eat in my kitchen

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

Grilled Amberjack with Mint Oil

Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

Here is another one of our Marsaxlokk fish market purchases, firm amberjack steaks! When I wrote about my Moscato Prawn Pasta last week I mentioned the small town’s Sunday market that turns the picturesque promenade at the seafront into a busy scene of fishermen offering their fresh catches and farmers piling up their colourful harvest. Green boxes filled with melons, tomatoes, zucchinis and peaches made my mouth water before we even started our shopping!

The small path between the stalls was packed with people looking for the nicest piece of tuna or swordfish, trying to spot the fisherman offering the freshest Maltese prawns, mackerel, barracuda or octopus. We bought far more than we had planned but we couldn’t resist when we saw all the wonderful seafood in front of us. After 30 minutes of choosing the fish we wanted and bargaining here and there, we started to feel a bit exhausted. The heat reached its peak and forced us to take a break. We ate a nice big watermelon, sweet and juicy and found a little spot in the shade right next to the colourful boats swaying gently in the crystal clear water.

Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

Sometimes when we visit Marsaxlokk we sit down in one of the cafes at the piazza in front of the church and enjoy a little snack with our espresso, or we go to one of my beloved Pastizzerias! You can find these little bakeries all over the island selling some of my favourite Maltese treats, little pies filled with ricotta or spinach and anchovies. One of these pies is Pastizzi, a flaky puff pastry shell which is so delicate that it crumbles between your buttery fingers, you can also get these filled with peas. The other one is called Qassatat, the pastry is less rich and more like short crust. If you come to Malta you should try these traditional pastry delicacies, that’s what many Maltese miss the most (apart from their bread!) when they live abroad!

Back to the amberjack, when we came home we started the grill and cooked the fish without any seasoning. You could also sauté it in a pan and cook it in the oven for a few minutes at 200°C (390°F). It’s summertime, the kitchen is already hot and we have the gas barbecue ready in the garden so we decided to grill it. I mixed some olive oil with lemon juice and fresh mint leaves to sprinkle over the cooked fish and over a few slices of tomatoes – no salt, no pepper!

At first, my boyfriend wanted to enjoy the pure taste of the amberjack without the aromatic mint oil but when he smelled (and tasted) it on my steak he changed his mind! Fish and mint works just too well together!

Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

 

Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

 Grilled Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

For 2 hungry people you need

amberjack steaks (around 1,5cm / 1/2″ thick) 400g / 14 ounces
olive oil 4 tablespoons
freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 1/2 tablespoons
fresh mint leaves, cut into thin slices, 10
tomatoes, quartered, 3

For the mint oil, whisk the olive oil with the lemon juice and mint leaves.

Cook the steaks on the grill for a few minutes on both sides until golden and cooked through. You should be able to lift the fish off the bone when it’s done.

If you cook the fish in a pan, heat a little olive oil and sauté the fish for 1-2 minutes on both sides until golden. Cook in the oven at 200°C (390°F) for about 8 minutes.

Arrange the tomatoes and amberjack on a big plate an sprinkle both with the mint oil.

Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

 

Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

 

Amberjack with Mint Oil and Tomatoes

A thick Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Tomatoes

Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Tomatoes

This pesto is as concentrated as basil pesto can be! I had two big bouquets of this aromatic herb on the table filling the air in the kitchen with the most beautiful smell – fresh, sweet and green! After half an hour of picking the leaves off the stems, I got rewarded with a big pile ready to be turned into a pesto! The weight was about 150g (5.5 ounces), a Mediterranean luxury I can only dream of in the city. I think I would have to buy 20 pots of basil at home to gather this amount!

Here in Malta I can create a luscious pesto which is richer than any pesto I’ve ever eaten before. It’s more of a spread than an oily sauce! The recipe is a classic, I mix the herb with pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil and a bit of salt, but the amount of basil leaves and their intense taste make the difference. Herbs that grow in pots don’t develop such a strong aroma, the right soil and hours of sunshine, that’s what you taste in the end.

I often chop some fresh tomatoes into this dish, I like the freshness they add. Sometimes I mix in a few sautéed slices of zucchini but the red fruit is still my favourite!

Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Tomatoes

 

Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Tomatoes

 Spaghetti with Basil Pesto and Tomatoes

For 4-6 people you need

spaghetti or linguine 400-600g / 14-21 ounces
tomatoes, chopped, 4-6
basil leaves 150g / 5.5 ounces
olive oil 150ml / 5 ounces plus more if you prefer the pesto more liquid
pine nuts 30g / 1 ounce
parmesan 40g / 1.5 ounces plus more for topping
garlic 2 big cloves
salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar

Cook the pasta in lots of salted water, al dente.

Mix the basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil in a blender and season with salt to taste.

Divide the hot pasta between the plates and add a dollop of pesto on top. Sprinkle with the tomatoes, parmesan and crushed pepper, serve immediately.

Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Tomatoes

 

Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Tomatoes

 

Basil Pesto with Spaghetti and Tomatoes

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

One of Msida’s culinary highlights (at least for me) is Busy Bee Confectionery right at the Ta’Xbiex Sea Front and whenever I’m here it becomes my second home. I go there almost every day to stock up with sweet and savory pies, Pastizzi, Qassatat, Cassata Siciliana, chocolate cakes, Ottijiet cookies or cannoli (Kannoli in Maltese). Many of these delicacies are made with ricotta which has a special taste and texture in Malta. It’s a bit crumbly, slightly sweet and perfect for fluffy fillings, either pure or flavoured as it mixes very well with all kinds of aromas. My ricotta consumption reaches its annual peak during summertime, luckily our lifestyle also involves lots of physical activities when we’re here, so it balances out!

For years I’ve been buying Busy Bee’s Kannoli which are one of the best on the island but I’ve been thinking about making my own for quite a while. A few days ago my Maltese sister Emma came to visit us and the time felt right to get this project started. Jenny gave me the metal tubes, which you need to fry the Kannoli rolls, as a birthday present and I had already come up with my recipe. I decided to go for a lemony ricotta filling made with lemon zest to give it a lighter, summery feeling. It was a success and we all loved it!

The next exciting step was making the pastry, the Kannoli horns. They have to be thin enough to become crisp but thick enough to carry the filling. The dough is very easy to prepare, I added Maltese Moscato wine instead of Marsala and a little cinnamon and cocoa powder which gives the rolls a nice taste and makes them a bit darker. The first two circles we rolled out were a bit too thick and took a bit longer to fry but the second batch was perfect! We wrapped the thin discs around the metal tubes and folded them twice at the top so that they wouldn’t open. They need just 1-2 minutes in the hot oil to turn into the most beautiful, crisp Kannoli horns. We stuffed them with the lemony filling and dipped them into chopped hazelnuts as Busy Bee does –  the result was delicious!

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

 

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

 Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

You need Kannoli metal tubes to fry the pastry.

For 18 Kannoli you need

For the filling

fresh ricotta, drained, 1kg / 2 pounds
sugar 120g / 4.5 ounces
zest of 1 lemon

Whisk the ingredients for the filling, season to taste and put in the fridge.

 

For the Kannoli horns

plain flour 300g / 10.5 ounces
sugar 5 tablespoons
salt 1/2 teaspoon
ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon
cocoa powder 1 1/2 teaspoons
butter, at room temperature, 2 tablespoons
organic egg yolk 1
Moscato wine (or Marsala or red wine) 75ml / 2.5 ounces
water 75ml / 2.5 ounces

Combine the dry ingredients and mix together with the butter, egg, wine and water to an elastic dough. Let it rest for 10 minutes.

 

For the Kannoli

vegetable oil for frying, about 1l / 2 pints
hazelnuts, chopped, 200g / 7 ounces

In a large pot, heat the oil.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface very thinly and cut out 12cm / 5″ discs. Wrap the discs around the Kannoli metal tubes, fold twice and seal well. When the oil is hot, fry the pastry for about 1-2 minutes until the Kannoli horns are golden brown (fry 2-3 horns at a time). Take them out carefully, put them on kitchen roll to remove excess oil and let them cool for 1-2 minutes before you remove the metal tubes.

Let the Kannoli cool completely before you fill them with the ricotta mixture and dip the ends into the chopped hazelnuts, serve immediately as they get soggy when they sit for a few hours. You can also keep the Kannoli horns in an airtight container and fill them just before serving.

