This $5 Snack Is My Favorite Italian Nibble
I am a snack tooth (as opposed to a sweet tooth). Most of my expatriate American friends I lived with in Italy would swoon over tiramisu and chocolate Easter eggs as big as their head. Meanwhile I hung around in cheese shops and delis, learning the words for all the different savory goodies on offer, asking for un assaggio (a sample) at every turn. That’s where I discovered taralli (ta-RAH-lee), my favorite Italian nibble.
What Are Taralli?
Invented in the southern region of Puglia (the heel of the boot that is Italy) as a way to use up bread dough scraps, taralli look like a ring-shaped breadstick, although they’re actually closer to a miniature bagel because they’re boiled and then baked. The two-step cooking makes them crunchy and crumbly, while the addition of extra-virgin olive oil and white wine make them much richer in flavor than boring ol’ breadsticks.
In Italy they are often served with a glass of wine, the custom being to dip the taralli in the wine and nibble them, ala pretzels or bar nuts in the United States. They also appear on appetizer platters as a crunchy counterpoint to cheeses and fatty cured meats. Their layered crispness and buttery richness make them one of my favorite Italian food memories.
Although I do occasionally make taralli myself (there’s a recipe in my Crackers and Dips cookbook), they’re a bit of work, so I was thrilled to find Mitica brand taralli for sale at Whole Foods and other gourmet retailers stateside. Look for them in the specialty section of shops where fancy crackers are sold and online at retailers, including Amazon, Instacart, and Yummy Bazaar.
What Is So Great About Mitica Taralli?
They are made outside Rome in the traditional manner with flour, white wine, olive oil, and salt. They have a rich, buttery olive oil flavor (a sign that good-quality extra-virgin olive oil is used) and a crumbliness that brings back fond memories of nibbling away the aperitivo hour at outdoor bars fronting sunny piazzas all over Italy.
Mitica’s Classico-flavored taralli are a great all-arounder, but the other flavors are definitely worth seeking out, too. I like the peppery bite of the cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) taralli, and the fennel-flecked version is lovely too. The peperoncino recipe is a boon to those who love spice, although I find them a tad too much for my wimpy palate.
What’s the Best Way to Use Mitica Taralli?
They’re great served by themselves alongside an off-dry white wine like Prosecco or Moscato, or a fruit-forward red like Primitivo wine. They’re grand on the aforementioned cheese or charcuterie grazing boards, where their cute belly-button shape trumps plain ol’ crackers any day.
I love to break the cacio e pepe taralli into pieces and sprinkle them over a caprese salad with ripe tomatoes and creamy burrata, another invention of the Pugliese. Or serve them with chowder instead of oyster crackers. The liquorice-sweetness of the fennel-flavored taralli pairs well with smoked sardines or other Mediterranean tinned fish. And all the flavors are great when served with hummus or other creamy bean dips — their relative sturdiness makes them a great dipper.
In short, taralli are great wherever you need a bit of savory crunch, and their eye-catching shape will make your next grazing board Insta-famous.
Buy: Mitica Classico Taralli, $4.69 for 8.81 ounces at Instacart