I was in the middle of testing this recipe when I remembered that my friend David was in Italy. I texted him immediately with the mission of locating and taste testing as many varieties of Zaletti as he could find. He discovered that this is a very elusive cookie. It’s truly regional. Folks in Rome and Florence had never heard of this confection.
It wasn’t until he arrived in Venice that he found them, after asking more than one shopkeeper, “Do you by chance have Zaletti [zaaah-let-ee]?” “No”, they would reply. “Do you mean, [tsa-let-ee]?” “Right, that’s what I said.” He finally scored and graciously gifted me with a precious few of authentic zaletti from Venice aka the Veneto region.
Zaletti comes from the word giallo; meaning “yellow”. According to some the real name should be gialletti or “little yellow things”. Here’s my take on this very regional Italian cookie.
Makes about 5 – 6 dozen cookies depending on the size.
3/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup hot water
3 tablespoons grappa or brandy
1/2 cup (2 ½ oz/ 75 g) pine nuts, toasted
1 ½ cups (9 oz / 255 g) polenta, aka stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 ½ cups (6 ¾ oz / 200 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 g) aluminum-free baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
12 (6 oz / 170 g) tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (4 ½ oz / 130 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg, separated
Zest of one lemon, preferably organic
Course sugar for sprinkling on top, optional
Place the currants in a small bowl. Combine the hot water and grappa/brandy; pour over the currants and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. In a small dry pan, toast the pine nuts, stirring occasionally until brown and fragrant. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool. In a mixing bowl sift together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment mix together the butter and 2/3 cup of sugar. Add one whole egg and the egg yolk; mix to incorporate. Drain the currants, then add them along with the lemon zest, and pine nuts; stir to combine. Stir in the flour mixture just until blended. You may need to finish mixing the dough with your hand.
Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pat into about a 9-inch flat square, that’s about ½-inch thick. Wrap tightly in the plastic and refrigerate for 45 minutes or even overnight.
When ready to bake off, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface. Beat the other whole egg with a ½ teaspoon of water. Brush the dough with the egg wash. If using, sprinkle with course sugar.
With a knife or bench knife, cut the dough into ½-inch strips. The cut the strips diagonally to form diamonds or parallelograms.
Place the cookies on prepared baking pans. Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan about half-way through the cooking. Continue baking lightly golden. Place the baking pans on wire racks and allow the cookies to cool.