eat in my kitchen

To cook, to bake, to eat and to treat.

About helping and sharing – and a Provençal Artichoke Quiche

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

Everybody’s life can be a feast and a tragedy at times, it can be calm and peaceful in one second and rocky and rough in the next. In these moments, all of us need a helping hand or someone who listens. I believe, I know, that there’s no one out there who wasn’t ever in need of help. It starts when we’re born, when our mothers are there for us, giving without asking for anything in return. That’s love. And all along the way, we meet so many people who are there for us and reach out when in need. Shouldn’t we all be willing to do so? Why is it so hard for some to show compassion and be there for the ones in need of help? Why can’t we – as those who are much better off and on more stable ground – be there for the ones who are hurt, exiled and persecuted? I believe we should treat others as we would want to be treated. If we refuse to help why should we expect help when we are in a difficult situation?

My grandmother decided to leave East Germany when the wall – die Mauer – was being built, she had to flee with 6 children. They went to West Germany with literally nothing, they left their farm and land behind to escape a regime that she and her husband didn’t want their children to grow up in. They we’re refugees in what was once their own country. But they weren’t alone, many people helped them to build up their future, many shared the little they had and my family managed to get back on their feet. 40 years later, East Germany was in need of help, the people of the West gave a share of what they had, out of solidarity, to rebuild a part of the country that had suffered for decades. The people in the East received help. That’s compassion. Today, hundred thousands of people are willing to risk their lives and leave their homes to seek help in Europe and other wealthy parts of the world, to escape political systems that are also no longer safe to live in. Wouldn’t we all do the same? Didn’t we do the same throughout the history of human kind?

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

Paul from the Einfach-Lecker-Essen blog started the Blogger für Flüchtlinge (Bloggers for Refugees) initiative with a few of his friends to call for support and collect donations for refugee camps, first only in Berlin, and now all over Germany. The movement is growing quickly and more and more stand up every day to give a helping hand to the ones in need. Please spread the word if you write a blog (#BloggerFuerFluechtlinge), you can support the initiative with a donation here.

Today’s recipe is a dish that is practically made to be shared – a fragrant golden quiche. A quiche is like a friend, it always makes me feel good and at home wherever I am, it’s down to earth comfort food. Add some preserved artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, thyme and aromatic Gruyère cheese to the filling and you have a late summer Provençal picnic tart. And when we sit there in peace, enjoying the food together with the ones we love, a scene that’s so normal for most of us, we shouldn’t forget that this is what everybody aspires to. Nothing more and nothing less.

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

For a 30cm / 12″ tart pan or baking dish you need

For the short crust base

plain flour 260g / 2 cups
salt 1 teaspoon
butter, cold 130g / 4 1/2 ounces
organic egg 1

For the filling

organic eggs 4
heavy cream 125ml / 1/2 cup
sour cream 175g / 3/4 cup
fresh thyme leaves 3 tablespoons plus a few sprigs for the topping
salt 1 teaspoon
ground pepper
nutmeg, freshly grated, a generous amount
large preserved artichoke hearts, cut in half (lengthwise), 3
black olives (preferably Kalamata) 10
cherry tomatoes, cut in half, 10
Gruyère cheese (or any other aromatic hard cheese), grated, 2-3 tablespoons

For the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter with a knife into the flour until there are just little pieces of butter left. Continue with your fingers and rub the butter into the flour until combined. Add the egg and continue mixing with the hooks of your mixer until you have a crumbly mixture. Form a disc, wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for 12 minutes.

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F (top/ bottom heat).

Roll out the dough between cling film and line the baking dish with the flat pastry. Prick it with a fork and blind-bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes or until golden.

Take the baking dish out of the oven and set the temperature down to 180°C / 355°F.

Whisk  the eggs with the heavy cream, sour cream, thyme, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Arrange the artichoke hearts, olives and tomatoes on top of the pre-baked pastry base, pour in the egg-cream mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Bake the quiche in the oven for about 55 minutes or until golden brown, the top should be firm. Let it cool for a few minutes and garnish with the thyme sprigs. Serve cold or warm.

