work. I don't accompany him because the travel is longer than the stay and there are civilized rules about that (except in American business travel). Of course he returns waxing poetical about the dinner he had. Often he will call me from Italy to describe his meal in detail. He knows I am in Minnesota rethinking my travel rules.
But when he is sings praises of settling down after work with a glass of wine and these hard little pretzel-cracker rings - I didn't know what to think. I am the pretzel eater in this house. I am the cracker eater. And when he found a bag of Taralli when we were in Tuscany - I finally got the point. They're addictive. It's not like eating a pretzel (which is my salt lick). It's not like today's gussied-up crackers with rosemary, cracked pepper and cheese. It's not a burst of flavor. It's simple. Understated. And when you are reaching for your fifth one - you get the point.
It doesn't dazzle. It just is. No bells and whistles and although I served them with salami and cheese tonight - tomorrow Paul and I will read in the living room with a glass of wine and a small bowl of taralli and enjoy a quiet normalcy. A lovely settling in for the night.
It's quite perfect for a late winter's eve. I love fancy and excitement has its place. But it's the simple and repetitive motions of putting together the taralli and then sharing them that ushers in contentment.
Taralli (Fennel Bread Rings) Ingredients (from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Italy)
(Note: makes 6 dozen! Feel free to divide in half)
1-1/2 teaspoons (1 package) of active dry yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) warm water (105-115 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
2 tablespoons fennel seeds*
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
*If you feel a call to the more fanciful, these are also good using crackled black pepper, sea salt or freshly-grated Parmesan. (Instead or with the fennel - your call.)
And be warned - they do make a lot. Go to your Zen spot or freeze half the dough.
1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water.
2. In a large bowl, stir the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, fennel seeds and salt.
3. Add the yeast mixture, wine and oil. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes - until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a bowl.
4. Oil a large bowel and put dough into it - turning once so all is coated. Put plastic wrap on top of bowl and let it sit to rise in a draft-free spot. Let it rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
*Mine never did double - even after 2 hours - maybe my Minnesota kitchen is not warm enough - but the Taralli turned out fine... wonderful.... delicious.
5. Turn dough on to lightly floured surface. Divide into 8 equal pieces. Cover remaining dough as you work with one piece at a time.
6. Pinch off "grape-sized" pieces of dough. (Large grapes - not champagne grapes or you will be forming these until 2013.) Roll into a ball and then a 3-4 inch rope. Shape the dough into a ring - pinching the ends together to seal (some of mine... unsealed). Repeat. A lot.
7. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the dough rings - about 8 at a time and boil for one minute (they will rise to the top). Remove with a slotted spoon and let them drain. They should not touch.(They will stick together). I drained them on paper towels - but you need to remove them after about 30 seconds - or they will stick to the towels. Repeat until all are boiled.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the Taralli on a baking sheet. Cook for about 45 minutes (until browned.) Turn off oven and let Tarelli sit in oven with door slightly ajar for about ten minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely. They will keep in an airtight container for about two weeks.