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Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Cuisine of Malta

The Maltese enjoy a Mediterranean diet with a heavy Italian influence.The Maltese start many of their meals with soup. Aljotta (Maltese fish soup) is a rich soup similar to broth and has plenty of garlic, herbs and tomatoes. It is often served with rice. Kusksu (Broad Bean and Pasta Soup) is a thick, rustic soup made with fresh broad beans and a form of pasta beads called kusksu (not to be confused with Tunisian couscous) and onions and tomato paste. This is traditionally a spring favorite when broad beans are in
season.

Minestra (Vegetable soup) is a healthy, thick soup made up of different kinds of fresh and dried vegetables and served with crusty Maltese bread, hobza. This is a dish which is eaten all year round but is usually preferred in Winter as a hearty, warming dinner. Soppa ta’l-armla (Widow’s soup) got its name from the tradition of neighbors donating products to poor widows in their area. It is similar to minestra but is slightly thinner and topped off with fresh gbejniet (local sheep’s cheese) which melts in the hot soup. Raw eggs are added at the end and when they coagulate, the soup is ready.

Bordu (Broth) contains a variety of vegetables and meat the most common being beef or chicken and is served with different types of pasta.

Pasta and rice dishes:

Mqarrun il-Forn (Baked macaroni) made with macaroni, bolognese sauce, egg and other ingredients which vary according to family traditions and include peas and bacon. The macaroni is topped with grated cheese of bechamel (a basic white sauce) that melts during the baking process.

Ravjul (Ravioli) is typically filled with ricotta and fresh parsley covered with a garlic and tomato sauce. Its served with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Spinach or minced meat may also be used as a filling. In Gozo Ravjul are filled with the local sheep’s cheese (Gbejniet). Traditionally they are always counted in dozens and half dozens. Ravjul can also be carmalized and served as a dessert.

Ross il-Forn (Baked rice) is similar to baked macaroni except that it includes saffron and is placed in the oven uncooked with 2 cups (200 ml) of water for every cup of rice.

Timpana (Pastry-covered baked macaroni) this is filled with a small amount of minced beef and sometimes with hard boiled eggs. The macaroni is encased in pastry crust. A kind of macaroni meat pie. (similar to the Italian Timpano).

Meat dishes:

Braġjoli (beef olives) is a thin slice of beef surrounding breadcrumbs, bacon, eggs and herbs. It is particularly tasty when braised in red wine. In English it is also known as beef olives.

Fenek (rabbit) is very popular and one of the most well known Maltese dishes. Served as a traditional dish in restaurants. The rabbit is lightly fried, then simmered as casserole of red wine for several hours. Usually served with chips or potatoes and salad. Mostly served in tomato sauce or rich gravy.

Laħam taż-żiemel (stallion meat) a common product used in various dishes and is usually fried or baked with a white wine sauce.

Zalzett tal-Malti (Sausage) typically made of pork, sea salt, black peppercorns, coriander seeds and parsley. Some versions include garlic. The plain sausage can be dried but the one containing garlic should be consumed fresh. The sausage is short and thick and can be eaten grilled, fried, stewed or raw. Recently a ‘tal-barbikju’ (for barbecue) variety has become popular. This variety has a reduced salt content and makes use of a thinner sausage skin.

Fish:

Lampuka (Dolphin Fish) Malta’s favorite fish. Outside of Malta it is known as Mahi-mahi, dorado or dolphin fish. The fish has white meat and only a few large bones. It is found in abundance in the seas between Malta and Tunisia. The fish can be lightly pan-fried in olive oil, oven baked with a tomato, onion, caper and wine sauce, or made into a fish pie with spinach, cauliflower, capers, sultans, hard-boiled eggs, herbs and a shortcut pastry topping.

Vegetables:

Bigilla (Bean dip)
Bigilla is a traditional bean dip. Made with a type of dried broad beans called ful tal-Ġirba, which are soaked for 24 hours, rinsed, then boiled until they are very soft. Then the beans are mashed and mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil, crushed garlic and chopped parsley. Chili is optional. Usually served with galletti (Maltese crackers) or Ħobża tal-Malti drizzled with olive oil.

Kapunata (Ratatouille)
A Maltese version of Ratatouille made from tomatoes, capers, eggplants and green peppers which goes well with grilled fish, or can be served cold, on its own as a savory light lunch. It is used also on pizza. Can be home-made but can also be found in supermarkets preserved in cans. It is similar to the Italian (Sicilian) caponata.