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

 

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

 

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

 

Provençal Artichoke Quiche

 

provencalquiche16

 

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Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

I’ve been dreaming of these muffins since I went to Malta almost 2 months ago. The idea of figs, soft, ripe and sweet as honey, crowning the top of a pale muffin got stuck in my head. Still in the Mediterranean, I must have bugged almost every farmer on the island (just a slight exaggeration) to find the fruits for my creation, but nature had other plans. It simply wasn’t their season yet, I was too early. Luckily we’re off to our island next week for a few days, so we can catch up on them and pick them straight from the trees.

At least this was my plan until the beautiful blog Design*Sponge asked me for a recipe for their In The Kitchen With series. While I was still chatting with lovely Kristina to get an idea of what they’d like me to come up with, I had a vision – a luscious baguette sandwich inspired by a picnic in the south of France. I could see whipped chèvre, dark grapes, bacon, honey, thyme – and figs. So here was the second recipe in urgent need of this fruit. I went on a hunt and finally spotted them at my trusted organic market, fresh from Israel, dark as the night, soft skinned and ripe! I bought a huge bunch, enough to lock myself in the kitchen for a whole day, to cook and bake with my delicious finds.

The sandwich came first and it turned out as messy and luscious as I had imagined, you can find the recipe and interview here. My muffins were my second project, equally satisfying – I had quite a successful day in the kitchen. To use my strawberry muffin recipe, with olive oil and ricotta, was part of the plan. I only added a little more sugar to the dough as the fruits lay on top, in the original recipe I stirred in the berries so they sweeten it with their natural juices. It’s still not a very cakey muffin, it’s more of a warm breakfast treat, to spread some butter on top and melt into the honey glazed figs. Somehow they almost taste like scones – or rather like a luxurious version of it.

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

 

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins 

Makes 12 muffins

plain flour 320g / 2 1/2 cups
granulated sugar 130g / 2/3 cups
baking powder 3 leveled teaspoons
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
salt 1/4 teaspoon
organic eggs 2
ricotta 250g / 9 ounces
olive oil 100ml / 1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons
freshly squeezed orange juice 30ml / 2 tablespoons
ripe figs (soft skinned), rinsed (not peeled) and cut in half, 6
liquid honey 3 tablespoons, for the topping

Set your oven to 190°C / 375°F (fan-assisted oven) and put paper baking cups into the 12 molds of the muffin tray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, mix the eggs, ricotta, olive oil and orange juice until light and fluffy and pour into the bowl with the dry mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until you have a lumpy dough (with a bit of flour left here and there). Keep in mind, the more you mix it the more it will lose its light texture.

Fill the muffin tray with the dough and push the figs lightly into the batter (I prefer them cut side up). Drizzle a little honey (about 1/4 teaspoon) over each fruit and bake for about 18 minutes or until golden. Sprinkle the muffins with a little more sugar or honey (optionally) and let them cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before you take them out of the tray. Serve warm with butter.

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

 

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

 

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

 

Fig, Ricotta and Olive Oil Muffins

 

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Orange and Fennel Couscous with Orange Blossom Water and Mint

Orange and Fennel Couscous

I decided to make couscous and cooked enough to feed a family of six – it shows that I don’t work with this grain very often. The package looked tiny but the result was humongous! It didn’t do the pleasure any harm though, the recipe was delish, we just had enough couscous for days.

Inspired by a phone call with my mother and our obligatory recipe exchanges, I mixed the earthy North African dish with crunchy fennel sliced like carpaccio and juicy orange fillets. To focus on the citrus a little more, I roasted orange peel in olive oil in the oven to create a fragrant oil and some crunchy citrus bites. An open bottle of orange blossom water in my fridge convinced me to go for an orange trilogy – a good choice. Each of them added their individual depth, texture and aroma: the juices of the fruit paired beautifully with the crisp peel and the flowery scented water. Fresh mint leaves on top to finish it off and three happy people at the table ate far more couscous than we ever have before.

A short note: the amount of couscous in the recipe below is adjusted for 4.

