The Italian Journal: A Prologue

I’m a highly organized person. Ask anyone who knows me. Highly organized. Ditzy or flighty just wouldn’t be words used to describe me. Someone who’s made it to 50 (and a little), taking pretty good care of herself thru adulthood thus far couldn’t be ditzy or flighty and survive, right? Surely I would have succumbed to some disastrous fate by now, stepped off the wrong curb at the wrong time and SPLAT! Yet as you can see, I haven’t. And naturally a highly organized mature adult who was traveling to Italy would have it completely together, every detail in place, every step mapped, every situation anticipated. I mean, I’m the type of person who checks her flights, the trains to her flights, her wallet, her ID, her quart-sized ziploc baggie filled with not a drop more than 3 oz. of sundry liquids an almost obsessive number of times between the apartment and the airplane gate. Which is why it is so remarkable to me that when it came time for this savvy, cosmopolitan and somewhat well-traveled gal to go on her fabulous 50th birthday excursion ala Italia, I suddenly turned into Ellie Mae marveling at the cement pond in the backyard.

It started at the airport check in. My lovely traveling companion texted me that based upon our class of tickets, I didn’t have to wait in line with the “real folk”. Yippee thought cosmo-gal. So I got on the wrong line. When I realized my mistake, I smugly sauntered (well, slinked with the proper amount of affluent guilt) to the fancy-schmancy check in counter.  Yes, thought I, this feels right. Mary the desk agent smiled, greeted me with the greeting afforded the “haves”, and asked me where I was going. “Rome” I chirped, adjusting my jaunty travel hat and extending my passport with freshly manicured hand.  “Hmmmm….I don’t see your name.” The jaunty hat slipped a bit. “Perhaps you are stopping someplace first?”  “Frankfurt” I giggled, with an ‘oh silly me, I am such a jet setter I get all the fabulous locations mixed up” smile. “Nope” uttered Mary, who was frankly getting a little perturbed at the ditzy blond in the stupid hat. Perhaps I should look at my actual reservation in my calendar thought I (finally the old organized gal had returned.)  “Ah, Munich!”  Mary finally smiled with a definite “you won this upgrade on a game show didn’t you” look on her face. Then I told her…”You see, this whole trip was a gift from a best friend, for my 50th. Warming passed over the glacier on Mary’s face, and we gal-talked (she was just 50 too) while she printed various passes, sticky labels with codes and I gush over how lucky I was. Bags checked and boarding pass in hand, I moved on through security without ditz-incident and up to the Red Carpet lounge to rendezvous with my travel mate.

As I got into the lounge and spied my pal, the shrieking and jumping up and down display surely made the rest of the “haves” think I won the trip guessing the price of a case of rice-a-roni for Drew Carey. We had about 90 minutes to kill before our flight, so once settled back into jet-set mode I looked around for some refreshments.  A glass of wine? Naturally, an Italian vintage seemed apt. Then I spied them…bowls of them…MILANO COOKIES!!!!  Back was Ellie Mae as I giddily grabbed a handful like a kid on Halloween, then gushed to my friend “look, Milanos and Walker shortbread snack packs….for FREE!  Ah well, at least the jaunty hat was classy. We boarded our flight, making the first class left to our seats. Did you know they give you fabulous gifts and prizes in the schmancy seats on international flights?!  Little zipped bags filled with eyeshades, earplugs, swanky lotions and socks! Gone was any hope of jet set cosmo girl as I pushed all the buttons on my barcalounger seat/bed, and accepted the welcome glass of champagne.  Such treatment and they didn’t even know it was my birthday trip…yet. That was soon remedied by my crafty companion (more on his wonderful sneakiness next week), so by the time the plane landed in Munich our head flight attendant made sure the whole plane knew too. And neither this jet-setting sophisticated cosmo gal (or her Ellie Mae “id”) minded one bit.


My goal food-wise for this trip was to eat like the locals, which meant ordering the specialties of each city we visited. I happily succeeded, and discovered terrific new dishes I would never had found otherwise.  When pouring through the many meals to pick the first recipe, I figured a good place to start would be breakfast. If you’ve ever traveled to Italy you know that Italians don’t really do breakfast like we do. A strong cup of coffee, maybe a little pastry or such with it and they are good to go. So that’s what we did, and in Venice I happily discovered zaeti. Zaeti are large oval-shaped cookies made with cornmeal, raisins or chocolate chips, a shot of grappa, all held together with a copious amount of butter. MY kind of breakfast!  I researched the recipe when I got home, substituted my preference for liqueur (vin santo) and think I got it right. One of these and some good coffee is my idea of a breakfast of champions, ala Italia!

Veneziano Zaeti (Venetian Polenta Cookies)

Makes about 2 dozen

These cookies, made yellow by cornmeal and egg yolks, are a staple in every bakery in Venice and with a strong cup of coffee make the perfect start to the day!

The original recipe I found was in grams (and in Italian), so after translating I decided to include both grams and cups so everyone could follow.

  • 250 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks plus one tablespoon)
  • 200 grams sugar (1 cup)
  • 250 grams all purpose flour (2 cups)
  • 150 grams corn flour (1¼ cups cornmeal)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 generous shot, or 2 generous tablespoons of vin santo, grappa, limoncello, or any other liqueur you’d like, or you could leave out
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 200 grams (1 ¼ cups) raisins or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180 C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the egg yolks one at a time until incorporated. Add vanilla and vin santo (or whatever you are using) and mix thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients slowly and mix until completely incorporated. Fold in raisins or chocolate chips.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoon onto paper-lined cookie sheets, and form the cookies into ovals about 2 ½ inches long. The cookies will spread a good deal, so only put two next to each other (I got about 6/sheet, evenly spaced.)

Bake for 10 minutes, reverse sheets, and bake another 10 minutes until slightly golden brown on bottom. Cool on rack, brew up the espresso, and mangiare! Calories: approximately 200 per cookie, but it IS breakfast, and you’ll walk that off on the cobblestones… 😉


15 thoughts on “The Italian Journal: A Prologue

  1. 6 egg yolks and over full cup of butter….how could they be bad? We once took British Airways business class to London. AMAZING! I did the same thing you did Ellie Mae and ate and drank myself silly at the airport BA lounge. The ride was fantastic with lots of buttons to push and lots of alcohol to drink. I asked the flight attendant “If this is business class….what goes on in first class?”. She said that they give you pajamas and iron your clothes so they are fresh looking when you land…..I can’t even imagine. I can’t wait to try these cookies. Thanks for sharing.

    • Really, copious amounts of butter and egg yolks, what’s not to like! I told my friend who treated me to the trip that I would have been happy to sit in coach just to be in Venice for my 50th and he replied “dear, what did I tell you??? Coach is a leather goods company on 34th Street.” 🙂

  2. Hi there,
    Now on my computer and NOT on the iPad, I don’t see my comment, although I am sure I posed it. Here are the ingredients for the zalettini (“little yellow ones” in Venetian dialect) – very similar!
    2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

    1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

    3/4 cup sugar

    4 large egg yolks

    2 tablespoons water

    1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

  3. Dear Ellie Mae, I giggled like a little girl when I got upgraded on Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca. They were NOT amused! – Jethro.

    Now, as to the zaeta, they sound a lot like a Venetian cookie I make called zalletini. Very yummy. I will hae to get out the recipes and compare, although I do kwon they don’t have alcohol in them… Maybe these are the little versions for kids?

  4. Having tasted the sample you brought me, I can truly say “favoloso!”
    I’m off to buy some cornmeal and Cointreau, and bake me some more!

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