Taralli (in the local dialect “taralli ‘nzogna e pepe”) are very popular in Naples. They are hard savoury doughnuts made of ‘nzogna (lard), pepper and toasted almonds. The etymology of the word tarallo is uncertain: some speculate that it may derive from the Latin torrere (to roast) or from the French toral (dryer); others believe that the word refers to its round shape, probably originating in the Italic tar (to wrap) or in the Old French danal (pain rond, round bread).
The history of the tarallo
Historically, taralli date back to the eighteenth century, when some bakers, after having made bread, mixed leftovers of dough, called sfriddo, with lard, pepper and almonds (this latter ingredient was actually added in the nineteenth century). Taralli were once eaten dunked in sea water. These days, we cannot do that despite the improvement in the quality of the Neapolitan Gulf’s waters.
The taralli seller, or tarallaro, was a characteristic figure. The tarallaro, with his basket full of taralli on his shoulders, covered with a woollen cloth to keep them warm and fragrant, would run through the city far and wide in endless rounds, crying out loud: “taralle, taralle càvere!” (which meant “hot taralli!”). Today the tarallaro has disappeared, but what disappears in reality often survives in the language: even now, to indicate a person jostled to and fro and forced to bustle about non-stop, Neapolitans say “me pare ‘a sporta d’o tarallaro!” (“he/she is like the tarallaro’s basket”).
Where you can find some taralli in Naples
In the Neapolitan tradition, taralli can be shared with friends during parties, accompanied by a mug of beer. They may be eaten in the narrow streets of Naples, such as Via Foria, the temple of Neapolitan taralli, or in Mergellina, along Naples’ coast, where it is possible to buy them at chioschetti (small kiosks). Today, in the city there are many bakeries, pastry shops, and gourmet shops that sell fresh taralli, but the most popular one is Leopoldo Infante, tarallaro since 1940.
How to make taralli
For the benefit of anyone who wants to have a try at making taralli at home, here is a recipe:
Ingredients for the dough
- 400 g of plain flour (00 flour)
- 8 g salt
- 7 g of pepper
- 100 ml of lukewarm water
- 200 g of lard
- 150 g of chopped almonds
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 30-40 almonds for garnishing
Ingredients for the lievitino
- 100 ml of water
- 8 gr of fresh yeast
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 100 g of plain flour
Begin the preparation of the taralli by making the so-called lievitino. Form a dough by mixing the yeast, flour and water required, and let it rise until it has doubled in size.
In the meantime, roast the almonds in the oven for 3-4 minutes on an oven tray. Once proved, put the lievitino in a large bowl and add all the ingredients for the dough: flour, lard at room temperature, chopped almonds, pepper, salt, honey and water. Mix quickly.
Cut dough pieces of 70 gr each from which to obtain two strands of about 35 gr and 20 cm long. Close the two strands at one end, twist them and close them on the other end to form a circle. Put the taralli on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Let them rise for 2-3 hours, then bake them at 180 degrees for 40 minutes and enjoy!
Culinary backstreets. 2021. Taralli: Lard Almighty, [ONLINE] Available at: https://culinarybackstreets.com/cities-category/naples/2019/taralli-2/. [Accessed 22 April 2021].
Semplice e veloce. 2021. Taralli napoletani sugna e pepe, [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.sempliceveloce.it/taralli-napoletani-sugna-e-pepe.htm. [Accessed 22 April 2021].
Taralli.it. 2021. L’antichissima storia del Tarallo, [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.taralli.it/storia.htm. [Accessed 22 April 2021].
Written by Fabiana Errico, PhD student in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.