Orange and Fennel Couscous

 

Orange and Fennel Couscous

Orange and Fennel Couscous with Orange Blossom Water and Mint

Serves 4

olive oil
long strips of orange peel 6
oranges, cut into fillets, 2
freshly squeezed orange juice 3 tablespoons (collected from the fillets)
fennel bulb, very thinly sliced (like carpaccio), the green chopped, 1 (about 250g / 9 ounces)
couscous 300g / 10 1/2 ounces
quality orange blossom water (preferably organic), to taste
salt and pepper
fresh mint leaves, a small handful

Set the oven to 220°C / 430°F (top / bottom heat).

Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a shallow baking dish, add the peel and cook in the oven for about 6 minutes until golden brown and crunchy, mind that the peel doesn’t turn too dark. Take out of the oven and set aside.

To cut the orange into fillets, first peel off the outer skin with a knife and then cut off the white pith. Hold the orange in one hand and cut with the knife along the skin between the fruit’s fillets to end up with skin-free fillets. Collect the juices.

For the couscous, put the grains in a large pot. In a kettle, bring double the amount of water to the boil (or adjust to the instructions on the package), pour the boiling water over the grains in the pot and close with a lid, let it sit for 5 minutes. It’s not necessary to cook the couscous on heat.

Transfer the cooked couscous to a large, deep bowl and gently stir in the fennel, orange oil, orange fillets and about 3 tablespoons of the collected juices (to taste). Season with orange blossom water (about 1-3 teaspoons, depending on the brand), salt and pepper to taste. Add a little more olive oil if necessary and sprinkle with the roasted orange peel (broken into pieces), fresh mint and the chopped fennel green. Serve warm or as a cold salad.

Orange and Fennel Couscous

 

Orange and Fennel Couscous

 

Orange and Fennel Couscous

 

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Lavender Lemon Shortbread

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

If I had to choose my favourite late summer shortbread for tea time in August I’d have to say it would be lavender lemon. My choice is deeply inspired by the fragrant fields of the Provence covered in mesmerizing purple flowers and the ripe yellow lemons in my Maltese mother’s garden. Lavender and citrus fruit both grow lusciously under the Mediterranean’s scorching sun, they soak it up and develop aromas of intense depth. I can’t think of a more vibrant combination – Malta and the South of France combined in a Scottish treat.

Recently I read about petticoat tails, shortbread in the shape of a large circle cut into segments, the edge decorated in waves by pinching it with fingers or a knife. The name refers to the petticoats popular in the 16th century, the cut of the fabric used to make the skirts had the same shape as the shortbread. I also found out that the pinched edges symbolize the sun. Considering that today’s recipe is my late summer variation on this Scottish classic, I decided to go for this shape. I only got a bit worried about the neatly shaped edge, I’ve never done this before nor seen anyone doing it, so I cheated a little. I used my little French tart pan and ended up with rather small, round rays.

The past few days have been quite excessive on the culinary side. Although we had just waved goodbye to each other when we left Malta, my Maltese sister Emma is here in Berlin to visit us for a few days, a great chance to use her as a guinea pig for some of my cookbooks recipes (she approved!) – and to have an excuse to bake and eat more cake than we should. It’s time to celebrate our reunion after all. Our sweet treats of shortbread for tea and peach cake for dinner ended in a proper cake feast as we visited Laura from Tausensuend at Berlin’s Bite Club. Salted Caramel Ricotta, spicy chili chocolate and the most amazing sticky sourdough cinnamon snails – life is good when you forget about restrictions!

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

 

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

Mind that you prepare the lavender sugar a few days (or even weeks) in advance, you use 10 parts sugar and 1 part organic lavender flowers (L. augustifolia, Hidcote).

 

Makes a 23cm / 9″ shortbread

plain flour 260g / 2 cups
lavender sugar, sieved, with about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon flowers, 80g / 3oz, plus more to sprinkle
zest of 1 large lemon (about 3-4 teaspoons)
a pinch of salt
butter (cold) 160g / 5 1/2oz

Set the oven to 170°C / 340°F (fan-assisted).

