April 29, 2022

My Family’s Recipe-less Recipe for This Italian Favorite Snack: Taralli.

I strolled through Whole Foods doing my weekly grocery shopping in a somewhat daze somewhere between the produce section and wine shelves.

A small brown bag with a diagonal green color block caught my eye.

It read, “Taralli Cacio E Pepe.”

A bit surprised, I said out loud, “Huh, wow. You have got to be kidding me.” I whipped out my iPhone, snapped a photo, and texted it to my dad.

He and my mom had been out to Missouri to visit my husband and I from California the week prior.

We spent one whole day making Taralli (I pronounced Ta-lal-lee as a kid), which I would describe as delicious Italian breadsticks like nothing you have ever tasted. We gathered the ingredients to make our family’s version, did our best to track down an anise seed similar to that they used in Italy, and found ourselves in the kitchen rolling, boiling, and baking!

While my dad has delicious and comforting memories of his mom, my Nana Rosa, making Taralli ever since he was a little boy, it runs deeper than a family recipe, it’s more a ritual. 

Nana grew up in a small town in Italy called Piane Crati. Here she learned how to make Taralli as a young child. Every December 4, they would prepare these family favorites for the Santa Barbara festival as a sacred devotional offering to Santa Barbara.

As a child, she remembers preparing them to be “fat and not crunchy.” And while Nana loves the extra crunch now, she is unclear at what point her family started to make them crunchy. Though I have found many of my Taralli-loving family members, myself included, love the crunchy ones the best. They are the perfect texture for morning coffee dunking!

When I think back to our family holidays and events, there were always Taralli around us. It expands my heart to think such connection and love can be created from water, flour, and yeast.

While they are certainly a family favorite, quick to be loved by our friends, Nana couldn’t ever write down or share the recipe. As she explained in her ever-so-cute Italian accent, “You know Gina, I no havea recipe, I justa uses my head and thena bit of water, with flour, and I work with the handsa, and I know sif justa right—no too hard nor soft. I justa know in my head.”

And it’s true. The lady is a phenomenal cook and follows the flow of her cooking from her heart to her hands. You can taste the love that comes straight from the center of her chest, through her arms, and activates her hands.

Her Taralli is no exception. They are phenomenal. But given that the recipe is truly in her head, several years ago, my dad, her firstborn son of six children, watched her closely to be able to record the recipe.

He had success doing it, and after a few years of what I would consider perfecting it, he has taught me and a few others how to make them. Though, I am better at eating them than making them!

From my mom’s side of the family, my cousin Jill also wanted to try making them. As my husband always says, my cousin, Jill is the kindest person he knows and probably the best chef! So when I heard she wanted to make them, I was really looking forward to what this skillful kitchen master would do with our family’s recipe-less recipe! She asked my dad for a recipe, but because this is genuinely better taught, my mom recorded a video of him making Taralli, the recipe in my Nana’s head.

If you feel called to read the ingredients and directions:

And here is the video for anyone who wants to learn along:

And finally, how Jill’s turned out! Pretty good if you ask me!

Do you have a family recipe you love and hold dear? One that takes you back to so many memories, and honors the timeline!? Share the love here.


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