Thursday, June 19, 2014


The world's heaviest Ferrero Rocher
Usually, I don't watch soccer. The reason being that 1) I never really cared and 2) I was scarred forever when in 2004 the general manager of my local team, Venezia, was caught by the police with a bag with €250,000 IN CASH received for intentionally losing a match. Venezia was then punished by having to play forever somewhere completely inoffensive like the Baby&Tots Itsy-Bitsy Soccer League for Fun, Fun, Fun. Or something like that.

However, every 4 years my soccer soul awakens and stirs like that of a moulting cicada in DC. I resurrect from my soccer slumber and for a month straight I live and breathe World Cup. This frenzy is shared by all my fellow Italians, of course, which brings me to the third rule of the Drive Your Italian Hosts Crazy series.

Rule #3: When the Italian National Team is playing, praise or just shut up. 

I'm sure you're thinking Rule #3 applies to most countries, and of course you are right. However, the degree with which Italians love their national team is rather unique. In fact, I will state that the national team is the only thing that brings Italians together and makes them feel like a true nation. If this comes as a surprise, please remember that Italy is a relatively young country: We became unified only in 1861, which is 85 years AFTER the birth of the United States. Before that year, Italy was a sorry mess of a geopolitical puzzle of hate-filled mini-states and kingdoms, who only came together as one country because it looked so damned cute on the map.

The result is that today Italians still hate Italians from any other area, region, province, city, town, neighborhood, street, floor, etc. Except... when the Italian National Team is playing. Then we're all together, waving the tricolor flag you will never see us waving at any other occasion. We're finally patriotic, just like you Americans, or, what the heck, even the French!

For an Italian, the national pride is surprising and intoxicating, like discovering your family loves you and will also leave you a fortune in inheritance one day. Now that I think about it, it does really feel like family... A family where Italians are all proud parents of 23 wholesome athletes who can do no wrong... Well, except losing a game, of course. Then united Italy and its flag can go fuck themselves.

Look at our boys, all grown up!



From keeping your fingers crossed to actually praying, from holding tight on your genitals at any mention of possible negative outcome to replicating ad infinitum whatever you were doing when Italy scored, Italians believe (truly) that Lady Luck is looking at each and every one of us to decide if the Italian team is going to win. As an American, you're allowed to roll your eyes, because everybody is looking at the screen anyway. But no sighing, unless Italy scores while you're doing it. Then sigh again, now!

"Tifo Contro" 

Americans, you will despise us for this, but we do rejoice when our adversaries lose, are expelled, and yep, fall. And yes, I know, this is the little, seemingly innocent bud of stadium violence in Europe. (I promise I'll try to keep to a fun, not-too-mean level in front of my children and others'.) Our "countra-cheer" is directed at the team we are playing against and at the French team, our arch-enemies.

No Food: We're Busy

American might prepare immense, decadent food spreads or organize a full BBQ to watch your sports. In Italy we don't really eat during games, except for a bowl of chips and a few cans of beer (cheap, crappy, often room temperature). We try to schedule our meals before or after the game, since for 90 minutes our eyes will be glued to the TV screen. Also, you don't want to be holding a hot bowl of penne when Italy gets close to the box. There's a lot of sudden jumping from the couch when Italy plays. The only recipe that Italians might associate with the National Team is frittata di cipolle, or onion frittata, popularized in a 1976 classic Italian comedy (the recipe will soon be on this blog).

Monday, June 2, 2014


You might remember that my family is now basically sugar-free thanks to Dr. Lustig and his anti-sugar campaign (YEAH, THANKS). I say "basically", because we still want to make room for the occasional treat, such as an unmissable dessert at a good restaurant, a cup of fresh gelato, or a homemade sweet that is as fun to make as it is to eat. We try to break The Rule a couple of times a month, and then we make sure to flog ourselves with a cat o' nine licorice ribbons.

In this regard, Italian sweets have become a perfect solution, since many of them tend to rely on less sugar than the American ones. In fact, I found that many recipes rely on 1/2 cup sugar, and that includes cakes. Mind you, these do not originate as healthy sweets: They are genuine recipes with no claim other than deliciousness. So here starts my 1/2 CUP of SUGAR series, for sweets that still need to be consumed in moderation, but should not hurl you and your family into leptin annihilation. (For this last comment, refer to Dr. Lustig's Youtube lecture linked above.)

The first recipe is for Zaeti (or Zaleti), the traditional Venetian cornmeal cookie. They are rustic and crumbly, like a hearty shortbread. They contain raisins, but sometimes also pine-nuts. I know them mostly shaped like diamonds—or to be more precise, like rhomboids—but they can be flat and round, or plump and oval. I made them both with coarsely-ground cornmeal and with finer one. I must say I prefer them on the coarser side, but medium-coarseness will leave some hard corn bits. Readers with dental crowns and fillings: Watch out.

Venetians usually have Zaeti in the afternoon, accompanied by a sip of white wine, but I'm not one to put limitations on their consumption. So if you prefer to stuff some in a paper cup and eat them in the car on your way to work, you have my blessing.

The powdered sugar is not really supposed to be there. Oh well.


3/4 cup of raisins
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
a pinch of salt
a pinch of baking powder
a pinch of grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
powdered sugar (optional)

  • Heat the oven to 350F.
  • Soak the raisins in a little warm water for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain them and squeeze out the excess water.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until mixture has thickened and is a very pale yellow.
  • In another bowl, mix flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and lemon zest. Add the melted butter and the vanilla extract to the flour mixture and stir well.
  • Pour the eggs and sugar into the flour mixture, together with the raisins. The final dough with be very coarse and wet. 
  • Roll the dough carefully on a floured surface, adding more flour if necessary, to a 1/4'' thickness. If the dough seems too crumbly, you can add a little bit of yogurt to make it more manageable. Let the dough rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Cut the dough into long 2'' stips, then cut the strips diagonally every 2 1/2 inch or so to make little diamonds.
  • Transfer them to a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and then into the oven for 12–13 minutes, or until they start to color and they are not soft in the center. Let the Zaeti cool down for 15 minutes before serving them. Sprinkle them with powdered sugar if you prefer or if they don't look as you expected.