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar (with a few flowers), zest and salt. Cut the butter with a knife into the flour until there are just little pieces of butter left. Continue with your fingers and rub the butter into the flour until combined. Transfer the crumbly mixture into a 23cm / 9″ loose bottom tart pan or directly onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Push the dough down evenly into the pan or give it a round shape of the same size and pinch the edge with your thumb. Score the surface with a knife to divide it into 6 segments, cut about half way though the dough. Sprinkle with a little lavender sugar but no flowers, they would burn in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden. Take the shortbread out of the oven, sprinkle with lavender flowers (and fresh lemon zest if you like) and let it cool for about 15 minutes before you take it out of the pan.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

 

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

 

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

 

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

 

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My 501st post: Spicy Cumin Guacamole and Bacon Sandwich

Guacamole and Bacon Sandwich

500 posts (and even more recipes) on eat in my kitchen and I missed it! Sunday’s cinnamon peach cake was the big jubilee recipe and it would have been more than festive enough to raise a glass of champagne, but anyways, this chance is missed and over. So, today I celebrate the 501st post with a spicy guacamole bacon sandwich, refined with citrusy coriander and hot chili peppers. The meat’s smokey saltiness wonderfully breaks the velvety smoothness of the Mexican dip and makes it hearty and rich. I wanted to write about this creation much earlier but after July’s hot tempered discussion about a green pea guacamole recipe caused by Melissa Clark’s article in the New York Times, I lost interest and faith in further guacamole variations.

But this is in the past now, like all the 500 recipes that found their way from my humble kitchen in Berlin (and Malta) to so many people and other kitchens all over the world. How all of this could happen still amazes me. I just write about what happens on my cooker or in my oven and then it reaches whoever feels inspired by the title, the pictures or the story behind each post. In the past, before eat in my kitchen, I used to just cook or bake my recipes, sometimes just once but most of the time they became staples, dishes that always come back to my table. Obviously, the taste and look would vary slightly as no recipe is always the same. But now I can come here, like everybody else, and see the whole collection of meals that passed through our kitchen. This is really beautiful – and inspiring for myself as I tend to forget about recipes.

At the moment, I need all my time to write for my cookbook which is a totally different experience on another level. The web is digital, it changes constantly with a pace that can be intimidating at times but a printed book is unchangeable. I’ll be able to feel it in my hands when I thumb through the pages, to lay it on my kitchen table, and I like this feeling, it’s real. It’s as real as all the wonderful messages I’ve been receiving from you from the start, messages about all the recipes that inspired you or simply teased your appetite.

Thank you! xx

A note on the side: In my opinion, guacamole can easily take variations as any other dish – as long as it pleases the personal taste of the creator. This is part of our worldwide kitchen culture, it’s makes it richer every day, it evolves, changes and always finds its way back to its roots. It’s a gift that shows that a culture is alive, not a threat.

Guacamole and Bacon Sandwich

 

Guacamole and Bacon Sandwich

Spicy Cumin Guacamole and Bacon Sandwich

Makes 3 sandwiches

dark, rustic buns, cut in half, 3
breakfast bacon 6-9 slices
fresh red chili pepper, seeded and sliced, 1/4

For the guacamole

large ripe avocado 1 (or 2 small ones), the flesh scraped out
sour cream 2-3 heaped tablespoons
freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tablespoon
fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped, 3 heaped tablespoons plus a few leaves for the topping
ground cumin, a pinch
fine sea salt
ground pepper

In a bowl, chop the avocado with a knife until chunky, stir in the sour cream, lemon juices, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix well, season to taste and set aside.

In a heavy pan, cook the bacon until crisp, transfer to kitchen paper to remove excess fat.

Spread the guacamole voluptuously on the bottom side of the buns, sprinkle with chili pepper and lay the bacon on top. Finish it off with a few coriander leaves, close the bun and enjoy!

Guacamole and Bacon Sandwich

 

Guacamole and Bacon Sandwich

 

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Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake with a Crunchy Sugar Crust

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

We left the island heat to be welcomed by tropical temperatures in the city. After four amazing weeks in Malta we’re back in Berlin, and apart from the fact that there isn’t the sea in sight, it doesn’t actually feel so different. It’s hot here, so much so that I decided to take it easy this weekend and leave my work aside and stay in my kitchen most of the time. My culinary life in the Mediterranean focused on seafood and countless wonderful nights in restaurants with friends and family, so now that I’m back, I feel like experimenting again. On the first night I felt too tired to lift a finger or a knife, but the next day I made my beloved fennel orange salad (just without the octopus) and a beetroot carpaccio that was so good that I definitely have to share it with you soon. Yesterday, I revisited my olive oil ice cream with sea salt, I had almost forgotten about it but thanks to Gillie from Yahoo Food, I remembered my luscious frozen treat. She asked me to join their Ice Cream Week on their Instagram next week which I really look forward to. I’m sure it will be full of great inspiration to help cooling off in the next few days!

