2014 proved me wrong so many times.
Last year I visited for the first time the Viareggio Carnival. I faced the weekend with the usual attitude I take on every time at the arrival of streamers and confetti: a faithful hope that Carnival will pass quickly as I am already looking forward to spring.
I could already see me casting sinister looks at anyone approaching with a handful of confetti. Instead I was blatantly proved wrong in my Scrooge-y attitude against Carnival and I lightheartedly plunged into the playful atmosphere of Canevaldarsena, I danced in the streets among clown, wigs and cloaks and I was spellbound by the giant papier-mâché floats parade on the waterfront. Viareggio and its genuine enthusiasm made me change my mind about Carnival.
Last year I also took the chance to visit Venice with Tommaso, Emiko, Marco, and little Mariù. Romantic, you would say…
Yet I approached Venice with the same doubtful attitude with which I had approached Carnival. I had visited Venice twice, always on a run, always with unfavorable weather conditions, always as a second stop after a visit to Trieste, which left me so speechless that is still one of my favourite Italian destinations, and Treviso, an unexpectedly lovely town.
We arrived in Venice in a warm Spring day and I was welcomed by the feeling that Venice was definitely a town on a human scale. Emiko guided us on secondary back lanes and helped us discover the city with a fresh local perspective among a market and a spritz with a few cicchetti.
Walking with my nose up in the air I was also surprised by an intense brackish smell. I know, right, Venice is on the sea and has a port, but I had never thought that the sea smell would merge into the crowded streets in such an overbearing way.
A close second in my surprising yet obvious discoveries about Venice was the number of its bridges: we walked incessantly following our map and the smell of good food coming from bakeries, bars and osterias. Venice has many a bridge, one more scenic and breathtaking than the other. Literally breathtaking, believe me.
It was a tiring weekend but we mutually agreed on getting lost to discover the less known part of Venice, chasing a glimpse or the shimmering light reflecting on a channel water. This made it even more beautiful.
And yes, Venice is also romantic in the most classic way you can imagine: you can walk hugging your significant other in any light of day and night and you will catch glimpses of embroidered buildings and gondole, then you can choose a bar where to sit in the dim light to enjoy a spritz and share a plate of cicchetti.
I ardently hope that this new 2015 will prove me wrong in so many other ways, to make me discover new cities, to make me look in a different way at habits and moments in life that I am still not able to fully appreciate.
In the kitchen I was so far surprised by these corn flour cookies which in Veneto are known as zaletti, a name which recalls their yellowish colour. In some towns, as in Venice for example, they are made for Carnival. As it always happens for a food passed on from generation to generation and encoded into a local tradition, every town and every family has its own recipe to make zaletti. Today’s version is apparently from Padua.
Back to the recipe. You will probably want to know why they surprised me so much. Well, reading the ingredients I would not expect such a result.
Zaletti are traditionally made without sugar: I added two tablespoons of raw cane sugar as I was scared by the result, fearing that they would result tasteless, but the raisins make them already delicately sweet. They are also usually enjoyed with a small glass of dessert wine. You will find yourself dipping these rustic cookies into an amber golden sweet liqueur. It will be hard to stop.
The recipes is included in the book A tola co i nostri veci. La cucina veneziana by Mariù Salvatori De Zuliani. I bought this book during my weekend in Venice, it is the usual souvenir I bring back from any trip or longer holiday, my special way to indulge into many tasty memories.
- 300 g (1 and ⅔ cup – 10,6 oz) of tender wheat flour
- 150 g (¾ cup – 5,3 oz) of corn flour
- 2 lightly packed tablespoons of baking powder
- 150 g (1⅓ stick – 5,3 oz) of butter, at room temperature
- 60 g (¼ cup) of extra virgin olive oil
- 100 g (¾ cup) of raisins, previously soaked and well squeezed
- 2 tablespoons of pinenuts
- 2 tablespoons of grappa
- Zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1 pinch of salt
- ½ cup of whole milk
- Knead all the ingredients, adding the milk little by little at the end, until the dough becomes easy to handle, compact and plastic. It will look like pastafrolla, the short pastry you use to make a crostata.
- Wrap it in plastic film and let rest in the fridge for a few hours, giving time to the butter to cool and make the pastry easier to handle.
- Preheat now oven to 180°C (350°F - gas mark 4). Roll out the dough in a 5 mm thick sheet with a rolling pin and the help of some flour. Cut out the cookies with a sharp knife and make about 40 lozenges.
- Arrange the cookies on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper and bake them for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
- They will keep for several days in a tightly closed tin.
- You will find a bunch of Carnival recipes here on the blog, which are all the good reasons I used to taste to tolerate this crazy period of the year: my grandma’s Carnival fried dough, Rice fritters from Siena and a Florentine sweet schiacciata with a well recognizable orange smell.
- Emiko has published recently on Food52 her castagnole di ricotta, while on her blog you can find the recipe for the Florentine berlingozzo, a simple cake which apparently dates back to the Renaissance time and Cosimo de’ Medici.
- If you want to have a real taste of the real Carnival in the real Venice, read Valeria’s blog post on favette di Carnevale.
- Jasmine’s chiacchiere are typical of Purim, a Jewish holiday that takes place in the same days and is characterized by the same jolly spirit. They belong to the Catholic tradition but the Venetian Jews borrowed them to celebrate their Purim.
If you are curious to read more about our romantic weekend in Venice and want to see more photos, head to Tommaso’s post.