I was delighted to stumble across a package of “friselle” in a small market in the North End the other day. These are a regional specialty from the south of Italy (Puglia, to be precise) and are difficult to find in other regions of Italy, let alone in the U.S., although I did once see something quite similar on an island in Greece and assume that they are eaten there in the same way. Perhaps friselle even came to Puglia via Greece, as the area was once colonized by the Ancient Greeks (some small villages exist in Puglia where people still speak a dialect of Greek).
Also known as “frise” or “friseddhre” (in Pugliese dialect), they are twice-baked, ring-shaped rusks, usually made from a mixture of whole-grain durum wheat and barley, which somewhat resemble hardened, halved bagels. Friseddhre must be first soaked in cold water for approximately 30-60 seconds to soften, and then they are drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and served topped with diced tomatoes, capers, salt, pepper, and fresh oregano. I also will usually rub half of a clove of raw garlic on the frisella before soaking it. They may not sound very exciting but they’re quite tasty and wholesome, sort of a larger, softer, more rustic version of bruschette.
The capers I use are salt-packed capers that I brought back from the Aeolian Islands in Sicily. Salt-packed capers are harder to find in the U.S. than those cured in vinegar, but if you can find them, they are well worth the extra effort and cost (ironically, in Italy the salt-packed capers are cheaper and it’s harder to find them in vinegar!). I’ve converted many former caper-haters by introducing them to this type; instead of tasting strongly of vinegar, the delicate flavor of the capers shines through, and I find that the texture is better as well: firm and slightly crisp, rather than soggy. To use them, you just need to rinse them well, then soak them in some cold water for about 20 minutes to half an hour, then rinse and drain again.