Zaletti are a mildly sweet Venetian cookie studded with rum-soaked currants. Mildly sweet and perfectly crumbly, zaletti are a pleasant dolci reminiscent of shortbread. I first stumbled across these charming Italian cookies while reading In Late Winter We Ate Pears by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber – a charming memoir that follows two honeymooners through an enchanting journey that winds through Italy’s countryside as they experience the rich flavors and history of real Italian cooking.
Heekin’s and Barber’s can only be described as simply charming. Anything more would derail the gentle simplicity of such a lovely book. With deeply evocative prose that borders, at times, on the poetic, Heekin and Barber share a love of culture, food and history with a reader. The book drips with an appreciable love of food and, in many ways, ranks well alongside other classic books of the slow food movement like Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food: The Case for Taste and David Masumoto’s Epitaph for a Peach.
Organized according to seasons, In Late Winter We Ate Pears also offers simple, seasonal recipes – recipes that will help you to appreciate the simple beauty of real food and seasonal eating. There’s Escarole with Oil and Vinegar for spring, Peaches in Red Wine for summer, Trout with Fresh Herbs for Autumn and Braised Cabbage for Winter.
As I danced my way through the book, I fell in love with the simple zaletti recipe. Currants, rum and cornmeal combine together for a simple, mild sweet. Of course, I don’t keep cornmeal or all purpose flour or white sugar in my cupboards, but I found easy substitutes and the zaletti turned out beautifully using masa harina, sprouted grain flour and unrefined cane juice.
So here’s a simple taste of In Late Winter We Ate Pears – the Zaletti:
In Late Winter We Ate Pears is published by publishers of all things sustainable, Chelsea Green and can be purchased directly from Chelsea Green or through Amazon. You can also follow Chelsea Green on Twitter.
- ¾ Cup dried currants
- 1 to 1½ cups rum
- ½ lb unsalted butter, (softened)
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1¾ cups cornmeal, (plus additional for flowering)
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, (sifted)
- ½ cup all-purpose flour, (for dusting currants)
- minutes (or more) ahead of time: Place the dried currants in a medium-sized bowl. Add just enough rum to cover the currants. (Keep the currants submerged; if necessary, place a smaller bowl inside the medium bowl to rest on top of the currants.) Soak the currants for at least 30 minutes. While the currants soak, proceed with the recipe.
- To make the cookies: In a mixer with a paddle or in a large mixing bowl and using a fork, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs and mix well. In a separate bowl, toss the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt together. Add ⅓ of the cornmeal mixture to the butter-sugar mixture, mixing well. Repeat until cornmeal mixture and sugar-butter mixture are thoroughly combined. Add the sifted flour to the dough, mixing gently but thoroughly.
- Drain the currants, reserving and storing the now-infused rum for later use (try pouring over ice cream).
- In a separate bowl, place the currants and the additional ½ cup flour and toss until currents are lightly coated. Remove the currants fro m the flour, add them to the dough, and mix just enough to distribute the currants evenly throughout the dough.
- Divide dough into thirds. On a floured work surface, use your hands to roll each portion into a 2-inch thick log. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until you are ready to bake. (The dough can keep for a few days in the refrigerator, but leavening begins to tire if stored longer. Cookies will bake up lighter when the dough is fresh.)
- When cool, store in a cookie tin or a plastic container with tight-fitting lid. Makes 50 to 60 cookies.