The Italian bar snacks are crisp, melting rounds of dough made with just flour, water, olive oil for taste and richness and a little wine for crunchiness.
SAN FRANCISCO — Taralli are like the potato chips of southern Italy, according to chef Rocky Maselli, who runs the A16 restaurants in the Bay Area. “You get them at gas stations but also at fancy hotels,” Maselli said. “They’re just the ultimate bar snack.”
They are crisp, melting rounds of dough made with just flour, water, olive oil for taste and richness and a little wine for crunchiness. If you are a fan of grissini, the thin long Italian breadsticks, taralli will taste pleasantly familiar.
But the taralli at A16 are far from plain. They are rich, salty and crumbly, like the best pie crust. And they arrive with a gust of heat, studded with more cracked black pepper than would seem possible, or sensible.
“Our taralli are the perfect thing to eat with an aperitivo,” said Shelley Lindgren, the restaurant’s wine director and co-owner. “Bitter and sweet with pepper and salt is an ideal combination.”
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Popular Italian aperitivos (pre-dinner cocktails) like the Spritz and the Americano are often based on bitter liqueurs, like Campari, Luxardo and Aperol, topped up with thirst-quenching soda water or fizzy wine. Taralli also pair nicely with fortified wines like sherry and Lillet, with Champagne cocktails like the Kir Royale, and with rosé and white wines, as long as the wine is not bone-dry.
Taralli are easy enough to buy here, but the packaged variety is usually skimpy on the olive oil and boiled before baking, making them dry, hard and about as much fun to eat as a wood chip. Also, imported taralli are often flavored with fennel seed, which — let’s face it — is not a favorite flavor of most Americans.
All of which helps explain why this peppery little A16 snack has such a big impact.
Black pepper is taken for granted in our cooking; we add it unthinkingly, in mild quantities, to almost every dish. But A16’s taralli are a reminder that black peppercorns can be a powerful, exhilarating spice. The more the heat grows, the more you want to reach for the next one — and then, for your aperitif. Repeat, as desired, all summer.
BLACK PEPPER TARALLI
Makes 4 to 5 dozen
1 ½ cups semolina flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups Italian “00” flour or cake flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons black pepper, coarsely ground
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
7/8 cup olive oil
¾ cup white wine
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together dry ingredients. Add oil and half the wine. Use the paddle attachment to mix on medium-low speed for 12 minutes, adding remaining wine occasionally. Dough will be springy and moist but not sticky. If it is sticky, refrigerate 30 minutes and mix again. Add more flour a little bit at a time if needed.
2. Heat oven to 375 degrees, or 350 degrees with convection.
3. Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners. Pull off a piece of dough (about ¼ ounce) and roll on a work surface into a 5-inch rope tapered at both ends. Shape into a coil (or a ring, with the ends crossed over) and gently pinch to seal. Transfer to prepared pan. Repeat with remaining dough, working in batches if necessary. (Can be made up to this point and frozen. Freeze on sheet pans, then transfer to freezer bags for storage. Do not thaw before baking.)
4. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, until golden brown. (Add three to five minutes if baking from frozen.) Cool before serving. Will keep up to a week in a sealed container.