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

 

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

 

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

 

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

 

Kannoli filled with Lemon Ricotta

Melon, Mint and Lemon

Melon, Mint and Lemon

One of the great things about living in the Mediterranean in summer is that you can find fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables at every street corner. Farmers offer their harvest of the morning on little open vans, ripe tomatoes, zucchini, aubergines, the sweetest peaches, melons, grapes and the biggest bunches of basil I’ve ever seen in my life. They are so big that you have to hold them with both of your hands! These mobile shops are the social meeting points of each street or village. It’s a beautiful scene of women buying their groceries for the next days, checking the quality of the offers, exchanging gossip and enjoying the fresh air before the heat takes over again.

My trusted vegetable man, Leli, comes to Msida twice a week, a humble man with beautiful eyes as blue as the Mediterranean sea! Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to meet him yet. He comes to our village on Tuesday and Friday in the morning and I was busy driving around on the island on both days. Jenny told me that his face lit up with a big smile when she told him that we were soon to arrive! I asked her to buy some vegetables for me before I arrived and she bought me one of the sweetest melons that I have ever eaten. It was like honey, so juicy and ripe!

We enjoyed a couple slices before I threw a handful of mint leaves from Jenny’s garden on top. Then I drizzled some fresh lemon juice over the yellow fruit, a tip a got from my Maltese auntie Sandra. It’s perfectly refreshing on these days that push to almost 40°C (104°F) on the thermometer! All you need is a very ripe Galia melon – Bettiegh in Maltese – skinned and cut into slices, a handful of fresh mint leaves, the juice of half a lemon and the heat can come!

Melon, Mint and Lemon

 

Melon, Mint and Lemon

 

Melon, Mint and Lemon

 

Melon, Mint and Lemon

meet in your kitchen | Kurt Micallef cooks Octopus with Fennel and Kombu Potatoes

Octopus with Fennel

A couple days ago I met a rising star of the Maltese cooking scene, Kurt Micallef, in the kitchen of one of Malta’s best fish-centric restaurants, Tartarun in Marsaxlokk. Kurt has been at the top of my list of chefs to meet for quite a while, I’ve heard so much about his work that I got in touch with him as soon as my flights were booked! We decided to transfer the meet in your kitchen feature to his work space at Tartarun as this is the kitchen where he spends most of his time cooking and working on new creations.

Kurt grew up in Malta in a family of butchers in the third generation but decided to start a career as a chef. He moved to London, where he studied and gathered experiences in a couple Michelin starred restaurants. However, he found his biggest inspiration at In De Wulf in Belgium, a renowned restaurant where the philosphy is to use local produce and work with traditional methods of cooking combined with a modern presentation. Simple but refined, this is the culinary style he can relate to. For eat in my kitchen, he chose to share a wonderful composition of his which focuses on two of Malta’s most present flavours, seafood and fennel. He combines slightly smokey octopus which he first cooked in broth before he char grilled it with compressed fennel bulb, potatoes cooked with Kombu, squid ink emulsion and fennel flowers and fronds.

I was so impressed by the meal that Kurt created for us, the smokey octopus and strong fennel aroma are a perfect match and I will definitely use it in my own kitchen!

Octopus with Fennel

 

Octopus with Fennel

Octopus char grilled, compressed Fennel Bulb, Potato cooked with Kombu, Squid Ink Emulsion, Fennel Flowers and Fronds


For the octopus 

medium sized octopus 1
lemons, sliced, 1
onions, sliced, 2
garlic head , sliced, 1
bay leaves 3
fennel seeds 10
star anise 1

Make a stock with the onions, garlic, lemons, fennel seeds, star anise and water. When the desired flavour is achieved add the octopus and simmer for 40 minutes or until tender but not stringy. Leave to cool in the cooking liquor. Remove octopus and break down into separate tentacles. Reserve the octopus and cooking liquor for later use.

 

For the fennel oil 

fennel fronds 100g / 3.5 ounces
grape seed oil 100g / 3.5 ounces

Combine the fennel fronds and grapeseed oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a pan and bring to 60 degrees.
Remove from the heat, cover with cling film and leave to infuse for 1 hour. Pass the oil through a chinois lined with Muslin Cloth. The oil should be clear with a green hue and fennel flavor.

 

For the compressed fennel 

fennel bulb 1
fennel oil 10ml / 1/3 ounces
fennel juice 10ml / 1/3 ounces
lemon juice 10ml / 1/3 ounces

Slice the fennel bulb lengthwise on a mandolin into 2mm thick slices. Trim the root off and transfer to a vacuum bag with the oil and juices. Compress and leave to marinate for 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season lightly with salt.

 

For the potatoes

baby potatoes 100g / 3.5 ounces
Kombu 1 sheet 
water 500ml / 17 ounces

In a pan bring the water to 60 degrees, add the kombu and simmer for 20 minutes. Discard the Kombu and add the potatoes, cook until done, approx. 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from pan and leave to cool slightly. Peel the skins from the potatoes and reserve for later use.


For the squid ink emulsion 

cooking liquor from the octopus, strained, 25ml / 2/3 ounces
squid ink 1 teaspoon 
white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk until emulsified, adjust seasoning and reserve for later use.

 

For the Nori paste 

shallot, chopped, 30g / 1 ounce
white onion, chopped, 40g / 1.5 ounces
garlic, 1 clove 
grapeseed oil 
lemon zest 
nori 14g / 1/2 ounces

Combine the shallot, onion and garlic in a pan, cover with oil and place on low heat. Cover with a cartouche and cook for 15 minutes until tender. Meanwhile toast the nori over an open flame until it changes color. Remove the onion mixture off the heat, add the nori and cover with cling film. Leave for 1 hour to infuse. Drain mixture reserving the oil. Chop the onion mixture into a paste and season well with lemon zest, add enough oil to the mixture to bind. Reserve for service. 

 

Garnishes

dill flowers 
fennel fronds 
Fennel flowers 


Assembly 

Lightly drizzle the octopus with grapeseed oil and season with salt. Grill the octopus on a charcoal bbq or a grill until lightly charred and a smoky taste is obtained. 

In a bowl combine the potatoes with the seaweed paste until nicely coated.

Smear the squid emulsion in the centre of the plate. Build the composition with the octopus and compressed fennel on the squid ink emulsion, add 3 potatoes and garnish with the fronds and flowers.

Octopus with Fennel

 

Octopus with Fennel

You studied French Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in London, what moved you to start your culinary education in London?

I did my Diploma in Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in London. The diploma was only 9 months long and this was a major factor I took into consideration when I chose the diploma. I decided to become a chef at the age of 22, which is considered as already being too late for the industry. Another factor was that it is considered to be one of the best culinary schools in the world, which provides you with solid fundamental skills in the kitchen. This gave me a good foundation. I later developed further skills by working in different kitchens around London.

You worked at several Michelin starred restaurants, which one influenced your cooking the most and why?

During my year studying in London, I staged (apprenticed) in a couple of Michelin starred kitchens to continue learning and developing myself as a chef. However, the greatest influence was brought forward through a two month internship at In De Wulf in Dranouter, Belgium. This is a 1 Michelin starred restaurant with a unique concept. The chef there, Kobe Desramaults, took over his mother’s restaurant which was a casual brasserie in the middle of nowhere, for travellers going back and forth from France to Belgium. He revamped the restaurant and focused on doing high end food, using local produce from neighbouring villages. The philosophy of the restaurant is that of being local and using nature as inspiration. They focus on an old style of cooking, but present it in a modern way. The use of wood burning ovens, smoking, foraging, pickling and fermenting was something new to me, and this really inspired me. I fell in love with the food there; it was so simple yet so refined.

I knew this was the kind of food that I wanted to cook. I returned back for another 2 month stage the year after. I worked on the garnish section, which meant I was in charge of the preparation and cooking of vegetables and herbs for the hot section. Through this section, I mastered in speed and organization. One has to be quick and know what one’s doing. The menu had 13 hot dishes for 40 covers, so the orders came in pretty quick.

After working abroad in the past few years you moved back to your home island Malta, how did this feel? Did you consider staying abroad?

It was awkward at first and I found it difficult to fit back in to the routine. In the 4 years I’ve been cooking, I struggled to find the right place for me to work, and that is why I bounced from one job to another, leaving the country and coming back.

