Taralli In the panorama of Italian gastronomy Puglia has always been a bridge to the East, first in ancient times when it was colonised by the Greeks, then as the terminus of the Roman Via Appia, and later as the launching point for the Crusades, with their attendant comings and goings in a melting pot of dozens of races and cultures. This history forms the background to the essential ingredients of Puglia's cuisine: wheat, oil and the vine, with the addition of almonds, figs, honey and ricotta cheese in sweet-making.

Puglia's sweetmeat tradition has its roots in the peasant culture of the ‘masserie’, or traditional farmhouses, changing with the seasons and marked by religious festivals. In the towns the simple country recipes were ‘gentrified’ by the addition of more sophisticated ingredients and spices. However the region's most emblematic product, the tarallo, could hardly be simpler. Whether sweet or savoury, everyday fare or festive delicacy, it is to be found on every table in Puglia.

Taralli are always accompanied by a glass of wine, the third element in the local triptych of wheat, oil and the vine. In the savoury version the pastry for this small, ring-shaped biscuits is made from soft wheat flour, oil, white wine and, optionally, sesame and fennel seeds. The sweet variety are made from eggs and sugar, which are also essential for their sweet glaze topping.

Sweet taralli are traditionally made for Easter, but there is also a winter version, made on 13 December in honour of St Lucy. Cartellate are traditional Christmas sweets, delicious puff pastries made from durum wheat and wine and then baked in the oven or fried in olive oil.

Another popular sweet found all over Puglia are mostaccioli, biscuits covered in dark chocolate and seasoned with orange peel. Yet another speciality are almond paste cakes; these vary in colour and shape according to which part of the region they come from.

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