It’s been over a year since I turned a generous splash of olive oil into ice cream and I wanted to make sure that the recipe is still as good as I remembered it. There’s no doubt about why I was so ecstatic about it, it tasted amazing and felt like velvet. After the cooling sweet a cake was next on my list, a simple breakfast cake with lots of juicy peaches and a crunchy cinnamon sugar crust. The fruits sunk deep into the spongy dough and spread their juices with the first bite. But the sweet crusty topping was the secret star, I sprinkled the cake so generously with cinnamony sugar before I put it in the oven that I was a little worried if I went overboard. But it was so, so good, so I felt no regrets!

This cake is a variation of my Apple Breakfast Cake.

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

 

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

Cinnamon Peach Cake with Sugar Crust

For a 20cm / 8″ loose bottom springform pan you need

sugar 100g / 3 1/2 ounces plus 2 tablespoons for the topping
cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon, for the topping
plain flour 130g / 4 1/2 ounces
cornstarch 30g / 1 ounce
baking powder 1 heaped teaspoon
a pinch of salt
butter (at room temperature) 160g / 5 1/2 ounces plus a little butter for the springform pan
organic eggs 3
large peaches, quartered, pitted and sliced, 2

Set the oven to 180°C / 355°F (fan-assisted oven) and butter the springform pan.

Combine 2 tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon for the topping in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and continue mixing for a few minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy. Mix in the dry mixture until well combined. Fill the dough into the buttered form and arrange the sliced quarters of the peaches in circles on top. Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden on top. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Let the cake cool for a few minutes before you take it out of the springform pan.

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

 

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

 

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

 

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

 

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

 

Cinnamon Peach Breakfast Cake

 

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Watermelon Caprese with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

The past few days on the island called for light and easy treats from the kitchen – it’s been hot in Malta and quite a challenge for a northern girl like me. I witnessed 50°C (122°F) measured in the sun and, although I prefer warmth over cold, it’s been beyond enjoyable. The sea is my daily escape, whenever I get the chance to jump into the cool waters, it feels like my brain cells finally start working again. There’s a reason why life’s pace is slower in the Mediterranean, the body just can’t cope any other way. Luckily, we’re off to Berlin today and we’ll have 3 weeks to cool off a little before we get back to Malta’s burning sun.

On the culinary side, I tried to defy the extreme weather conditions with lots of water, juicy peaches and melons. I noticed a growing watermelon trend in the web in the past few weeks that I had wanted to avoid. It felt like a flood of melon popsicle, melon soup and melon salad recipes – no need to bother you with another one on eat in my kitchen. But then, I thought of this delicious combination of chilled watermelon, creamy mozzarella di bufala, olive oil, sea salt, basil, mint and a little black pepper and I thought it wouldn’t be fair not to share this easy pleasure. If you find yourself in the Mediterranean, or anywhere else in the world where the temperatures seem unbearable and where sweet and juicy watermelons are accessible, prepare a plate of melon caprese, slow down and relax!

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

 

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

 Watermelon Caprese with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

Serves 3-4

chilled, ripe watermelon, sliced into thin triangles, 1/8-1/4
mozzarella di bufala, torn into bite sized pieces, 125g / 4 1/2oz
olive oil
fresh basil leaves about 16
fresh mint leaves about 8
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar

Arrange the melon and mozzarella on a large plate, drizzle with a splash of olive oil and sprinkle with basil, mint, salt and pepper.

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

 

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

 

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

 

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

 

Watermelon with Mozzarella di Bufala, Basil and Mint

Mqaret – Traditional Maltese Date Pastries

Mqaret

Traditional sweet treats and old fashioned baking crafts give a great insight into an unknown culture. You just have to visit a bakery or confectionery when you get to a new country and you’ll immediately have an idea of its mentality. The presentation, the ingredients used by the chef patisseur, the way it’s decorated, all these details reveal a lot about a place and its people.