I have finally found a place where I feel I can make use of the skills I have developed along my journey. I do get the urge to go back and work abroad as the opportunities for learning are much bigger there. Malta is a very small island with limited opportunities, but at the end of the day this is the place I call home. I cannot see myself being away from this island for a long time. I am currently working at Tartarun restaurant & lounge. I am a chef de partie on the Cold / Pass section. This is a fish-driven restaurant, which is much different to what I have experienced before. Nevertheless, I find it very interesting. Here I can develop my skills on how to handle fish properly. The management in the restaurant gives us a lot of free will to come up with daily specials, so for me this was a very big step to further develop my skills with regards to fish.

Your father is a butcher in the 3rd generation, did you ever consider following this family tradition and why did you decide against it?

My father owns his own business at the abattoir. He buys cattle and slaughters it, and sells to butchers across the island. To be quite honest, I was petrified of my father’s job when I was a young kid! I still remember the first time going with my father to the abattoir and watch them slaughter a cow. It was quite a shock to me at that age and it pushed me away from continuing my father’s line of work. Today, I have a deep respect for what my father does, and I love the art of butchery, which I think is a lost art since most of the meats that are purchased today come pre butchered and in vacuum bags. It is something which I keep close to my heart. I would rather get in a whole pig, butcher it and utilize all of it, rather than buy pre butchered meat. I guess I am still keeping a bit of the family tradition going on! The other factor is that it is a dying trade. Malta is a very small island with little-to-no pasture land for cattle to grow on. Most butchers nowadays buy their meats from wholesale importers who bring in meats from all over the world, as most of the times, the price is cheaper and they can not compete within the local market.

Who was your biggest influence in the kitchen and why?

The biggest influence on me becoming a cook has to be my grandmother. Prior to getting married, she was a nun, cooking in monasteries in Belgium and Italy for foster kids. She then married my grandfather and raised a family. Food was and still is family time in our households. She is 83 years old today and still cooks everyday for her kids, Wednesdays are our days to go and have lunch at grandma’s house. She has a large garden which she grows most of the vegetables she cooks, and this really is something which I love. Growing your own produce, harvesting it and cooking it for people, how better can it get!

What is your kitchen philosophy?

I try to cook food that is, first of all, delicious but at the same time sustainable. I like to cook depending on the seasons, and not use produce imported from across the world with little-to-no flavour. My experience from In de Wulf has influenced my cooking quite a bit. What I have learnt there, I am utilizing in my cooking now. Food there was always light and does not weigh you down; they focused a lot on vegetable cooking which is something that I try and do. I try to balance my dishes by using fresh herbs and acidity to make food seem lighter. I am also experimenting with fermenting which is something we do not do in Malta and I find the flavours to be amazing.  I have a couple of items fermenting in my kitchen cupboard which sometimes work and sometimes don’t, but that is a learning curve for me. I learn from my mistakes and keep notebooks with my experiments. In my cooking, I try to fuse the old and new style of cooking, always focusing on the produce first, then the technique. If it doesn’t taste good, then technique is a waste of time. It has to taste good first and foremost. I am also interested in Japanese cuisine mostly Kaiseki. The way they balance flavours and the discipline in perfecting their food is something that fascinates me.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

The first dish I cooked on my own has to be veal parmeggian; which involves veal escallops coated in breadcrumbs and pan fried, then coated with a tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan and then baked in the oven. This was around when I was 13 years old. My first food memory has to be my grandmother’s oxtail soup. I still crave it and always hope that grandma will cook that when we go over for lunch. It is a simple household dish which has deep flavours from the vegetables and the oxtail. Just thinking about it makes me crave for it!

How do you develop new recipes? What inspires you?

Developing new recipes is not easy for me. I am not that type of person that can come up with something on the fly. I think about a dish, and try and picture it in my head before I actually start cooking. I start with the main ingredient I want to work with, then start finding things that pair well with the main ingredient. I then move on to the technique, and see which one works well with the selected ingredients. I write all my recipes out, and then start cooking and experimenting. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when an idea pops in my head, and  it turns out right, but for the most part it involves a trial and error process. I get inspirations from various things, but mostly books and food blogs. I try and see what chefs from all around the world are doing and take inspiration from that. I take ideas, and then try and develop them in my own style. Nature also inspires me. When I have some free time, I love to go for walks by the seaside or fields. This clears my mind and let’s me think about some dishes I want do. I sometimes also find wild ingredients, which I can use in my cooking.

What are your projects for the future?

The big dream is to have my own restaurant one day. I want to have a small restaurant, and the idea of a tasting menu intrigues me, as one can showcase his or her style in a progression. This is something which you rarely see in Malta, since most of the restaurants offer a la carte. I want to have a place where I can express myself on a plate in different progressions, rather than 1 plate. Also, a menu that is not tied down to what is written on it. For instance, if I have a carrots dish, and the carrots are not of good quality, then I won’t serve it, but adapt to something that is good at that time. At this point, I am aiming to work hard where I am, and gather as much knowledge as possible, further develop my skills and never stop learning.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Malta? 

I love going to the farmers’ market in Ta’ Qali, where I can buy goods that are fresh and in season. Also, new ideas can spark up when I’m there, such as a new vegetable that I didn’t know about, or maybe a purveyor selling local honey.

I love cooking but on my days off I’d rather go and eat out, and my favourite places in Malta have to be Black Pig and Il- Horza, which are fine dining restaurants serving really good food. Sammy’s by Culinary Forward Malta is doing really interesting work, as it is the first restaurant I know of that is purely local, for really good fish I’ll go to Tartarun restaurant, even though it’s my work place I don’t mind going for some good fish and lastly Ali Baba, which is a middle eastern restaurant with mind blowing food.

What did you choose to share on eat in my kitchen and why?

I have decided to do a seasonal fish dish, to showcase where I am at right now in my journey. The dish is a local octopus which is grilled, served with raw fennel, marinated in its own juice and lemon, a squid ink emulsion using the cooking liquor and ink sack from the octopus hence utilizing the whole animal once again; together with baby potatoes coated in a seaweed paste to bring some earthiness, and some fresh seasonal herbs to balance and keep the dish light. With this dish, I will try to balance the land and the sea, which I think reflects Malta, since it is an island with bounties from the sea and land.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for, who and what would it be?

My grandfather. Unfortunately, he passed away before I became a chef. I have deep respect for him, for the man he was. He loved food, especially meat. He worked in meat for all his life and never got tired of eating it as well. I would cook a nice steak with bernaise sauce for him and I’m sure he would love it!

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

When I have time to cook at home, I tend to fall back on simple recipes, and one thing I keep on going back over and over to would be a Ramen – a nice pork broth infused with seaweed, some noodles, soft boiled, egg, roasted pork belly, seasonal greens and some pickles. Hits the spot every time!

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

Still has to be my grandma’s oxtail soup, love that dish! Also, my mother cooks a pretty good lasagna, so those two dishes will be at the top for home cooked meals.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

Working in a kitchen, I have learnt that it’s all about team work. You can’t run the show on your own. So yes, definitely with others. We all help each other out.

Which meals do you prefer in your own kitchen, improvised or planned?

When I’m at home cooking for myself, I’ll improvise, but when it comes to work I prefer to plan it out.

Thank you Kurt!

Octopus with Fennel

 

Octopus with Fennel

 

Octopus with Fennel

 

Octopus with Fennel

 

Octopus with Fennel

Golden Zucchini and Crisp Sage

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

The south of Malta is a different world. I’ve heard this so often and for someone coming from abroad, like me, this can sound a bit strange considering the island’s tiny size of just about 28km (17 miles) in length. After spending so many summers here, I can see and understand the islands’ different mentalities a little bit more but I’m still learning! No matter how big or small a country is, people cultivate their unique habits, traditions, dialects and recipes. In the south of Malta, where you hear more Maltese than English (the country’s second language), you see more small farms with horses, sheep and goats in the countryside and one of the most significant characteristics of this part of the island is its fascination for fireworks. The famous fireworks for the Festas, the holy feast for each village’s saint, have definitely reached another dimension in some of the southern villages. They go on for hours and are passionately planned to perfection by a bunch of pyrotechnics enthusiasts a year ahead - they have proudly made it into the Guiness Book of World Records!

One of the villages that is popular for its spectacular firework orchestration is Mqabba, Emma’s (my Maltese sister) boyfriend’s hometown. We went there a couple days ago to visit Mariano’s farm where he keeps horses, sheep, chickens and the cutest goat babies that were only four days old. Farming isn’t his profession, it’s a family hobby passed on from one generation to the next. I was jealous when I saw all the vegetables they grow, the cheese they make, it’s a perfect little farm to deliver fresh eggs and vegetables to the table, every day!

