The Veneto region, comprising a vast, dry land territory covering Padova, Verona, and the islands of Venice, was largely an agricultural area dedicated to farming of soft wheat, corn, and fruits and vegetables during the pre-industrial age. Money was scarce, and families survived largely on the fruits of their labor, fish from the Venetian lagoon, and a diet creatively designed around those organic grains, like corn, that were in abundance. Meats were considered a luxury. In fact, salamis and cured meats were a solution to the lack of refrigeration and provided a hearty alternative to the otherwise "poor" diet.
Thus, the organic baking traditions reflected not only the antique traditions, but also the organic ingredients most readily available. Converting corn into polenta for a sweet cookie or for the dinner table represented the marriage of necessity to nutrition. In fact, most of the traditional Venetian organic cookies are dry, rather than moist, given the scarcity of organic ingredients, the difficulty in conserving them, and the palette preferences of the Venetians for a drier organic cookie. Many of the desert and organic cookie recipes were secret, passed down through the maternal side, and often nicknamed "biscotti della nonna" or "grandmother's cookies" to represent their homemade origins. The organic cookies were jealously conserved in lovely tin or wood boxes, next to the crystal bottles of rose oil, walnut liqueur, or citron liqueur.
Corn and wheat were organic grains that, at the time, produced according to what we consider today as organic farming. Today, these same recipes are replicated as organic cookies, a healthy alternative to conventional practices, which respect the environment and do not employ the use of pesticides. These sweet organic treats have been made for centuries, although never too sweet, as it was the homemaker's intention to let the organic ingredients speak for themselves, whereas sugar was an expensive indulgence. This traditional, organic cookie recipe is easy to prepare: Zaeti Zaeti in Venetian Dialect translates to "gialetti" in Italian, or "small yellow cookies", a nickname given for the fact that they are made of yellow corn flour, an element common to every family kitchen in the region, and therefore a sign of their rusticity. To make them more "genteel", tradition called for the addition of wheat flour, sugar and raisins. Organic Food Ingredients: 7/8 cup of flour, 1 1/3 cup of finely ground corn flour, an abundant half cup of sugar, an abundant half cup of unsalted butter,2 eggs, ¼ cup of raisins, one half ounce of yeast, 1 grated lemon, ½ of a small glass of grappa, a dash of salt, 2 tablespoons of flour for the workspace, 4 tablespoons of lightly sifted confectioner's sugar.
Place the raisins in tepid water for 10 minutes to soften them. Drain the water and gently wring them with your hands to remove the excess water. Put them in a bowl and add the grappa to "bathe" them for approx 20 minutes. Then drain the grappa and dry them with a very clean kitchen towel. Sift the wheat and corn flour together with the yeast and salt and place in a bowl.
Add the beaten eggs, and the melted butter. Mix with a fork and add the raisins. (Follow this procedure before adding the raisins to make sure they don't fall to the bottom: lightly dust them with 2 tablespoons of flour).
Add the sugar and the grated lemon peel. Mix until the dough becomes homogenous. Lay the dough out on a lightly floured workspace, and roll it out to a thickness of just less than ½ an inch. Using the rolling pin to help you, and using a knife, cut out long ovals about 2 inches in length. Place them on a baking sheet, not too close together, and bake in a 350 ° oven for 20 minutes. Once cooled, dust them with the confectioner's sugar and serve together with your favorite liqueur.
Enjoy these organic, Venetian sweets and please your family and friends with them by bringing antique traditions to your table, just as the Venetians have done for centuries.
By Heather Bettendorf - President, PRIMA Organic Foods ( PRIMAOrganic.com ) - Offering gourmet organic cookies from Italy. Our organic foods include unique organic cookie formulations containing Italian Almond, Venetian Classic, Natural Lemon, and Sunny Vanilla.