Malta has plenty of culinary culture and so many sweet secrets that I’m still learning about new delicacies every time I visit the islands. It’s close to Italy, so you’ll find Mediterranean classics like cannoli (Kannoli in Maltese), the frilly cassata siciliana and syrupy ricotta pies. Various rulers of the small archipelago left their traces in the kitchen, the British brought fruit pies and trifles and the Arabic influence is shown in the generous use of citrus fruits and the import of sticky sweet nougat, Qubbajt in Maltese. One of my personal favourites are the wonderfully simple Ottijiet, crunchy eight-shaped sesame cookies made with cloves, vanilla and aniseed. They are perfect for tea time, just as much as Edith’s Essijiet with Vermouth. You can easily guess their shape from the name. Another highlight is Malta’s aromatic bread pudding that Joanna Bonnici made for me when we met for our meet in your kitchen feature.

The list of these beautifully honest sweets is endless, it’s my kind of baking, with lots of spices and citrus, the recipes are not too complicated and quite easy to prepare. Every time I exchange my Berlin kitchen for my Maltese mother Jenny’s culinary space, I try to include at least one sweet Maltese dish in my baking activities that leads me to new grounds. Mqaret have been on my mind for quite a while. The little pastries look a bit like giant ravioli, they are diamond shaped, translated to maqrut (singular form) in Maltese. The sweets are generously filled with dates and infused with aniseed, they are a scrumptious remnant of the Arabic takeover starting in 870 AD. They taste so good that they stayed on the island even after the invaders had left. Today, you find them in every village sold at street markets, but unfortunately, often of rather weak quality. My favourite places to enjoy them are Scoglitti and Nenu’s bakery in Valletta, or you bake your own at home.

Mqaret are either deep-fried (which I prefer) or baked in the oven, and although I’m not a big fan of cooking in hot oil, in this case, it creates a flakier texture. The traditional recipe uses a short crust pastry made with a little more water than I would normally use, if it’s too crumbly you won’t be able to fold the dough over the fruit filling. Mqaret are best when they are hot and generously filled, this is at least my humble opinion and it caused long discussions in the family. I used lemon zest but originally it’s made with orange and tangerine instead, as the fruits are not in season at the moment I went for their yellow relative which added a flowery fruitiness to the dates. I must admit that I was a bit scared of this project but in the end it turned out to be much easier than expected!

Mqaret

 

Mqaret

 Mqaret – Traditional Maltese Date Pastries

Deep frying in hot oil should never be attempted with children close by, be very carefully while cooking the pastries in the oil!

Makes about 14 Mqaret.

vegetable oil, for frying, about 1l / 4 1/4 cups
sugar, to sprinkle the cooked mqaret

For the pastry

plain flour 230g / 8oz / 1 3/4 cups
a pinch of salt
butter cold 60g / 2oz
water cold 3-5 tablespoons
freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tablespoon
anisette spirit 1 tablespoon

Combine the flour and salt. Cut the butter with a knife into the flour until there are just little pieces of butter left. Continue with your fingers and rub the butter into the flour until combined. Add 3 tablespoons of water, the juice and spirit and continue mixing with your hands until you have a crumbly mixture, you should be able to form a ball. If it’s too dry, mix in 1-2 tablespoons of a water. Form a ball, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

For the filling

dried dates, pitted and finely chopped, 250g / 9oz
water, about 4 tablespoons
lemon zest 1 teaspoon (organic fruit)
(or 1/2 teaspoon of orange zest and 1 teaspoon of tangerine zest)
a pinch of ground cloves
a pinch of cinnamon
sugar 1 tablespoon
anisette spirit 1 1/2 tablespoon

In a sauce pan, bring the dates and water to the boil. Mash the dates with a spoon and leave on low heat for 1 minute. The mixture will be thick and sticky. Take off the heat, add the remaining ingredients and mix well with a spoon, set aside.

For the mqaret

In a large pot, heat the oil.