Qargħa Bagħli Mimli (Stuffed marrows)
These are particular delicious stuffed with minced beef, parsley and baked, or made into a creamy soup. It can also be fried.

Pastry:

Imqaret (Date slices)
Deep-fried pastries filled with dates are served piping hot from take-away stands. They can be found at City Gate, Valletta. Some restaurants also offer them as desserts on their menu. The Imqaret was chosen as the Maltese representative for Café Europe during the Austrian Presidency of the European Union in 2006.

Kannoli (Cheese or cream filled pastry)
Very similar to the Italian cannoli. A tube-shaped confectionery of deep-fried crisp pastry stuffed with fresh ricotta and sweetened with pieces of chocolate and candied fruit. It can be eaten as a treat any time of day, and is also offered after dinner. The candied fruit included in this snack, is also often used in a delicious type of colourful nougat. Also "Kannoli tal-Krema" where fresh whipped cream replaces the ricotta.

Pastizzi (Ricotta or pea filled pasties)
A popular snack for all Islanders, found at pastizzerias and most bars, pizzerias, and some restaurants and bakeries. Pastizzi are small, diamond-shaped packets of flaky pastry stuffed with either fresh ricotta or a mushy pea mixture. Sometimes they are slightly spicy and made from shortcrust pastry. They have been likened to the Indian Samosas, just with a more neutral filling. Puff pastry variants are served at most restaurants, though tasting totally different.

Qassatat (Ricotta or pea filled pasties)
Another alternative to pastizzi, these are made of light pastry traditionally filled with ricotta, peas, or spinach. Alternative fillings are increasingly becoming popular. No larger than the palm of a hand, smaller servings are used as finger food at functions.

Cheese

Ġbejniet (Gozo cheeselets)
Small, round cheeses, made from sheep's milk, often served as part of a light lunch, or as part of a hearty dinner. They come in three varieties, fresh, sun dried (moxxi) or peppered (tal-bzar). The Fresh variety have a smooth texture and a subtle, often creamy flavor. There are usually kept in water in a similar manner to fresh Mozzarella. The sundried variant has a more definite, almost musky, taste, and are hard, but can keep for a long time without refrigeration. The peppered variety are dried in crushed black pepper, sometimes with the addition of dark vinegar. Varying in taste from spiky to hot depending on the kind of pepper and amount used and the time for which they are left to 'cure'. The dried varieties are traditionally served with Galletti (a local type of cracker biscuit) and a glass of robust red wine.

Bread

Ħobża tal-Malti (Maltese bread)
A very crusty sourdough bread loaf that has a soft inside which is the mainstay of a meal. It is a snack in itself served with simple local produce like fresh tomatoes or kunserva (tomato paste), and ġbejniet. This type of bread proves extremely popular: most households have a loaf delivered daily including Sundays, while tourists specifically request it wherever they eat. A less crusty and more compact variant is used for bruschetta. Best eaten fresh but cooled off, as it loses most of its taste and crunchiness within a day. Some prefer it straight from the oven.

Ħobz biz-Zejt (Maltese bruschetta)
This variation on the Italian bruschetta consists of a slice of crusty Maltese bread dipped in olive oil, rubbed with tomatoes and filled with a mix of tuna, tomatoes, onion, olives, capers and garlic. It is eaten as a starter or side dish, or on its own as a healthy snack.

Beef Olives

Serves 4
In this traditional dish, stuffed beef slices are tied into the shape of oversize olives. Olives are a Mediterranean symbol of blessings and peace, which may be why this dish is shaped to look like them. Ask your butcher to slice the meat thinly, then pound it to about 1⁄16".

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 lb. ground beef or pork, or a combination of the two
Leaves from 3 sprigs each flat-leaf parsley and marjoram, chopped
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 very thin slices top round steak, about 4" × 8" each
1 cup red wine
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1⁄2 cup bread crumbs (optional)

1. Cook half the onions and half the garlic in 4 tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat for 15 minutes. Add meat, parsley, and marjoram, and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Stir in eggs, season to taste, and mix well.

2. Place about 1⁄4 cup filling in the center of each piece of steak. Roll lengthwise, tucking in sides as you go. Tie each roll securely with kitchen string.

3. Heat remaining 2 tbsp. oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and brown rolls on all sides. Add remaining onions and garlic, wine, tomatoes, and, if using, bread crumbs. Lower heat and simmer covered till meat is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to a platter; cook sauce until thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour sauce over meat and serve. By Rasma Raisters

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