serves: 30 taralli
The tarallo is a traditional Neapolitan bread, the dough for which is shaped into rings, then boiled briefly before being well-baked until crispy. You can think of taralli as a bread, roll or cracker—sort of like a very crunchy Italian bagel. Taralli are enjoyed with a piece of cheese; they are nice to take along on a picnic or fishing trip, teething children love to nibble on them and they are always present on the holiday table. They last for days without spoiling, and may be quickly “revived” by dunking them for a moment in soup or wine, or incorporated into a juicy tomato salad. There is also a richer version of taralli, made with lard and seasoned with crushed black pepper, which are topped with toasted almonds before baking.
2½ teaspoons dried yeast
1 cup dry white wine, warmed to body temperature
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons cracked fennel seeds
vegetable oil for the baking sheets
To crack the fennel seeds, roll over them with a heavy rolling pin or press them with the bottom of a small, heavy saucepan.
Stir the yeast and warmed wine together in a large bowl until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand until foaming a little, about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive oil, salt, fennel seed. Add as much of the flour as necessary until you have a rough dough, then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 to 7 minutes. You shouldn’t need to add more flour, as the olive oil should prevent the dough from sticking, but if you find the dough is sticking to your hands or the work surface, dust them lightly with flour.
Set the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to coat lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free area until the dough is puffy but not quite doubled in size, from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the dough and the temperature.
Break off a piece of dough the size of a walnut and roll it between your palms and fingers to form a rope that is about as thin as a pencil. Set the dough rope aside and repeat with the remaining dough. Cut each rope into pieces about 4 inches long and shape them into rings about 2 inches in diameter. Press the ends together very firmly to keep them from separating during cooking.
Set the rings on lightly oiled baking sheets, cover them with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until almost doubled, about1 hour.
When the dough rings are almost ready, preheat the oven to 350° F and fill a wide braising pan or pot halfway with water and bring to a boil.
Plunge as many of the risen taralli as will float freely into the boiling water. The taralli will sink or float, depending on the dough. If they sink, wait for them to rise to the surface, flip them over and cook for a minute. If the taralli, float, cook them one minute on each side. In either case, remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel-lined baking sheets and cool slightly.
Bake on lightly oiled baking sheets until deep golden brown and hard, 20 to 24 minutes.