We spent our Christmas in the Mediterranean, a premier for me, we normally stay in the cold North. I decorate our tree and the rest of the apartment according to my annual passion for wintery kitsch, and I eat duck, German potato dumplings, and usually (always) too many cookies. 2016 was different, we decided to go to Sicily first and spend a few relaxing days in the heart of the Archaeological Park of Agrigento (I’ll share my impressions with you next week). Malta was next on our itinerary, and with it came along lots of sunshine, rough seas, long walks in the countryside, and my wonderful, crazy Maltese family. It was loud and silly, we ate and drank too much wine in front of my Maltese Mama’s gorgeous crib in Msida, and I was happy.
I learned that a proper crib is an important part of the Maltese celebration, and I’m talking about cribs of rather large dimensions, well equipped with colourful figures, various animals, a real stable setting made of rocks, and most importantly, an impressive light installation to represent the firmament. Every house leaves the main door open, so that passersby can peak through the glass door to admire the re-enacted scenes of Jesus’ birth. I’ve seen impressive installations that leave no doubt that the Maltese take Christmas very seriously.
Being under the hot Mediterranean sun in the coldest season of the year has many advantages, my vitamin D resources are definitely recharged. Everything is fine as long as you stay outside the house, inside it’s freezing cold. A country where the temperature barely drops below 16°C (60°F) doesn’t really have to think about those few days of sharp chill. But a person who’s used to central heating – me – has to get used to the fact that the bedroom (and the bathroom!) can actually feel much colder than the air outside. I coped and complained, but our sunny walks along the lush green Dingli cliffs definitely made up for it.
And I’ll never forget our New Year’s Eve in Gozo, we stayed at a beautiful farmhouse at the border of the village of Qala. We had a gorgeous room, with a large terrace and the most stunning views of the islands of Comino and Malta. We ordered 3 (!) pizzas from the local Maxokk bakery, bought a bottle of local red wine from my friends at Meridiana, and just sat on the sofa, amazed by the peace in front of our eyes.
I had never seen Malta like this, so green and in full bloom. My past travels covered everything from March to October, but I always avoided the winter months. I’d love to show you pictures, but I was on a mission, I didn’t touch my camera, I stayed offline most of the time, and I slowed down my pace drastically. So there are no pictures, but lots of beautiful memories of time spent in nature, silent, without any disturbing technical devices.
However, when we came back to Berlin, I noticed a slight feeling of dissatisfaction, I missed my Christmas. To make up for my nostalgic longings, I decided to have a Christmas week in January. In the past few days, I baked Christmas cookies and my boyfriend had to listen to me singing along to Christmas carols. My celebrations found their festive peak in a Christmas dinner for two with slow roasted duck (I used the recipe from my book), red cabbage with spices and apples, and German potato dumplings. Now I’m cured and we can move on with our lives – also in the kitchen.
My latest post-Christmas kitchen project led to a hearty yet airy focaccia, topped with thickly sliced red onions roasted on top of the dough in lots of olive oil and a generous amount of aromatic Swiss Gruyère cheese. It’s pure comfort food. I cut a thick slice off the warm bread and enjoyed it on a chair that I placed close to the heater. I doubt I ever appreciated central heating as much as I do now.
If you’re looking for some more focaccia inspiration, take a look at these recipes:
Gruyère and Red Onion Focaccia
Makes a 25 x 32cm / 10 x 12 1/2″ focaccia
For the dough
plain flour 500g / 3 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons
fast-acting yeast 1 (7g / 1/4 ounce) envelope
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon
granulated sugar 1 heaping teaspoon
water, lukewarm, 260ml / 1 cup and 2 tablespoons
olive oil 120ml / 1/2 cup, plus 1-2 tablespoons to oil the baking sheet
For the topping
Swiss Gruyère cheese, or any aromatic hard cheese, coarsely grated, 100g / 7 ounces
red onions, thickly sliced, 2
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
For the dough, combine the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the lukewarm water and half the olive oil (60ml / 1/4 cup) and knead on medium-high speed for a few minutes until well combined. I mix it on ‘4’ on my KitchenAid. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Transfer the dough to a table or countertop and continue kneading and punching it down with your hands for about 4 minutes or until you have a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Place the dough back in the mixer bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place, or preferably in a 35°C / 100°F warm oven (conventional setting), for about 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Oil a 25 x 32cm / 10 x 12 1/2″ baking sheet.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for 1 minute. Using your hands, stretch and spread the dough on the oiled baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes or until puffy.
Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F (convection setting).
Using the round bottom of a wooden spoon or your finger, punch around 6 x 7 holes into the surface of the dough. Arrange the sliced onions on top of the dough, pushing the slices gently into the dough. Pour the remaining olive oil over the dough and onion and into the holes. Sprinkle with the cheese and a little flaky sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and light brown. Sprinkle with crushed pepper and enjoy warm or cold. The focaccia tastes best on the first day.