Recipe of the Week: Taralli

Buona serra! Guys, can you tell that I’m trying to extend my recent Italian vacation as long as I possibly can? 😉 In my defense, this truly is a simple, yummy, and extremely versatile recipe, and I’m hoping that you like it.

Before I go any further, I’ll need to address some FAQs/PAQs (potentially askable questions) that I hope are helpful. I was going to make a separate entry, but I’m not exactly rollin’ in the fanmail. Here we go:

Q: How do I make a comment on your blog?

A: Click on the little grey icon in the top right corner of each post that looks like a round speech balloon. It will then take you to the page where you can comment and read others’ comments.

Q: Now that Italy’s over, what’s next for IC?

A: DON’T REMIND ME! :-‘( But to answer your question, IC will still live long and prosper. As traveling is a true passion of mine, I will continue to document the places I travel in the same detail I did Italy. If I’m only there for a short period of time, I will probably do “X in 24 Hours”-type posts, which are always fun! I’m also passionate about food, so in addition, I will try and post at least one recipe and/or restaurant review per week. Who knows, maybe I’ll have an occasional philosophical post here and there. All-in-all, I will never post less than once a week and I will make every effort to make each entry applicable to the populace (rather than just a long-winded, pointless rant).

Q: Can I use your pictures/other material for my own purposes?

A: Sure, why not. It’d be kind weird to take it and pass it off as your own, but otherwise I’m not some artist or remotely well-known person, so go nuts.

OKAY! Now that we’ve gotten that stuff out of the way, let’s take a journey through the wonderful world of taralli.

Readers of IC have become familiar with taralli through reading about my obsession with it. Like most pugliese cusine, the ingredients are simple, but the flavor is strong. These tiny, crunchy, bagel-like biscuits are commonly served with an aperitivo or with bread before dinner. While they are often tinged only with the light flavor of olive oil, they are often made with finocchio (fennel), peperoncino, or even primitivo wine!

Traditional Pugliese Taralli

(Adapted from Italian Connection)

Prep Time: 1 hours, 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hours, 40 minutes

Yield: About 25 taralli

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour for crunchy taralli; cut with “00” flour as needed for softer taralli (I used 1/4 cup “00”)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp water (if dough is too dry)
  • 1-2 tsp fennel seeds or cracked black pepper
Look at that fancy salt!
Look at that fancy salt!

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt.
  2. Add the oil and wine, and mix with a fork until the dough forms into a rough mass.
Does this count as "rough"?
Does this count as “rough”?

3. Dump the dough onto a wooden board and knead it for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth.

TA-DA!
TA-DA!

4. Knead the spices into the dough (or divide the dough and add spice to ½ of the dough) – knead well to distribute the spice.

5. Cover the dough and let it rest, along with your arms, for 15-30 minutes.
6. Pinch walnut-sized pieces of dough, roll first between your hands, and then against the wooden cutting board, so that the dough forms a thin rope, about ½ inch (1 cm) in diameter and 4” long (10 cm).

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7. Shape each rope into a ring, and seal the edges together by pressing lightly, then set aside the taralli rings on a wooden board and cover with a towel.

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8. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil.

We moved the party over here!
We moved the party over here!

9. Put 6-10 of the taralli into the boiling water, and when they float to the surface – this will only take 30-60 seconds – remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a cloth to dry and cool.

The texture they have after boiling
The texture they have after boiling

Tip: Try not to plop one tarallo on top of another when dropping them into the pot, and if they stick to the bottom, give them a gentle nudge with the slotted spoon.
10. Put the cooled taralli on baking sheets and bake in a preheated oven at 375°F (200°C) for about 25 minutes, until golden.

Ahhhh che bello!

11. Remove and cool on racks on racks on racks.

So how did they turn out? Pretty decent, I’d say. They’re a little “airier” than the taralli we bought in Italy, but they are quite flavorful (particularly of fennel) and just as addicting. If I were to redo the recipe again, I’d probably add some other flavors – maybe even go bold with chocolate!

Thought of the day: Before you complain about having to help someone, think about how much better you’ll feel after you do it.

