Malta Diary How we the Maltese and Gozitans fill our empty stomachs when we are hungry
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What satisfies the Maltese and Gozitan palates and fills their stomachs? Forget the nouveau French Cuisine, a few coloured items decorated around a plate to make it look like a painting from the National Art Gallery or the Louvre.
The traditional palate of the Maltese Islands are cooked foodstuffs that fill the stomach and leave no doubt you have eaten to really fill that stomach.
Let me clarify this so as not to create misunderstandings. I am more than certain the French Cuisine is tasty, imaginative, of excellent quality and a joy to view. However, as of long standing (although no longer today) the Maltese kitchen struggled to provide food on tables that was not expensive and rather than being decorative was most styled to fill hungry stomachs.
Old habits die hard and although nowadays people are more diet and health conscious, follow directives to avoid cholesterol and avoid obesity (Malta still has great obesity problems and its people are still classed as being among the most obese in the EU), some food operations continue to defy all these and extend the traditional food that kept their forefathers alive and kicking.
Here are some of them.
THE MALTESE TIMPANA
Inexpensive and filling; start off with a kilo of short crust pastry (depending on the size dish/portions you require) but this is based on portions for two persons. With half the pastry line the bottom of the dish (about 5mm of pastry in height).
Separately boil 300 grams of macaroni (or spaghetti if preferred) and mix with a preparation of bolognaise sauce made of two or three dried bay leaves, chopped onions and garlic, crushed tomatoes, thinly sliced bacon and thinly sliced fillet pork seasoned with pepper and salt, lightly fried in olive oil. Mix the pasta with the sauce ensuring it is sufficiently liquid.
Cover the short pastry dish lining with the pasta and sauce mixture and stir gently to ensure it is evenly mixed. The bay leaves may be left or removed.
Cover the dish with the remaining short pastry and dent the cover with a few fork indentations. Decorate the surface with a pastry centre piece and to render it truly Maltese, a cross of short pastry which in Maltese tradition is a thanksgiving to the memory of Jesus Christ.
Brush the pastry top with well mixed egg yolk to provide it with a shiny, baked top.
Bake in the oven medium hot/hot for about 45 minutes/one hour until the pastry surface is reddish and crusty. Leave to rest for ten minutes in the oven and serve.
This is not a meal but a “snack” to keep you going on a full stomach!
When I lived in Brixton, London, in the early 1960s, there were two Maltese cafeterias that specialised in making our Maltese pastizzi – and boy did I visit them frequently!
When much later I lived in Melbourne, Australia, for just under a year, there were also Maltese cafeterias that served up pastizzi, or they could be bought frozen and cooked at home. However, the very basis of the pastizzi was subject to controversy. We Maltese boasted we had invented pastizzi. The Italians said they had and the Greeks said the recipe was theirs! I preferred our Maltese version …
These are simple and basic.
Depending on the quantity desired, puff pastry is used, rolled out and flattened thinly and preferably mangled or coated in brushed butter.
The filling can be ricotta cheese with snipped parsley (cheese cake) or a mash of peas and onions, often mixed with finely chopped anchovies.
Depending on the quantity required (whether for personal use for the household or whether as party snippets), the puff pastry is cut into circles of about 15 cms in diameter (however, much smaller versions may also be used, particularly as party bites), and five mms in height.
These can be filled with the desired mixture and then folded to make an envelope. These are then brushed thinly with melted butter.
Bake in a hot oven, frequently checked to avoid their being burnt.
LAMPUKA FISH PIE
The lampuka fish (yellow dolphin fish or corphene) has always been prolific in Maltese waters but nowadays sadly in decreasing quantities because of over-fishing, sea pollution and incursions into Maltese waters by Tunisian and Sicilian fishermen.
It is not a delicacy fish nor particularly tasty, available from September to November, but it is substantially meaty and not expensive at its peak. Fillet the fish and sauté’ gently with onions, garlic, boned black olives, peas and capers and garnished with chopped mint. For further taste, anchovies or sardines may be added. In countries where the lampuka is not available, this can be substituted with cod or rock salmon.
Roll out the short crust pastry and line the dish. Add the filling and spread. Roll out a thin pastry topping, fork indented and of course with pastry strips to form a cross and brushed with thinly spread mixed egg yolk.
Bake in a medium to hot oven for between 45 minutes and an hour.
Another stomach-filling favourite; prepare the desired chopped vegetables for the soup – carrots, onions, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli etc. To this one can add chopped bacon chunks, pork fillet and in the old days, pig trotters. Boil and leave to simmer and then add desired quantity of small macaroni or other small pasta, or if preferred, quinoa.
These are not recommended for weight-watchers or those who love to stand in front of a mirror and view their figure!
But if you want a full stomach and don’t mind a pot belly … tuck in!
“A donkey always blames its tail”
Said of a person who is quick to blame everybody else as being responsible for their own shortcomings, errors and faults.