Diodoro’s Ingenuity and the 1,444 Taralli

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 Diodoro’s Ingenuity and the 1,444 Taralli

 

It’s a cool and overcast day, perfect conditions to make 1,444 taralli, a traditional dry aniseed biscuit popular in southern Italy. Baking large quantities in the communal wood fire oven was the norm in Italian villages of long ago. This was before the convenience of supermarkets and gas stoves. But the year is 2014 and the setting; Lalor, a northern suburb of Melbourne. For the Ferraro family, tradition is preferred to modern convenience, thanks to Diodoro’s ingenuity….

It’s a hub of activity at the Ferraro’s residence.  The car has been backed out into the long driveway and the garage door is open. The aroma of fresh dough and aniseed is intoxicating.

I am greeted by Diodoro with a warm smile , “We’ve been up since 7.30 this mornin’ to set the dough”.

Extended family members work around two do it yourself industrial mincers colloquially know as ‘the machines’, taken from their permanent residency in the basement.  Set up as their own individual working stations, machine one kneads the dough and machine two shapes the dough. The sound of industrial motors running at high speed is intermingled with stories and laughter in rich southern Italian accents.

The taralli recipe is from Michelina’s  (Diodoro’s wife), home  town of Pesco Sannita in the  southern Campania region of Italy. Taught by her mother, Michelina has been making these dry biscuits  since she was 13 years old. She knows the recipe in her bones.

Baking over a 1000 taralli, in the garage is a Ferraro family  ritual spanning over 30 years.  A couple of days are set aside, two or three times a year  to make the biscotti.  Being dry, they last for months in an airtight container. For the Ferraros, it is simply a fun thing to do with the whole family. “I love making taralli in Nonna’s garage”, remarks Daniel who is 8 years old and on school holidays.

All hands are on deck to cut the dough into quarters before it is passed through the second machine. This machine transforms the dough into five long sausage shaped strips.

Like a simulated production line, the grandparents cut the strips and the grandchildren shape the dough, into round little donuts, and place them onto a large multipurpose, demountable table. As they multiply, they look like little zeros forming part of a giant matrix.

Michelina corrects her grandchildren in shaping the taralli. “Take it easy! Not like this. But, like this” she orders.  Quick nimble fingers affix the edges, the kids take note and within a short time  hundreds of supple correctly shaped taralli rapidly fill the table. Here they rest before they are ready to boil.

Michelina tells me that before they had the machines, she used to make all the taralli by hand. “You can still cook the taralli in the house, but not like this much!” She exclaims. “Then, Diodoro invented the machines”, she says relieved.

“How did you make the machines?” I ask Diodoro.

“Ah, he says, you can’t buy this one…it is Diodoro engineering”, he tells me.

“The mincer used to work with the handle and then I found a gear box from a thrown away machine. The motor is from an old washing machine. I bought the coupling and l lined it up with a pulley”.

These machines are attached to aluminium boards. They are heavy in weight and especially built for cooking taralli for very large quantities.

“When you no longer have enough muscles to do the work you must use the brain muscles, you gotta think of everything”, explains Diodoro.

The machines’ motors have been running without any fault for 20 years. They are indestructible and quality guaranteed.

 

With spatula in hand and pleased with the progress, Diodoro sneaks out to an adjoining little room. My curiosity gets the better of me and I follow. To my surprise, in a discreet little alcove, is a wood fired oven.  The oven, I discover,  was built with leftover bricks from the Clifton Bricks factory where Diodoro worked as a brickmaker.

A combination of coals, wood and paper set this hearth alight.

“Now you gonna wait til the bricks inside turn white, then you know it’s ready to put the taralli in. But you know, we not only make the taralli we roast porchetta (piglet), lasagna and even roast. For the Padre Pio Festa (annual religious festival) we make about 30 focaccia  with this oven on one day!” explains Diodoro.

Meanwhile the donut shaped dough has rested and are then put in a giant vat of boiling water. As they rise from the boil they are dried out to harden before they are baked.

Whilst waiting for the taralli to harden, I survey the terrain. It resembles an open door factory with a provincial feel.  Neighbours and extended family casually pop in to say hello and take in the atmosphere of the ‘workplace’.

It’s now lunch time and Diodoro gives the order to everyone , “Just stop and eat!”

Michelina confesses, ‘I have no time to cook anything’. Yet out comes delicious carvings of home made pancetta (Italian salumi), served with garden tomatoes and pecorino cheese. It is served with a 10 year old homemade wine is poured from a VB long neck which we have and hold at this provincial table.

Conversations around the table lend themselves to old times, of village life when donkeys would carry big bags of wheat to be ground at the mills.  All in all to a time when people knew where their food came from.

The taralli, now sufficiently hardened, are placed in flat trays to be transported to the oven.

With lunch and the morning shift over, the afternoon one begins, only this batch is made with wholemeal flour.

It is twilight and all the taralli are baked to perfection. It’s a 12 hour production to make bulk proportions of this tasty savory little biscuit with a refreshing taste of aniseed. And goes perfectly with a morning espresso.

It’s time to pack up. The machines are unplugged and cleaned. The taralli making table is disassembled and the garage roller door shut. Diodoro heads to the basement, which functions also a storehouse for old furnishings, a cellar for home made wine and a pantry for preserved olives; where there, he stores his machine one and two. Neatly fitting into their alcoves next to the life size Galliano bottle, where they are made to rest until the next time.

 

Taralli recipe

 

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