IC Special Edition: Why You Should Do the Backroads Puglia Trip

You see the types of trips Backroads provides, which range from scaling the misty cliffs of Bhutan to even-paced cycle rides through the flower fields of Holland. In addition to the incredible locations it services, Backroads seeks to provide the ideal touring experience. Note the distinction between “touring” and “tourist”. There is nothing “touristy” about these trips, as you really get to explore the parts that most other travelers would never see on their own. The trip leaders are virtually all renaissance men/women who can work on bikes, speak the local languages, cook, and give history lessons – to name just a few things – and are probably the best part of the whole experience.

On June 2nd, 2013, I had no idea what to expect of my very first Backroads trip in the region of Puglia, Italy, other than what my mother had told me. She has been on three prior to this one (as well as one with another company) and raved about them. So, when I graduated with my Master’s degree, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. My favorite things in the world are traveling and exercising, so this fit the bill perfectly. So, what are my honest thoughts about Backroads?

The overall experience was the trip of a lifetime. I truly felt like I was immersed into the culture of the beautiful Puglia region and felt accustomed to the warmth of the people, the tranquil beauty of the masserie, and freshness of the cuisine. There were times during my trip where I wanted to say: “Is this real life?” Every day was an adventure. Moreover, Backroads made it possible by not only facilitating these adventures, but providing context, education, and 24-hour support to go along with it.

Without our outstanding leaders, however, this trip wouldn’t have been half as amazing – which says a lot, because this trip was spectacular. Caterina, Stasa, and Jane were not only strong riders, postive, and insanely smart people – they were also so, so, so much fun and so helpful. Each of them made a point to connect with everyone and give their all when people needed help. From the shuttles up the major hills to waiting at the hospital when someone got hurt, they went above and beyond the call of duty and made us, the guests, their priority. I would not have wanted anyone else on these trips with us. I understand that the Backroads hiring process is intense, and for good reason – you’re not going to find many Caterinas, Stasas, or Janes in this world.

The local guides were a treat as well. The hilarious and effervescent Mimmo, who overflowed with knowledge of Puglia and its many fine wines, was probably the trip favorite, but everyone we met was kind and enthusiastic about sharing in Pugliese culture. In fact, I’d venture to say that the people of Puglia are the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. And the hotel staff? Wow, can you say “on it”? Needless to say, Backroads picks lodging well…very well.

Don’t even get me started on the hotels! Il Melograno, Masseria San Martino, and our personal favorite, Masseria San Domenico, were magnificent accommodations and a wonderful setting for the Puglia region. While the internet situations at the first two were frustrating at times, we honestly have no other complaints. A little pain will always accompany beauty.

The ethereal bliss provided by the food cannot properly be put into word. Take note – Backroads feeds you well. Breakfast is always provided, and you only need to pay for one lunch and one dinner on your whole trip. The only item not usually included is wine, but even that is provided occasionally – it is Italy, after all. The food is always fresh, local, and characteristic of the region.

Oh wait, don’t let me forget the biking! We were generously provided with bikes, cyclometers, and helmets. Our bikes were aerospace titanium and equipped with a front pack for easy storage of our cameras, jackets, tissues, snacks, and more. We even have a clear front pocket for our directions. Despite navigating a rather uncharted area of the country, the directions were pretty darn good. It would have been nice to have a GPS system, as the Puglia region is easy to get lost in. However, that was obviously not totally necessary, as we all made it back unharmed and tuckered out from the great rides. While the rides were always challenging, I firmly believe that anyone in moderately good shape would be just fine. Besides, there were so many opportunities to shuttle through the most difficult parts, it was never a problem! I’d rate the difficulty of this trip from an athletic perspective as about a 3/5.

Safety is a priority for Backroads, and we received extensive guidance on remaining safe during our trip. Like I mentioned before, all 3 guides did an excellent job with this. I send my best wishes and love to the one person who received a minor injury on this trip. However, I know that she was in good care by her husband and family and received top-notch attention and assistance from Backroads. All this being said: if you are interested in an active travel trip, please do not let the possibility of injury deter you. This is a risk run with any physical activity, and you are missing out on an amazing experience if you don’t go because of that.