When we got home, I felt inspired to cook one of Malta’s most delicious vegetables, qarabaghli. I cut the round zucchinis into thick steaks and sautéed them for a few minutes until they were golden and started to soften on the outside. We ate them with crisp, fried sage leaves, it’s such a great combination! You just have to watch them carefully while they are in the pan as the leaves taste bitter when they become too dark! You can eat this dish warm or cold as an antipasto.

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

 

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

 Golden Zucchini and Crisp Sage

For 2 people you need

medium sized zucchini (round or long), cut into thick steaks, 1
big sage leaves, a handful
olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil and sauté the zucchini on a high-medium temperature until golden on both sides. They have to be spread out in the pan, you may have to cook them in batches. Add the sage leaves for the last 1-2 minutes until they are crisp. Season the zucchini with salt and pepper on both sides and serve warm or cold.

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

 

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

 

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

 

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

 

Golden Zucchini with crisp Sage

A Maltese Beach Ftira with Tomato, Capers, Olives and Mint

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

Today I will share a sandwich with you that is as simple as it is perfect, Ftira mimlija – or filled, round Ftira bread.  This sandwich doesn’t require many ingredients but the few you use must be of exceptional quality. All you need is an extraordinarily delicious loaf of white sourdough bread, finest quality extra virgin olive oil, ripe tomatoes, red onions, olives, capers and fresh mint and basil leaves. This is a Maltese classic which you can buy at every beach kiosk and bar in many variations, some of them are also made with tuna, anchovies, bell pepper, Gbejna (Maltese goat cheese) or coarse sausage. I prefer to keep it simple, that’s how my friend Essa makes them and that’s the recipe I will share with you, it’s my favourite! Every Maltese family has their own traditional recipe for this popular snack, so there isn’t only one way to prepare it.

Depending on the time I have for my sandwich preparations I choose between the stuffed Ftira or a quick beach version without a filling, the equally famous Hobz biz-Zejt u Tadam (bread with oil and tomatoes). When I only have a few minutes left before our friends ring at the door to pick us up to go to the beach, this is my choice! I cut the bread in half, dip it in a plate of olive oil, rub it with a cut, ripe tomato and sprinkle it with coarse sea salt and crushed pepper. When you close the bread and push it together, it will soak the fruity and oily juices until you take it out of your bag after a long swim in the sea. Delicious! Jenny (my Maltese Mama) prepares these for us sometimes and I’m always happy when she pulls this snack out of her cooling box!

I think it’s time for a quick introduction for those of you who don’t really have an idea of where I am at the moment. The islands of Malta lie 80 km (50 miles) south of Sicily in the Mediterranean sea. This tiny country is formed by the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino and a few smaller uninhabited rocks, it’s one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world. Its beautiful baroque capital is called Valletta which is a UNESCO World Heritage city. While we’re here, we live on the island Malta which is the largest of them all but still very small – only 28 x 13km / 17 x 8 miles!

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

 

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

Maltese Ftira Sandwich with Tomato, Capers, Olives and Mint

For 2 Ftiras Sandwiches you need

Ftira, 2 quarters or 2 sourdough buns
big tomatoes, chopped, 2
capers, rinsed and dried, 1-2 teaspoons
small red onion, chopped, 1-2 teaspoons
black olives, chopped, 6
big basil leaves 6
small mint leaves 6
olive oil 4-8 tablespoons
salt and pepper

Sprinkle each slice of the Ftira or bun with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and put the tomatoes, capers, onion, olives and herbs on top. Season with salt and pepper to taste and close the sandwich, enjoy!

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

 

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

 

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

 

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

 

Maltese Ftira with Tomatoes, Capers + Mint

Bread Salad with Tomato and Basil and an early morning swim

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

The most beautiful sparkling blue and a fantastic snorkeling trip was our reward for leaving the house quite early on Sunday morning while everyone else was still asleep in the village. I’m awake earliest (together with Jenny) so it was my job to get the other ones out of their beds and into the car. I managed and off we went to Wied iz-Zurrieq for an early Sunday morning swim before we went to the fish market in Marsaxlokk.

Imagine a fjord cut deeply into barren rocks, steep cliffs tumbling into the calm, crystal blue sea in the protected bay. The water is so clear that you can see the seabed metres below and swarms of colourful fish swimming around your feet. The blue of the sea is just mesmerizing, I love to go there in the morning, when the sun is low and creates sparkling reflections which reach deep into the water. I’m obsessed with snorkeling and this is one of my favorite spots.

Most of the tourists come here to visit the famous Blue Grotto, fishermen in tiny colourful wooden boats – Luzzus in Maltese – take them around the corner of the fjord to show them the grotto’s fascinating shades of blue. I’m here to see the big schools of fish along the cliffs and to swim through the bubbles of the divers who are getting ready for their trip from this spot. If you visit this place you should either come very early in the morning to enjoy the water and sea world or in the early evening when fishermen’s families come to take an evening swim at the end of the fjord. There’s lots of chatting and laughing, kids jumping into the sea and older boys looking for octopus. This scene is as beautiful as it is timeless, the atmosphere is basically the same as it was 100 years ago. This is Malta as it’s always been and how it will hopefully stay!

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

 

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

At home in Jenny’s kitchen, I’m back in my cooking groove and one of the dishes that I prepared for us was my personal ultimate holiday salad, Panzanella, a bread salad with tomatoes, red onions, basil and mint. It’s perfect for a quick lunch when the temperatures are so high that you don’t even want to switch on the cooker. When I was a child, we used to go to a village close to Luca in Tuscany for our summer holidays. One of the dishes my mother prepared very often (and I loved) was this salad. In the South, bread tends to dry out much quicker because of the high temperatures, there is always some stale bread lying on the table waiting for further processing. So this recipe comes in handy quite often when we’re here in Malta.

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

Bread Salad with Tomato, Basil and Onions

For 2 people you need

medium sized tomatoes, thickly sliced, 3
a small red onion, chopped, 1
white bread, cut into big cubes. 1 thick slice
fresh basil leaves, a handful
olive oil 3 tablespoons
Balsamico vinegar 2 tablespoons
salt and pepper

Arrange the tomatoes in a big plate and sprinkle with the onions, bread and basil leaves. Whisk the olive oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper to taste and pour over the salad, serve immediately.

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

 

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

 

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

 

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

 

Bread Salad with Tomato + Basil

Moscato Prawn Pasta and a Festa to celebrate our arrival in Malta

Moscato Prawn Pasta

I’m finally back in Malta! I can’t describe how much I’ve been looking forward to having my feet on Maltese ground again. I just wanted to smell the air, feel the sun on my skin and see all the beloved faces at the airport again – and finally we’re here again!

When I went to Malta for the first time I learnt that the arrival at the airport is the beginning of a big, endless family feast. Aunts and uncles, cousins, the grandmother of course, sisters, brothers and my Maltese Mama Jenny, there is always a big welcoming committee waiting for us at the gate and escorting us to the house in Msida, our home town for the weeks to come. On the way there I took a deep breath of the salty air mixed with the sweet scent of oleander and wild thyme, this is Malta to me!

In the next weeks I’ll be cooking and baking in Jenny’s kitchen – and her garden as that’s where the grill is. I will share some of my favourite summer dishes with you, show you around on the islands a bit and introduce some passionate food and wine lovers to you. I will show you this wonderful place in the Mediterranean through my eyes but for a bigger picture I will be meeting and writing about Arnold, the bee keeper and Sam who produces his own olive oil, my baker, the butcher, farmers, wine and cheese makers, chefs and Maltese Mamas who’ve been cooking traditional meals for their families for many years. We will exchange recipes so that you and l can get the chance to learn a few more secrets of traditional Maltese cooking. These people, their profession and passion will show you the side of Malta that I fell in love with nine years ago. I hope I can give you an insight into this culture and food but also its warm, hospitable people who make me feel at home every time I come back.

Moscato Prawn Pasta

 

Moscato Prawn Pasta

One of the many things I’m always looking forward to impatiently when we’re in Malta is to go to the fish market in Marsaxlokk in the south of the island. The freshness and variety is overwhelming, especially for someone like me who lives in the city far away from any water (apart from rivers and lakes). Every Sunday, the fishermen offer their catch of the last night. They go out in the dark into the open sea with their colourful boats in blue, red and yellow to come back from their fishing trip a few hours or days later and fill their tables with swordfish, tuna, sea bream, moray eels, prawns and many more. These aren’t big companies, these are families who have been in the fishing business for many generations.We went there yesterday and I didn’t know where to start and when to stop filling our ice box!

