Zaleti is one of those innumerable simple, scrumptious Italian dolcetti. Chocked full of cornmeal, this quite antique recipe hails from the Veneto region (they love their polenta up there) and is traditionally served during Carnavale, a glass of Prosecco della Valdobbiadene quite often within reach. Not for the light hearted: they are rich, intense and quite yellow (giallo).
Speaking of cornmeal—or polenta or farina di mais or farina di grano turco—there are Italian artisan offerings that are beautifully whole grain and stone milled, made from Marano, a cultivar of corn with reddish-orange cobs—known for its distinctive "polenta" flavor, aroma and texture: hearty, deep and creamy—that hails from the same Veneto region, selectively breed back in the early 1900s. I've grown quite partial to cooking with these whole-grain Italian farina di mais, bringing them back from Italy on my not-often-enough trips there or stocking up on them here in Paris at my favorite Italian épicérie.
There's whole-grain farina di mais "bramata"—a fine cornmeal—full of lovely reddish-brown speckles. I bought a bunch of it from Azienda Agricola Lorentoni in Spoleto on my last visit. Then there's whole-grain farina di mais "rustica"—a much coarser cornmeal—also full of lovely reddish-brown speckles, from Tenuta Castello in the provence of Vercelli, Piedmonte, which Alessandra stocks on the shelves of her wonderful—and my favorite—Italian épicérie RAP in Paris' 9th arrondissement though you'd think you'd just stumbled into it off a winding narrow cobblestone street in some remote Italian village.
A little side here... for anyone of French persuasion, here's a petition that truly deserves to be signed: pour un nouveau statut juridique de l'animal.
And now without further ado...la ricetta.
|— zaleti made with fine whole-grain stone milled corn flour|
— zaleti made with coarse whole-grain stone milled corn flour
— farina di mais rustica from Tenuta Castello
adapted from on a recipe in: la Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene by Pellegrino Artusi (one of many variations on the subject)
300 gr || 10.5 oz fine, medium or coarse ground corn meal (depending on the crunch you want)
150 gr || 5.3 oz unbleached white flour (in France, I use T65 or T80—see below || or substitute brown rice flour for a gluten-free version)
150 gr || 5.3 oz blond cane sugar (if you wish it a bit less sweet, try 125 gr)
200 gr || 7 oz unsalted butter, just out of the refrigerator (or 100 gr butter + 75 ml extra-virgin olive oil, or 165 ml olive oil)
100 gr || 3.5 oz Sultana raisins
Grappa (or white rum)
50 gr || 1.75 oz almonds, blanched and slivered lengthwise
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
||| Soften the raisins in a bit of Grappa for 30 minutes. Strain and squeeze the raisins dry.
||| Preheat the oven to 180 ˚C (375 ˚F)
||| Mix together the two flours along with a pinch of salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and incorporate completely into the flour with your hands, rubbing the mixture between them until "sandy". If using olive oil, start by stirring it in then let your hands take over, always striving for that sandy texture, not clumped together.
||| Whisk together the egg and sugar until turning pale yellow and fluffing a bit. Stir into the flour mixture. Add the raisins, lemon zest and almond slivers.
||| Form into small balls (the size of a golf ball or smaller if you wish) and flatten out slightly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, giving a bit of breathing room between each ball—they don't spread much.
||| Bake in the oven approx 15 minutes, until turning golden. Gently transfer to a rack to cool. Can be kept in a glass jar for a week... maybe a bit more.
— If substituting brown rice flour and using butter add an extra 20 gr || 0,7 oz. If using olive oil add an extra 10 ml.
— If substituting olive oil, let the final mixture sit for 15 minutes so the cornmeal can soak it up, which it will, making a firmer "ball-rolling" dough.
— I never buy blanched almonds; it's really quite easy to blanch them yourself. inevitably they'll be fresher and tastier. Here's how to proceed: Drop into a pan of boiling water for 1 minute seconds. Drain and let cool just long enough to be able to handle. Squeeze the fat end of each almond between your fingers, holding the palm of your other hand out in front to catch it.
— In France there are many flour "types," each determined by the ash or mineral content (or amount of bran) in the flour. T45 is white-white pastry flour—found in all your favorite croissants; T55 is all purpose flour—in all those "airy" white French baguettes; T65 is just slightly dark (or "grey") and is used in the baguette tradition; T80 is a bit darker and could be called "half-wheat" flour; T110 is darker yet, and finally T150 is wholemeal or whole wheat flour. The higher numbered flour types are traditionally used for specialty breads.