Finally, a word about the group we went with: should you happen to stumble upon this review, please know that it was such a pleasure to meet all of you. I understand that many of you are following my blog (Infinite Corners, infinitecorners.com) and have friends and family doing so as well. This is such an honor to me. You all helped make the trip, so saying goodbye to you all was understandably rough. I’m glad I was wearing sunglasses when I left; full disclosure here: I was crying.
Until my next Backroads journey – shall we say, Thailand?

ITALIA Day 9: Hills, Hills, Hills (and Dancing)

GOOD EVENING! (Here, at least). I have to say, I’m feeling pretty impressed with my mom and I, as we finished our 38 miles rather swiftly today. The great part about that is that I am actually posting about today, today! 🙂

So, I knew I had reason to be nervous when we had our route rap 30 minutes earlier than usual this morning. Turns out these were the reasons:

Hill Number 1...just the beginning
Hill Number 1…just the beginning

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Hill 1, continued.
Hill 1, continued.
Oooh, pretty!
Oooh, pretty!
Hill 2. Probably said the F-word 10 times at this point.
Hill 2. Probably said the F-word 10 times at this point.
AHHHHH I'm dying!!!!
AHHHHH I’m dying!!!! (Oh hey, pretty flowers…)
Hill Number 3 of 238912390. Cue the F-word again, but it wasn't as bad as it looks.
Hill Number 3 of 238912390. Cue the F-word again, but it wasn’t as bad as it looks.

Nonetheless, I was able to tackle these beasts again, albeit at a glacial pace.

Our first stop of the morning occurred at a lovely little cafe in the town of Cisternino (panoramic picture to come!).

After enjoying a motivating snack of coffee and gelato, we next headed for the town of Ostuni, where we actually got to see more:

View on the way to Ostuni
View on the way to Ostuni
Ostuni from afar
Ostuni from afar
Ostuni!
…aaaaaand Ostuni!

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LOLLLLL
LOLLLLL

Called La Città Bianca (“The White Town”), Ostuni has been inhabited since ancient times. Many of its buildings are repainted white each year to maintain the name. While there are old buildings everywhere in Europe, the whitewashing of these ones gives this town an even older feel, slightly reminiscent of ancient Roman and Greek influences. Definitely an amazing spot for those interested in Puglia!

Side adventure: we got to see the “Italian Stonehenge”, Dolmen di Montalbano! While small, it was awesome to see a sight that’s been there since 200 BC. Check it!

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We got back to the hotel at around 3:30; I took the liberty of taking more pictures. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet, but due to a MORE than welcome oversight, we are here for 2 extra days (leaving EARLY Sunday morning). I know, life sucks. I hate being stuck here:

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(In actuality, my reaction after finding out about our extended stay was as follows:)

carlton-dance-o-1

Tonight’s dinner began with an aperitivo at 7:00 in the hotel bar and a luscious dinner in the hotel at 8:00. THE ROOM WAS AMAZING!!!!

Aperitivo time!
Aperitivo time!
Dinner room
Dinner room
One of our guides, the ever-stunning Jane!
One of our guides, the ever-stunning Jane!

I feel like I talk so much about the food here and am never very specific. That’s boring! While it slipped my mind to take pix of everything, I do have a picture of one important Pugliese dish you should familiarize yourself with: taralli!!!

Taralle on the right.
Addictive substance found on the right.

Taralli are everywhere here and, like the gelati, are basically crack-in-a-snack. I make it a point to eat at least 10 at every meal we have (scratch that, that happens accidentally because I’m powerless to taralli) and my mom and I bought 3 bags…for the plane ride home. While made simply out of flour, water, and oil, they are often also made with chocolate, peppers, or, especially in Puglia, primitivo wine!

Our night ended with a special surprise: traditional Pugliese folk music and dancing! Better pictures to come:

The band who rocked out for us
The band who rocked out for us…amazing!

We danced the pizzica pizzica, a kind of tarantella, and were joined by a hilarious German couple who basically showed us how it’s done. Seriously, I need to get my hands of some of these other pictures, because this was a truly awesome way to end the night.

Tomorrow’s gonna be a sappy day for IC. REALLY, REALLY sappy. Get ready for it. Until then, buona notte!

Thought of the day: Put yourself out there. Why have regrets about what you could have done today?