One of our purchases were Maltese prawns, the best I ever ate, almost sweet in taste. We threw them on the grill with some garlic and lemon, and enjoyed them with Maltese bread and wine to celebrate our arrival!

Next time when I write about one of our seafood meals I will tell you a bit more about Marsaxlokk, the fishing village and it’s  picturesque atmosphere but for now I’m off to the beach!

Moscato Prawn Pasta

 

Moscato Prawn Pasta

The weekend of our arrival happened to be Msida’s Festa – the holy feast – in honour of Saint Joseph. Each village praises its patron saint with days of celebration including fireworks and a long procession with the saint’s statue carried through the whole village. If you ever get the chance to join a Festa in Malta you will understand a lot about the Maltese culture, its traditions but also about the people’s untamable will to celebrate and enjoy life!

Moscato Prawn Pasta

 Moscato Prawns with Linguine

For 4 people you need

linguine 300g / 10.5 ounces
prawns (in their shells, the heads removed) 300g / 10.5 ounces
garlic, quartered, 2 big cloves
Moscato wine 75ml / 2.5 ounces
water used to cook the pasta, 50ml / 1 3/4 ounces
freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons plus more to taste
olive oil
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
salt

Cook the pasta al dente in lots of salted water.

In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil together with the garlic. When the oil is hot add the prawns and sauté for 1 minute. Deglaze with half of the wine, add the rest of the wine, the lemon juice and the water. Mix in the pasta and season with salt, crushed pepper and lemon juice to taste, serve immediately.

Moscato Prawn Pasta

Cherry and Chocolate Muffins

Cherry and Chocolate Muffins

After almost six weeks without baking any muffins it was time to pull out the tray again. I mentioned my excessive cherry shopping last week and this recipe is only one of the baking results that this led too. There was the Swabian Kirschenmichel and a couple other sweets that didn’t even make it onto the blog, it was just too much cooking and baking to write about!

So here’s one of my creations, muffins stuffed with chunky bittersweet chocolate and sweet dark cherries, unpitted to keep them firm and juicy. I find this combination is one of the best for muffins. Although I love them with blueberries or with my blood orange marmalade mixed into the dough, but the sweetness of the black fruits and the dark chocolate melted into the cakey sponginess is just too good! So good that I fill each mold with one third more of the dough than I usually do, more dough means bigger muffins!

Cherry and Chocolate Muffins

 Cherry and Chocolate Muffins

For a muffin tray with 12 molds you need

fresh black cherries, unpitted or pitted, 250g/ 9 ounces
bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, 100g / 3.5 ounces
plain flour 320g / 11.5 ounces
sugar 100g / 3.5 ounces
baking powder 3 leveled teaspoons
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
salt 1/4 teaspoon
milk 210ml / 7 ounces
butter, melted, 120g / 4.5 ounces
organic eggs 2

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

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the milk, melted butter and eggs in another bowl. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, stir with a wooden spoon until you have a lumpy dough. Gently fold in the cherries and chocolate. The more you mix it the more it will lose its light texture.

Fill the muffin tray and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.

Cherry and Chocolate Muffins

 

Cherry and Chocolate Muffins

 

Cherry and Chocolate Muffins

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

I have a weak spot for pastis, chilled with two ice cubes and a shot of water and I also use it to refine my recipes. I mentioned yesterday that I love this liqueur, it’s my favourite drink in bars and bistros. In summer it feels refreshing and in winter time I get a cosy feeling from the strong anise aroma. It’s my drink, for years now!

A while ago I travelled along the Côte d’Azur in my car. One afternoon I was seduced by the sight of a lonely bay and decided to stop for a quick swim. I left all my luggage in the car (I was young and unexperienced in traveling) and went for a late afternoon swim. When I got back, the car was gone and I was left with the clothes on my body, a towel and my wallet. I was in a mess, it was the first time something was stolen from me so I did what lots of daughter’s do in a situation like this and called my mother.

Crying and sobbing, I tried to explain the situation on the phone. I wasn’t in a state for a proper conversation, I felt ashamed. My mother, who is quite a pragmatic character, told me to calm down, get everything organised at the police station and then head to the next decent looking bar and have a pastis. I obeyed, the drink worked and I chilled out! In the end, I even got my car back but the luggage was gone (mine, my boyfriend’s bags were still there!). I found out that the thieves tend to take the cars to a quiet place to empty them, lesson learnt! I never left my luggage unattended in a car again but I also understood that any material loss is frustrating but not a tragedy!

Over the years I found out that my beloved pastis has lots of potential in the kitchen, sweet and savory. Here’s a fruity recipe which is a great summery alternative to an aperitif, sweet little balls of Cantaloupe melon in pastis! All you need is a ripe melon, either cut into cubes or scooped out with a melon baller (I found out about this strange name just a few days ago). You mix the fruit with pastis and water and pick them out of a whiskey glass with cocktail picks (or toothpicks).

It’s my birthday today and this will definitely be one of my treats!

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

 

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

This is a rough guideline which you can easily adapt to your taste

For 4-6 people you need

a ripe Cantaloupe melon
pastis, chilled, to taste

For 12 balls of melon mix 1 1/2 shots of pastis with 1 1/2 shots of water and pour over the fruit. Put 6 fruity balls in a whiskey glass and fill just the bottom with the pastis/ water mixture. Serve with cocktail picks or wooden toothpicks.

You can either make it fresh and serve immediately or let the fruit soak for a few hours (which will increase their alcoholic impact), in which case you should keep it in the fridge.

This recipe focuses on the fruit rather than on the drink. You could also make a cocktail by adding just 2-3 balls of melon to a glass of 2cl of pastis filled with water and 1-2 ice cubes.

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

 

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

 

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

 

Cantaloupe Melon in Pastis

Green Beans, Fresh Herbs and a Fried Egg

Pastis Beans with Herbs + a Fried Egg

Three different kinds of fresh herbs are spread on my table, ready to be mixed with my sautéed green beans! I chose a few sprigs of fresh thyme, summer savory and marjoram from my herbal pot selection to turn this simple dish into an aromatic combination of crisp greens and fried eggs. I deglazed the beans with pastis to add one more flavour, a wonderfully warm anise! The strong aroma of this liqueur lifts the beans up to another level, it works with fava beans as well!

Unfortunately, many people around me are not too fond of anise aroma, it’s one of those spices that is mentioned the most when I ask people about their culinary dislikes. Therefore I keep this dish for the two of us and the few who appreciate pastis as much as I do, be it on a plate or in a glass.

Tomorrow I will share a recipe with you which shows off this liqueur’s sweet side!

Pastis Beans with Herbs + a Fried Egg

 Green Beans, Fresh Herbs and a Fried Egg

For 2 people you need

green beans, the ends cut off, 250g / 9 ounces
a small onion, cut in half and sliced thinly, 1
pastis 50ml / 1 3/4 ounces
water 50ml / 1 3/4 ounces
garlic, thinly sliced, 2 cloves
thyme a small bunch
summer savory 2 sprigs
marjoram 2 sprigs
olive oil
salt and pepper
organic eggs 2
butter

In large sauce pan, heat a splash of olive oil and cook the onions on medium temperature for 2 minutes. Add a little more oil and the beans, stir and cook for 3 minutes. Deglaze with the pastis, season with salt and pepper, add the water and herbs and cook with a closed lid for 8-10 minutes or until the beans are al dente. Season with salt, pepper and pastis to taste.

Heat a little butter in a pan and fry the eggs on a medium heat. Serve the eggs on top of the beans.

Pastis Beans with Herbs + a Fried Egg

 

Pastis Beans with Herbs + a Fried Egg

Spaghetti in Fennel Oil with Chorizo and Cherry Tomatoes

Spaghetti with Chorizo + Fennel Oil

In March I cooked a pasta dish with lots of fennel seeds roasted with crunchy bacon. For the sauce I mixed these aromatic and oily bits and pieces of spice and meat with tinned tomatoes because at that point the fresh ones were still far away from offering more than a watered down hint of what a real tomato tastes like. I enjoyed this meal a lot, it was rich and hearty, it felt like comfortable late winter food. The only problem was at that point I was already thinking of all the fresh vegetables I would be cooking with as soon as the cold season would be over. I could see fresh tomatoes, ripe and strong in taste, straight from the market ending up in my pan.

Here’s a pasta meal that was one of my visions for summer which also includes fennel seeds. This time I cook the seeds in a bit more olive oil than I would normally use and let them spread their aroma. When the oil is infused I cook slices of spicy chorizo in it together with a thinly sliced fennel bulb. The vegetable softens after about 5 minutes of cooking but I make sure that it doesn’t lose its bite, I keep it crisp. To finish the meal off, I mix the spaghetti directly in my heavy pan in these spicy and oily juices and top it with the halves of fresh cherry tomatoes, uncooked, pure and sweet. I dreamt of this meal in March and got it in July. That wasn’t that bad, some things take longer!

Spaghetti with Chorizo + Fennel Oil

 Spaghetti in Fennel Oil with Chorizo and Cherry Tomatoes 

For 3-4 people you need

spaghetti 300-400g / 10.5 – 14 ounces
fennel bulb, cut in half or quartered depending on the size and cut into very thin slices, 300g / 10.5 ounces
spicy chorizo, very thinly sliced, 60g / 2 ounces
olive oil 50ml / 1 3/4 ounces
fennel seeds, slightly crushed in a mortar, 1 1/2 tablespoons
cherry tomatoes, cut in half, 15
salt and pepper

Cook the spaghetti in lots of salted water al dente.

In a large heavy pan, heat up the oil on a medium heat and add the fennel seeds. Let them infuse the oil for 2 minutes, add the chorizo and cook for 1 minute. Add the slices of fennel, cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes or until al dente. Take the pan off the heat, mix the spaghetti with the vegetable and oil and add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Spaghetti with Chorizo + Fennel Oil

 

Spaghetti with Chorizo + Fennel Oil

Chicken Sandwich with Red Cabbage and Orange Olive Oil

Chicken Sandwich with Red Cabbage and Orange Oil

I ordered a chicken sandwich recipe and I got one that is hard to beat in aroma, juiciness and lusciousness!

My boyfriend is the one who got me hooked on sandwiches. One of his sandwich creations was actually the reason I started my Sandwich Wednesdays. He’s been going on about a chicken sandwich for weeks and I think he just got tired of waiting any longer. I asked him to come up with an inspiration but he created a whole new sandwich instead. Thick and juicy slices of chicken breast, topped with red cabbage coleslaw, spring onions and a fantastic olive oil which he infused with orange peel for a few minutes in the oven.

My job was to choose the bread! I bought my Swabian soft buns again, the same I used for my Kirschenmichel. They have a nice sweet and eggy taste and the perfect soft texture to soak up all these juices. We could squeeze them easily, which is quite important when you have a sandwich this tall and you try to take the first bite! Eating it was a joyful mess, look at the pictures and you can imagine the scene.

The orange flavoured oil was so good that I have a few ideas in mind to use it for. You just need to put a baking dish with strips of orange peel and some olive oil in the oven and after 8 minutes you’ll have the most aromatic infusion on your table!

Chicken Sandwich with Red Cabbage and Orange Oil

 

Chicken Sandwich with Red Cabbage and Orange Oil

Chicken Sandwich with Red Cabbage and Orange flavoured Olive Oil 

For 6 sandwiches you need

soft buns, cut in half, 6
chicken breast 400g / 14 ounces
small red cabbage, cut into thin strips, 1/4 around 160g / 5.5 ounces
apple, peeled, cored and cut into julienne, 1
yoghurt 100g / 3.5 ounces
spring onion, cut into slices, 1
orange peel 4 long strips
freshly squeezed orange juice 1 tablespoon
olive oil 5 tablespoons plus more for the chicken
salt and pepper

In a bowl, mix the cabbage with 1 teaspoon of salt and rub with your fingers. Let it sit for 10 minutes to soften the texture. Mix the cabbage, apple, yoghurt and orange juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F.

You can cook the chicken and orange flavoured olive oil at the same time but in 2 separate dishes.

In a small baking dish, mix 4 tablespoons of olive oil with the orange peel and set aside.

In a heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil and cook the chicken breast on medium temperature for a few minutes on each side until golden. Put the chicken on a baking dish and roast in the oven together with the orange oil for about 8 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Check with a skewer, only clear juices should come out.

Cut the chicken in thick slices (18 for 6 sandwiches). Drizzle a bit of the orange flavoured oil on the bottom side of a bun, cover with 3 slices of chicken and a heaped tablespoon of coleslaw. Sprinkle with spring onion, close the bun and start the mess!

Chicken Sandwich with Red Cabbage and Orange Oil

 

Chicken Sandwich with Red Cabbage and Orange Oil

Red Currants with Cardamom Yoghurt

Red Currants with Cardamom Yoghurt

This is one of my summer highlights! Only five ingredients create this seasonal feast, red currants, yoghurt, whipped cream, cardamom and sugar. As soon as I spot the little red berries at the markets nothing can stop me from buying them, weekly! Their firm skin holds all the juices together that spread with the first bite and you never know if it will be more on the sweet or the sour side depending on each berry’s ripeness. I like to mix them with a very creamy yoghurt flavoured with cardamom and a little sugar. The smooth milkiness balances out the tart fruit without taking any of its qualities away. Instead of just buying a rich yoghurt I like to mix the normal one with with sweetened heavy cream whipped with cardamom. It creates a thick and fluffy texture – it tastes divine!

When I prepared my fruits and cream, a friend from Canada popped into my kitchen spontaneously. As soon as she saw the glowing red of the berries her attention moved away from me to the fruit. Feasts are there to share, so I handed her a bowl of my creamy yoghurt topped with red currants, she looked as happy as a child in a candy store!

Red Currants with Cardamom Yoghurt

 

Red Currants with Cardamom Yoghurt

Red Currants with a creamy Cardamom Yoghurt

For 2-4 people you need

red currants 500g / 1 pound
yoghurt 500g / 1 pound
heavy cream 200g / 7 ounces
sugar 2 tablespoons plus more to taste
cardamom 1/4 teaspoon plus more to taste

Whip the cream together with the sugar and cardamom till thick and fluffy. Gently fold into the yoghurt and season to taste.

Serve the berries on top of the yoghurt.

Red Currants with Cardamom Yoghurt

 

Red Currants with Cardamom Yoghurt

Mediterranean Feta and Vegetable Casserole

Mediterranean Feta and Vegetable Casserole

It was a cold, grey evening when my aunt Ursula invited us to dinner a few years ago. We meet quite often to enjoy good food and wine together but that day we felt tired from work and weren’t in the mood for a heavy meal. When we arrived at her apartment we saw that she hadn’t set up the table in the dining room as she normally does but created a comfy dining scene in her living room. The low table was packed with loaves of bread with herbs and dried tomatoes, a few dips and a bottle of red wine was just waiting for us. Our mood was lifted straight away, this was exactly what we needed, a relaxed evening on the sofa! When Ursula came out of the kitchen with a steaming dish in her hands, filling the air with the smell of roast vegetables and herbs she had our attention and we felt awake again!

The meal she served became one of my most beloved dishes, Mediterranean vegetables on top of a thick slice of feta roasted in the oven for only half an hour. By the end of it you have a plate full of juicy, partly crunchy vegetables that you can spoon onto a thick slice of bread together with the aromatic cheese and herbs, it’s delicious! The mix of zucchini, red and yellow bell pepper, aubergine, red onions, garlic and lots of thyme and rosemary became my favourite, personal variation on this recipe. Just throw together a composition that suits your taste and put this on a slice of a French country bread, ciabatta or focaccia and I’m sure you’ll be as happy as I am whenever I cook this meal!

I love to make this when friends come over, I just put one or two big casseroles on our long table, a few loaves of bread, some wine – this is the perfect food and atmosphere to let the laughing and chatting begin! Or to celebrate that Germany won the World Cup!

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

Mediterranean Vegetable and Feta Casserole

For 4 people you need

feta cheese, 2 slices, around 2cm / 3/4″ thick, 400g / 14 ounces
medium sized aubergine, cut into 1cm / 1/2″ cubes, 1
medium sized zucchini, cut in half and sliced, 1
yellow bell pepper, cut into cubes, 1
red bell pepper, cut into cubes, 1
medium sized tomatoes, cut into cubes, 3
medium sized red onions, cut into 8 pieces, 2
garlic, 8 cloves in their skin
olive oil 60ml / 2 ounces
thyme, a small bunch
rosemary, 6 sprigs
salt and pepper

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F (I use the Rotitherm roasting setting).

Put the feta cheese next to each other in a baking dish, cover with the vegetables, garlic and herbs and season with salt and pepper. Pour the olive oil on top and mix until everything is coated in oil (add a little bit more if it’s not enough). Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft, they shouldn’t burn. Check the aubergine first as it needs the longest to cook. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with rustic white bread.

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

 

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

 

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

Apricot Clafoutis

Apricot Clafoutis

My Apricot Clafoutis is as easy to make as pancakes – and it’s at least as addictive! It looks like a tart but the texture is more like a flan, it’s not too sweet, light and fruity. I can imagine it as a wonderful dessert for a summer dinner, sitting outside in a garden and finishing the meal with a pretty French clafoutis.

We had a friend over and as soon as the clafoutis was out of the oven, we gathered in my kitchen and waited impatiently for it to cool down a bit. We cut this scrumptious little thing into pieces and it was nearly gone in 15 minutes! It’s one of those sweet treats that you end up eating in one go without noticing. Our guest had never tried this French dish before and he looked quite taken by its taste – he was the first one who asked for a second piece!

Traditionally, a clafoutis is made with black unpitted cherries but I needed a cherry break as I ate far too many of them in the past few days. Apricots were my first choice, and I almost prefer them in this dish. I like how they blend in with the vanilla flavoured batter. They aren’t as sweet as peaches or cherries which fits very well in this composition. I also left out the traditional icing sugar on top, all the flavours were so well balanced that I didn’t feel the need to add more sweetness.

Apricot Clafoutis

 

Apricot Clafoutis

 Apricot Clafoutis

For a 23cm /9″ heavy pan or baking dish you need

apricots, cut in half, 6
flour 80g / 3 ounces
sugar 4 tablespoons
a pinch of fresh vanilla
a pinch of salt
butter, melted, 30g / 1 ounce
organic eggs 4
milk 200ml/ 7 ounces
brandy 3 tablespoons
optionally
icing sugar for dusting

Set the oven to 190°C / 375°F (fan-assisted oven) and butter the pan generously.

Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk the milk, eggs, brandy and melted butter and pour into the dry mixture, mixing constantly until well combined.

Spread the apricots in the pan and pour the batter on top. Bake for 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 175°C / 350°F and bake for another 8 minutes or until the clafoutis is golden and set. Let it cool for 5 minutes, leave it in the pan or turn it around and sprinkle with icing sugar if you like, serve warm.

Apricot Clafoutis

 

Apricot Clafoutis

 

Apricot Clafoutis

meet in your kitchen | Phia & Josh bake Mum’s French Cake

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

This is the start of a new series of features on the blog - meet in your kitchen! I will be meeting artists, chefs – people with a great passion for what they do, in their kitchen, to cook or to bake while we talk about their culinary life, current projects and inspiration.

I’m very excited to start with two artists who I first saw live a couple years ago, Phia and Josh! Phia performed on a houseboat on a big lake outside Berlin and mesmerized me with her singing, her Kalimba and the loops she created during her show.

The two artists grew up in Melbourne and decided to move to Berlin three years ago to grow as artists and touch new musical ground. They soon found that their ideas worked well together and the time was ripe for a colaboration. Phia, the singer who plays the kalimba and Josh, the guitarist and producer understand and enhance each other and in a few months they will share their musical vision on the first Phia album!

Although the two are very busy in the studio at the moment they took some time out and invited me to their Berlin kitchen. They arrived in the city with little more than a suitcase and had to piece together everything from scratch. The furniture and every single pot, plate and mug has its own story, mostly coming from friends who moved back home or flea markets, a unique space full of soul and personal memories.

Phia’s family is very passionate about cooking, both her parents love to be creative in the kitchen. She chose to share a very special recipe with me that she used to bake with her mother when she was a child, a recipe rich in young kitchen memories! It’s Mum’s French Cake, a spongy and fruity cake which is as delicious as it is quick and easy to bake, a perfect candidate for those spontaneous late night (or early morning) baking sessions! Phia covered the cake with apples, but plums are another of her favourites for this recipe.

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

 

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

Mum’s French Cake

“I chose a really simple cake recipe that my mum taught me. I’m not the most confident baker but this one is so simple. Depending on how large you want the cake, you take 1-3 eggs and weigh them, then put in the same weight of flour, melted butter and sugar. Then choose whatever fruit you want to put on top. My mum actually brought the recipe home from a French class she was in when I was younger.  So the first time we made it we did it in French: “… deus oeufs …” etc!”

For an 18cm / 7″ springform pan you need

apple, quartered and thinly sliced, 1
organic eggs 2
weigh the eggs with their shells and measure the same weight of the following ingredients
plain flour
butter, melted
sugar
baking powder 1 tablespoon
a pinch of salt

Set the oven to 180°C / 355°F and butter the springform pan.

Combine the dry ingredients. Mix the eggs and butter for a few minutes till fluffy and add the dry mixture, mix until well combined. Pour the dough into the springform pan, arrange the apples in circles and bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Serve warm!

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

You both grew up in Australia, what are your food memories? 

Josh: Australia is a fairly wealthy country with really good weather and at various times a great influx of immigrants from around the world (although not currently because of our extreme rightwing government). This has meant that food is in wide variety and really great quality. You could find Indian, Afghan, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Turkish, Thai, African, Lebanese, Japanese and a lot more (as well as modern fusion) to a beautiful standard all within close proximity. Restaurants just don’t survive if they’re not doing it the way it’s done in the home country. I guess we’re spoilt in a culinary way. This standard or commitment to food is still lagging very much in Germany which I find surprising because there are a lot of people from around the world living there. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but I still have not found a decent curry.

What effect did the move to Berlin have on your cooking?

Phia: I’ve become a lot more confident since moving here! Last year I became really bored with the recipes that I knew, so I bought a couple of cookbooks and made some new meals. My favourite was Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”, a vegetarian cookbook. He has this delicious soup made with chickpeas based on a Tuscan ribollita which I make a lot now.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

Josh: I started lifting weights after high school, trying to get buff. At the time I was known as “Mr. Vegetarian” because I was pretty big but still vegetarian. My memory of cooking by myself (that wasn’t frozen dim sims or pizza) was a taco filling that was packed with kidney beans and chickpeas for protein.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Berlin? 

Phia: We are really spoiled for choice in our part of Neukölln. All of these are within walking distance of us:

Favourite coffee: Five Elephant, a super nice place in Reichenbergerstrasse
Delicious and cheap tapas: Gaston on Weserstrasse
Best gelati: Fräulein Frost on Panierstrasse
Fresh fruit and veggies: the turkish market on Maybachufer

Josh: Everything Sophia has said plus ‘Il Casolare’ – excellent pizza and atmosphere by the canal.

You live and work in Berlin at the moment, what are your upcoming projects?

Josh: The Phia album is still in full swing, still producing… we’ve mixed some of the tracks and still going over the editing and post-production stuff for quite a few of them. Final mixing should happen at the end of August. 

I’ve been producing some music for a few other artists too.

I’m also working on my own project ‘Josh The Cat’. I sing songs, tell stories, dance a little bit with my guitar. Influenced by Bowie, TuneYards and Radiohead but people say it’s sounds a bit like The Whitest Boy Alive with a loop pedal and I look like the guitarist from Incubus. I recently heard The Whitest Boy Alive have disbanded so maybe there is an opening for me.

What or who inspired you to become musicians?

Phia: I grew up in a household filled with music. My mum and my sister and I used to sing three part harmonies, I learnt piano, sung in lots of choirs and did musicals. It never occurred to me that I could be a professional musician though. At school I thought I would be a teacher, or a writer. After high school I made a spontaneous decision to enter a music university rather than the law degree I had been accepted into. I thought I’d complete a year and then go back to academia, but I stayed!

Why did you choose Berlin as the place to live and work?

Josh: I wanted to shake up my life a little. I’d played in a few different bands in Melbourne ranging from Synthpop, FreeJazz to Instrumental soundscape. It was either NYC, Tokyo or Berlin and Berlin won. It’s a great base for branching out, there’s a lot of creatives to bounce off and I find the East meets West, the old crashing into the new, inspiring.

You just finished recording your album, what were your biggest influences during the writing and recording process? 

