I brought home a bushel of citrus from the farmers market a few weeks back with no particular plan, except perhaps to ward off the grey of long winter days. Along with bergamot, tangerines and the first blood oranges, Sicilian lemons served to brighten up the kitchen.
Once I have gathered my ingredients, cooking does just tend to happen at my house. But since my travels to Italy last fall, I keep coming back to my best friend Luisa’s vast kitchen (and gardening) wisdom. This has led to a renewed discovery of the beautiful simplicity of pale yellow cornmeal, as well as a longing to return to the regional kitchen of the Veneto, the place I feel most at home.
When not consulting my mother’s and my best friends’ handwritten recipe notebooks, I turn the pages of a handful of favorite cookbooks that act as culinary advisors. The list of my favorite Italian books for cooking are listed below in my notes. Like life-long diaries, many are dog-eared and blemished by the signs of cooking; others are filled with pencil-written notes, recording various changes or ideas about the original cooking instructions.
This lemon-scented recipe is inspired by the zaleti I saw in the pasticcerie of Venice in October. I consulted Tessa Kiros and her beautiful book “Venezia” for an exact rendition of this traditionally northern Italian biscuit. I then set about to making some additions to Tessa’s original, mostly because I didn’t have any grappa in the cabinet…
- 150 grams of fine cornmeal
- 150 grams of fine cake flour from spelt or wheat
- 125 grams of unsalted butter
- 100 grams of organic sugar or 80 grams of honey
- one whole egg, and one egg yolk
- 50 grams of pine nuts
- 50 grams of dried figs
- the zest of one organic lemon
- one teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- one teaspoon of (organic) dried rose petals
- a pinch of sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
Measure the flours, baking powder and sea salt into a mixing bowl. Scrub an organic lemon with a clean brush under cold running water. Grate the peel of the lemon with a zester catching the thin lemon curls above the mixing bowl. Crumble the dried rose petals and let them fall into the flour, along with the lemon zest.
Cream the butter and the sugar in a mixer until, pale, light and golden. Add the whole egg, egg yolk and one teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the butter cream until the eggs are just incorporated. Remove the stem from the dried figs before slicing them into thin strips. Add the pine nuts and figs to the flour. Mix the dry ingredients with the egg and butter cream, blending well by hand to form a smooth, bright yellow dough. Cover the dough with parchment paper and chill for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 165 degrees Celsius. Layer a cookie platter with parchment paper and remove the dough from the fridge. Roll the chilled dough on a floured cutting board into an even oblong shape, much like a rolling pin. Cut even 1cm thick slices from the roll and arrange them evenly on the oven platter. Bake the biscotti 15 minutes until golden around the edges. Remove them from the oven, allowing the zaleti to cool before serving them with your favorite tea or make yourself an espresso.
These crumbly, lightly sweetened biscotti go just as well with a cup of tea as a glass of dessert wine after an afternoon pranzo. They are most commonly found in the pastry shops of the Veneto. Although Venice is the most visible city of the region, Vicenza, Padova, Belluno, Bassano del Grappa, Treviso and many small villages scattered in between, proudly sell this particular treat. The words ‘zaleti’ or ‘zaeti are derived from the word gialletto, the Veneto dialect for the color yellow.
As promised, hereby my favorite Italian cookbooks listed in alphabetical order. Meanwhile, as time passes my book collection and my bookcase slowly gets fuller, as I learn more and more about the country and it’s food that I love the most.
- Pellegrino Artusi . L’arte di Mangiar Bene, translated as “The Art of Eating Well”
- Emiko Davis . Florentine
- Marcela Hazan . The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
- Tessa Kiros . Venezia
- Russell Norman . Venice
- Clelia D’Onofrio . Il Cucchaio d’Argento, translated as “The Silver Spoon”
- Rachel Roddy . Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome