“Polenta” by the Venetian doctor Ludovico Pastò (1744-1806) is a lovely little poem dedicated to the most typical feature of popular cuisine in Venice and across the Po valley.
The poem begins by describing a dinner, then the good doctor tells us that he likes buying polenta even in the street and to avoid being seen, hides “under a wing of his cloak” while eating it..
Since the distant past, polenta in the Veneto region was practically the symbol of the family, a large golden sun that was poured at the center of the table on a board, in clouds of steam, after being stirred for a long time in a copper pot hanging from a chain in a sooty fireplace. A ritual act that was repeated two or three times a day. Polenta warmed the hands that cut it with a wire, peeling off the slices from the rough surface and providing a pleasant warmth in the mouth and stomach. A comfort food, the protagonist of snacks, dinners and other meals, it could become a whole meal if accompanied with anything.
The word polenta immediately brings to mind ground corn, normally yellow but white in some areas.In the long history of the region this polenta is a little more than four centuries old, while there are much older kinds. Apicius talks about “pultes julianae” clearly identifiable with the modern cheese and polenta dish that goes by the name of “polenta conza”
The inhabitants of the region have always eaten polenta, even if in the past spelt, millet, barley, sorghum and buckwheat were used rather than corn.
There is compelling evidence of this persistent use, especially biscuits and cakes made with maize flour and other types of flour ranging from the Venetian “zaleti”, to the “pan di meliga” and “pinze”, all yellowish, known before the sixteenth century and still produced with yellow maize flour.
”Zaleti” are typical biscuits made with polenta. They used to be prepared for children at carnival time simply adding a little sugar to the normal polenta. With the arrival of raisins, pine nuts and candied fruit from the East, they became richer in ingredients and famous throughout the world.