Taralli are a Southern Italian snack food. If you’ve visited Italian-American bakeries or grocery stores, you may have seen the ring-shaped snack food sold in different varieties, such as fennel-flavored. These crunchy snacks originate in Southern Italy. Like much of Italian food, taralli are different in different regions.
In Naples, they are traditionally made with lard, pepper and almonds. They were first made from scraps of leftover bread dough. To this dough was added lard and pepper. In the Neapolitan language, lard is “nzogna,” so you will see these as nzogna and pepe. In Naples today, you will see this variety also has almonds. Almonds were added in the 1800s, but the older version of these did not have almonds. This older version is what my mother remembers at bakeries of her youth, bakeries that carried on Southern Italian traditions from the late 1800s here in the United States. In fact, there were other crunchy breads that also had lard and pepper added to them.
In times past, the taralli vendor would sell the snack from a cart. In Napoli today, miniature depictions of taralli vendors are sold on Via San Gregorio Armeno where you can find the famous presepio, or Nativity figures.
In Puglia, taralli, or tarallini, are usually smaller, more crunchy and smoother with no almonds. They are not made with lard but with olive oil and are often flavored with fennel or chili. These are the ones most often found in Italian-American bakeries and stores. They can also be made sweet instead of savory, which is popular in Basilicata.
The origin of the word “taralli” is unknown, but it is thought to derive from the Greek word toros, meaning toroidal or round. Or the Greek word daratos for a kind of bread. It could also be from torrere, Latin for toast, or for a French type of bread.
Taralli are served year round but also during Carnevale. They are made by either baking or by boiling then baking, similar to bagels.
They are plentiful at bakeries in Naples. I like the nzogna e pepe from Leopoldo Infante.