Phia: The songs on the record definitely reflect the period of change of moving from Melbourne to Berlin. Some were written just before the move, and some after, and I think you can hear a continuous thread throughout the album of conflicted feelings change brings. The joy of expanding our experiences to the pull of homesickness. 

Our lifestyle has been so different since moving to Berlin. The people we’ve met, the places we’ve toured, even just day-to-day living in Neukölln and having the luxury of working on music. You can definitely hear that on the album.

What did you choose to share on eat in my kitchen and why?

Phia: I chose a really simple cake recipe that my mum taught me. I’m not the most confident baker but this one is so simple. Depending on how large you want the cake, you take 1-3 eggs and weigh them, then put in the same weight of flour, melted butter and sugar. Then choose whatever fruit you want to put on top. My mum actually brought the recipe home from a French class she was in when I was younger.  So the first time we made it we did it in French: “… deus oeufs …” etc!

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Phia: Merril Garbus from Tune-yards. I bet she’d have some killer recipes.

Josh: The RZA from Wu-Tang Clan comes to mind. It would be good to have a chat with him too.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

Phia: Definitely a big salad, maybe with orange and chickpeas, lots of wine, maybe some roast veggies or a baked dish.

Josh: Depends what is in the house. I find lentil soup very satisfying and hopefully the guests would too.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

Phia: I wasn’t the most adventurous eater as a child so it was probably that Australian staple borrowed from our Italian immigrants – spaghetti bolognaise. Now I love eating new foods from the countries we go on tour. Last year I tried perogi in Poland for the first time, which was amazing.

Josh: My favorite food is Indian or Sri Lankan, I love the spices they use and the vivid flavours. Although I’m not vegetarian I prefer vegetarian food and this goes well for me with all the lentils, vegetables, chickpeas and the occasional paneer their food has. I don’t remember particularly liking food as a very young child but I guess I’ve liked any food from Asia since about the age of 12 or 13. I’ve always hated asparagus and it still makes me gag.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

Phia: When I wasn’t so confident I needed to do it on my own, I didn’t like being watched! But now I love learning from others and it is fun to cook together.

Josh: I think someone who is good with food generally needs patience or at the very least a sensibility for how all the elements interact. I don’t really have that. Or perhaps my problem is that I usually try to ignore I’m hungry until I am absolutely ravenous and by that point I have no patience for preparing things properly. So cooking for myself comes out of necessity and cooking with others is probably more fun because it has probably been planned ahead. By others, I mean Sophia, who has good ideas generally, plans ahead and never allows herself to get so hungry as to become irrational and hasty as I do.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

Phia: I’m definitely a meal planner – no improvising in the kitchen for me!

Josh: I would admit that conceptually a planned meal should work out the best but I haven’t properly tried that.

Which meal would you never cook again?

Josh: When I was at university I was known by my housemates for my signature dish: “bachelor’s special” which ingredients consisted of pretty much everything cooked in a saucepan served over some sort of carbohydrate. I think I’ll leave that one in the past.

Thank you Phia and Josh!

Here you can listen to Phia and Josh’s music and find out when the album will be released: www.listentophia.com

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

 

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

 

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

 

phia16

 

Phia

 

phia17

 

Phia, Josh and a Fruit Cake

Roast Chicken with spiced Peaches

Roast Chicken with Peaches

This is peach heaven! Finally the fruits are so juicy and ripe, that every bite into their velvety skin is so sweet and refreshing that I eat them every day, in the morning, for lunch or as an after dinner dessert. As always, I can’t stop myself at the market, I buy them in bulk, the round and yellow ones, round and white and the flat galaxy (or vineyard) peaches. The whole variety finds its place in my kitchen! Sometimes I end up with more than we can eat, so peach jam is definitely on my list but for now I use them in my Roast Chicken with spiced Peaches.

A few years ago I cooked a roast chicken recipe from a Jamie Oliver book, he prepares the meat with pineapple and spices and purées some of the fruit to a thick sauce. My boyfriend who loves this dish cooks it quite often, we changed a few things and always replace the pineapple with peaches, rub the chicken with lemon oil and add some thyme which is great in this combination. The two of us disagree on one point and that’s how much of the fruit should be turned into a smooth sauce. He prefers lots of sauce and I like it chunky, so it’s up to you how much of the roasted peaches you put in the food processor. He is for a half – half ratio and I prefer 1:3!

Either way it tastes delicious, fruity and spicy, the meat is perfectly juicy and the skin is crisp – you can’t ask for more when there’s roast chicken on your table!

The leftovers, meat and sauce, are great on a sandwich!

Roast Chicken with Peaches

 

Roast Chicken with Peaches

Roast Chicken with spiced Peaches

For 2-3 people (or 4 if you have a starter and dessert) you need

free range/ organic chicken 1,5kg / 3.5 pounds
big galaxy (vineyard) peaches, quartered, 8
bell pepper, cut into strips, 150g / 5.5 ounces
small red onions, cut into 8 pieces, 3
fresh red chili pepper, finely chopped, 1/2
fresh ginger, a 2cm / 3/4″ pieces, thinly sliced
garlic, 3 cloves, 1 thinly sliced and 2 in their skin
thyme, a small bunch
parsley, the leaves of a small bunch
freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tablespoon
olive oil 2 tablespoons plus more for the peaches
fennel seeds, slightly crushed in a mortar, 1 tablespoon
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar, 1 teaspoon
coarse sea salt, 1 teaspoon

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F (I use the Rotitherm roasting setting).

Put the peaches, bell pepper and onions in a baking dish and mix with the chili, ginger, the slices of garlic and a splash of olive oil. Lay half the thyme and parsley on top.

Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil and rub into the chicken’s skin. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, stuff it with the rest of the herbs and sprinkle with pepper, salt and fennel seeds and rub slightly into the skin.

Roast for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Check with a skewer, only clear juices should come out. If you want the skin to be a bit more crisp turn on the grill for the last 1-2 minutes.

Set the chicken aside. Take out the thyme, peel the garlic out of its skin and put together with 1/3 to 1/2 of the fruit, vegetables and parsley into the food processor and purée to a smooth sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy together with a juicy chicken breast or leg and some chunky fruit.

Roast Chicken with Peaches

 

Roast Chicken with Peaches

 

Roast Chicken with Peaches

 

Roast Chicken with Peaches

Orecchiette with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil

Orecchiette with Grilled Tomatoes + Mozzarella

This meal started off with an image in my head. Quite often I imagine recipes visually, I can see the colours, the texture, the whole composition is just waiting to get out of my head onto a plate. For days I’ve been mentally carrying a Tuscan picture with me (it’s Tuscan to me at least). I had a big bowl of orecchiette in mind, topped with roasted cherry tomatoes on a branch. I could see the woody sprig turning black and the firm skin of the red fruit grilled and burst creating a smoky sweetness to mix with my pasta. Sprinkled with pieces of Buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil it turns into a tasty beauty in green, white and red – the Italian flag on a plate!

This is another one of these simple and perfect Italian dishes, the classic combination of tomato, mozzarella and fresh herbs which I love so much in various recipes. It is as good as an insalata caprese which I mix with mint as it is in a Panzanella, a Tuscan salad made with stale bread, a recipe which is on the top of my cooking list for when I’m in Malta (which will be very soon!).  You can throw it on pizza, quiche or mix it with any kinds of pasta, warm or cold, with rosemary, oregano, thyme or whatever your herb garden offers. This is the essence of pure Italian comfort food!

Orecchiette with Grilled Tomatoes + Mozzarella

 Orecchiette with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil

For 2 people you need

orecchiette 200g / 7 ounces
cherry tomatoes on a branch 500g / 1 pound
Buffalo mozzarella, torn into bite sized pieces, 125g / 4.5 ounces
big basil leaves, torn, 10
olive oil 50ml / 1 3/4 ounces
garlic, cut in half, 1 clove
salt and crushed black pepper

Cook the pasta in lots of salted water al dente.

Turn on the grill of your oven, put the tomatoes (on their branches) on a baking dish and roast for 12 minutes or until their skin starts to turn black and burst.

In a sauce pan, warm up the olive oil together with the garlic and leave on a medium-low heat for 1-2 minutes.

Divide the pasta between 2 big plates, mix with the garlic olive oil and top with mozzarella, basil and a roasted branch of tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and crushed pepper.

Orecchiette with Grilled Tomatoes + Mozzarella

 

Orecchiette with Grilled Tomatoes + Mozzarella

 

Orecchiette with Grilled Tomatoes + Mozzarella

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