Divide the dough in 2 parts and roll out each of them between cling film into a 40 x 10cm (16 x 4″) rectangle. Spread half the date filling on one half of 1 rectangle (along the longer side) and brush the rim (the long side) with water. Fold the dough over the filling (along the long side) and close the rim well, push it together with your fingers. The short ends stay open. Repeat with the second pastry rectangle, you should end up with 2 long pastry sandwiches filled with dates. Cut each of them with a sharp knife into 6-7 diamond shaped pastries, the cut sides stay open, leaving the date filling exposed.

Use the handle of a wooden spoon to check if the oil is hot enough, bubbles will rise when the temperature is right. Fry the mqaret in the hot oil until golden brown, mind that they don’t get too dark. Take them out with a slotted ladle and transfer to kitchen paper to remove excess oil. Sprinkle with sugar and serve immediately. They go very well with vanilla ice cream!

Mqaret

 

Mqaret

 

Mqaret

 

Mqaret

 

Mqaret

 

Mqaret

 

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Peruvian Ceviche and my love of the sea

Peruvian Ceviche

What I love the most about Malta – besides the wonderful people around us – is the sea. I can sit on one of the rocky beaches for hours staring at the sparkling shades of blue, the salty air in my nose and the the next seafood meal on my mind. Although I’m quite obsessed with snorkeling – I feel a great fascination for the beautiful wonders of Malta’s amazing underwater life, I can’t help but think about food when I’m close to the sea. We went to the fish market in Marsaxlokk as soon as we arrived and I couldn’t resist filling the cooling box with the freshest tuna, swordfish, calamari, Cipullazza (scorpion fish) and sea bream.

The fisherman’s wife at one of the stands made us try a selection of raw fish as I was on a mission. I’ve been wanting to make Peruvian ceviche for months and I decided that there’s no better place for my culinary experiment than Malta with its daily catches from the sea. Ceviche is a traditional Peruvian dish made with raw fish marinated in lime juice for a few minutes. Although the citrus fruit’s acid creates a chemical process similar to cooking I still wanted to use the freshest fish possible. I also felt that it would be appropriate to taste it raw first to approve the taste of my choice of fish. So we were right in the middle of the market, surrounded by lots of people and the most beautiful seafood offered on large tables when my experiment started. I just thought of sushi when I put one thin slice of fish after the other into my mouth. It felt a bit strange, especially after my fish-stand-lady told me that she would never eat raw fish. She had a mischievous smile on her face, but I trusted and survived.

I’ve never been to Peru so I decided to ask a woman for help who has lived in Lima for years, she’s a passionate connoisseur and food writer. I met Sheila through eat in my kitchen, she is one of my blog’s earliest readers and joined me on this journey with great support. We’ve never met in person but we felt a connection immediately through the universal language of food. My Peruvian lady is originally from Chicago but she dug deeply into her new home’s kitchen culture. I knew that I was in the right hands when I asked her for a recipe – and I wasn’t mistaken. Her directions led to the most delicious ceviche on our table in Malta, it was surprisingly quick and easy. And yes, lime juice kind of cooks the fish, I couldn’t believe it when I saw (and tasted) it! Sheila recommended flounder but I went for Accola (Maltese amberjack) which was my favourite at my raw fish tasting session. I also added some lime zest which isn’t usually done in Peru but I love the slightly flowery flavour it adds to the fish. It was quite an exciting kitchen experience but most importantly: my new seafood discovery made the most delicious lunch!

Peruvian Ceviche

We also had a couple visitors to the island in the past few weeks. My mother decided to hop over for a spontaneous long weekend which we celebrated befittingly. We enjoyed a Maltese champagne picnic with the fantastic Cassar de Malte at a promenade in Valletta before we headed over to a new restaurant find – the Italian Scoglitti right at the sea. They treated us to a huge local Pagell (red snapper) in sea salt crust after we had already enjoyed octopus with potatoes, swordfish carpaccio and pulpetti tal-Makku (white bait pulpetti) along with Meridiana‘s white Isis wine. It was a feast finished with Maltese Mqaret (date sweets) – the delicious recipe will follow soon!

Another one of my most beloved seafood restaurants on the islands is Rew Rew at Mgarr ix-Xini in Gozo. Noel creates very pure dishes, honest simplicity, always cooked to perfection. We went to the little hidden bay a couple times this summer to enjoy local prawns from the BBQ, fried sardines and makku, grouper ravioli and Bazooka (deep sea snapper). Holly, my editor from New York, joined us on one of these visits and she was more than impressed.

