So it is nearly Christmas, just a week away from today. There are presents under the tree though there are still more to buy (and to bake). The weather in Melbourne to date hasn’t been too stifling (apart from two extreme spells I can think of), so our pot-plant lined terrace is becoming a well-used outdoor roof-less room. In the evening it is light until past 8.30pm, so it is where we eat dinner. At about 6pm we will start out there with an aperitivo: a glass of chilled white wine, a Prosecco or a spritz, and a savoury bite to eat, before going inside to prepare dinner. It is a rather indulgent way to start the evening, but it is Christmas after all, and now that I am working very part time in an office, I don’t get to go to Christmas after-work drinks like I used to. So I make up for it with taralli and drinks on the terrace.
Ring-shaped taralli are a favourite in my house. It is the shape that I really love, shapes that as a child I picked up and threaded onto my index finger (though truth be known, it was usually cheezels that I wore as rings rather than taralli). I didn’t grow up eating taralli; my parents bought grissini, straight and tall narrow breadsticks. I first saw taralli in the Italian deli where I worked as a teenager: small crisp bread-like ring taralli from Puglia, laced with chilli or fennel, the perfect accompaniment to a pre-dinner glass of wine (or a spritz, a mixture of soda water and a dash of wine, which is what we drank as teenagers at home). In my research for Italian Street Food, I found so many other ring-shaped baked taralli: sweet lemony iced ones from Sicily, dense Christmassy ones with a spice mix called pisto (which contains cloves and peppercorns) called rococò from Naples and spicy almond ones, also from Naples. And more recently I found that taralli shapes are not unique to the South; in my research for my second book Adriatico, I found out that bussolai, from the islands of the Venetian lagoons, which I have always known as S-shaped sweet and buttery biscuits for dipping in sweet wine, were once circular and more like bread (so a bit like taralli, at least in shape), eaten with dinner rather than after dinner.
Either of the savoury taralli recipes below work well as an aperitivo: the more traditional Pugliese ones that are first boiled, then allowed to dry out over night and baked; or the peppery Neapolitan version, with almonds. Both have no eggs and no butter, making them, with one minor modification, suitable for vegans too. Both these recipes are in Italian Street Food, which was in all the shops for Christmas last year, and still available in a few. If you cannot find it I have quite a few copies at home which I am very happy to sign and sell to you!
Before I get to the recipes, I want to send a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has been so wonderfully supportive through 2017. It has been a year of big change for me in terms of office work/life balance and the challenges that it brings. Special thanks goes to: everyone who follows my blog – thank you for reading my posts and commenting, it means a lot; all my social media followers (especially on Instagram, as we soldier on in spite of the non-chronological feed and algorithm meaning we don’t see who we want to see first – and NO instagram, we do not want to receive hundreds of notifications); those who came to my cooking classes in my North Fitzroy home this year and cooked with me; the nine lovely people who participated in my autumn workshop at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily in October/November; those of you who tested my recipes for Adriatico and gave me wonderful feedback AND all the wonderful people in Italy and beyond who I met through my travels this year. I would not have been able to achieve what I did without your support so GRAZIE di cuore X
And as one year ends, a new one rolls one….this is what 2018 looks like so far:
– Cooking classes from my home in North Fitzroy – I am running more than ever before and have added a few different classes (eg. pasta sauces and bespoke lunches for six). I just had some lovely gift-vouchers printed (if you would like to buy a class as a gift) and I probably just have enough time to pop the voucher in the post for you if you decide to buy one
– I am so excited about this one: an intimate one-day Writing and Photography workshop for ten people with my friend Paula Hagiefremidis (you may know her as the Mediterranean Wanderer). Inspire your Creative Flair is being held in early March at the gorgeous the Estate, Trentham. Paula also interviewed me for her the Mediterranean and me series. The interview has several of my photos and talks about what inspires me to take photos and write about my heritage
– My second cookbook “Adriatico, stories and recipes of the Adriatic Coast of Italy” will be released by Smith Street Books, in the first half of the year. I cannot wait to share the stories, photos and recipes with you; all the location photos except a couple (kindly given to me by my good friend Ian Summers) are the ones I took during my three month stay in Italy earlier this year
– Going back to beautiful Sicily for an early Summer 5-day workshop at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School. The dates for 2018 are 28 May to 2 June and I would LOVE for you to join me. Click here for more details
– One of my dreams has always been to show people my Italy, the part I know best, where my parents are from. So plans are almost finalised for a 5-day tour of Trieste, its food and the surrounds in September 2018. I will be collaborating with a Triestino friend and taking groups of ten to see the parts of Italy that matter most to me. Stay tuned for more about this one.
That’s all for now. Buon natale to you and your loved ones
Un abbraccio, Paola X
makes about 24 taralli
500g plain flour
8g instant dried yeast
160 ml extra virgin olive oil
210ml tepid water
2tsp freshly ground black pepper
110g whole almonds (small ones work better)
3 tsp salt
a bit of milk for brushing (omit for a vegan version)
If your almonds are on the large side, cut them in half lengthways and set to one side.
Whisk the flour and yeast together in a large bowl. Add the water and oil and mix with a wooden spoon, then add the pepper, almonds and salt, mixing with your hands. Tip out on a lightly floured work surface and knead for a couple of minutes until the mixture is homogenous and fairly smooth. Make small balls of dough of about 40g each and allow to rest, covered for about 30 minutes.
Take a ball of dough and place it onto your work surface. Using the fingertips of both hands, stretch out and roll the ball into a rope by moving your fingers outwards as they roll backwards and forwards. The rope should be 22-24 cm in length. Now twist along its length and join both ends to make a large ring. This can be a bit tricky as the almonds have a tendency to come off. If they do, embed them back in the rope of dough. Place on a lined baking tray and repeat with remaining balls. Allow the dough rings to rest another 30 minutes covered with a clean tea towel.
Brush the taralli with a bit of milk (if using) and then bake at 175C oven for 40 minutes or until golden. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.
makes about 35 tarallini
500g plain flour
200ml dry white wine, at room temperature
130ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 and 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Lightly flour a work surface, tip out the dough, and knead for about 12 minutes. You can also do this in a kitchen mixer with a paddle attachment. The dough will be smooth and soft. Break off balls of dough about 25 g in weight, roll each into a baton about 10 cm in length then join the two ends by overlapping them slightly and press together to make a circle. Repeat until you have made about 35 rings.
Bring a medium pot of water to the boil and drop the rings of dough in the water in batches of 5 – 7. Do not overcrowd the pot. It will take about a minute for them to float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place onto a clean tea towel to drain off a bit of the water, then place on a wire rack so that they can dry out completely. I placed mine on a rack in the oven with the door slightly open for 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the tarallini on a lined baking sheet and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden and cooked through (you can test them by getting one out of the oven and breaking it in half to check that it is cooked through). Cool on a wire rack.