I love the sea and all these wonderful frutti di mare, it’s a gem we have to protect and treat with respect!

This recipe has been featured by Food52!

Peruvian Ceviche

Sheila’s Peruvian Ceviche

Serves 4-6.

firm, white fish (such as flounder, sea bass or amberjack) 280g / 10oz
medium sized red onion, quartered, thinly sliced, 1/2
red aji límo (Peruvian habaneros), thinly sliced, 1/4 (to taste)
yellow aji límo, thinly sliced, 1/4 (to taste)
organic limes, zest and juice, 3
fine sea salt

Cut the fish into 1cm / 1/2″ pieces. Lay the fish in a large sieve, rinse quickly with cold water, drain and dry with kitchen paper.

Pour the lime juice in a deep bowl, add the fish, toss it around and marinate for 2 1/2 minutes. Take the fish out with a slotted ladle and divide between plates. Garnish with onion and aji límo and sprinkle with salt and lime zest (optionally) to taste.

You can serve ceviche with cooked corn, sweet potatoes and lettuce.

Thank you Sheila!

Peruvian Ceviche

 

Peruvian Ceviche

 

Peruvian Ceviche

 

Peruvian Ceviche

 

Peruvian Ceviche

 

Peruvian Ceviche

 

ceviche11

Maltese Ricotta Pie with Lemon Syrup and Pistachios

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

My friend Essa baked a wonderful cake a few years ago that I never managed to get out of my head. It was a Maltese cheesecake made with ricotta and eggs on top of a thin short crust base topped with sticky lemon syrup and chopped pistachios. It was so good, I dreamt of it! We enjoyed it in her Mediterranean garden, the rustic limestone walls covered in fragrant blue plumbago and white stephanotis flowers – the tantalizing smell of the south and a sweet pie on my plate.

Years have past, Essa forgot about the recipe and I, sadly, couldn’t find the copy that I had made – until a few days ago. I gave it a go in my Maltese mother’s house, in Jenny’s kitchen, the same day I made the happy discovery and it came out as amazing as I remembered it. The filling refined with lemon zest is creamy but fluffy, not as dense as a New York cheesecake. The sticky and sour syrup on top and the generous amount of crunchy nuts turn this cake into something so delicious that I soon regretted the size of the pie tin I chose. We ate it all within less than an hour!

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 Maltese Ricotta Cake with sticky Lemon Syrup and Pistachios

For a 20cm / 8″ pie form you need

short crust dough 250g / 9 ounces (you can use 1/3 of the pastry from my fruit tart recipe, click here)

ricotta 380g / 13 1/2 ounces
lemon zest 1 heaped teaspoon
organic eggs 3
sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
butter, melted, 40g / 2 heaped tablespoons
semolina (fine) 1 heaped tablespoon
pistachios (unsalted), chopped, 40g / 1 1/2 ounces, for the topping

For the lemon syrup
freshly squeezed lemon juice 75ml / 1/3 cup
sugar 50g / 1/4 cup
honey 1 heaped tablespoon

Prepare the dough, form a thick disc, wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F (top/ bottom heat).

Roll out the dough between cling film and line your pie form with the flat pastry. Prick with a fork and bake it in the hot oven for 12 minutes. Take it out when it’s golden and set aside. Turn the oven down to 190°C / 375°F.

In a large bowl, whisk the ricotta, zest, eggs and sugar. Add the melted butter and semolina and whisk until well combined. Pour the cheese filling on top of the pre-baked pastry and bake for about 30-40 minutes or until just set (I use a gas oven in Malta so the baking time can be different in an electric oven).

For the syrup, bring the lemon juice, sugar and honey in a sauce pan to the boil and cook for about 4-5 minutes on high heat until thick and golden. Whisk once in a while and mind that it bubbles up while cooking, it shouldn’t burn!

Drizzle the syrup over the ricotta cake and sprinkle generously with pistachios.

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 

Maltese Ricotta Cake with Lemon Syrup

 

malteselemonricottapistachiocake9

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