Eat In My Kitchen will be out worldwide in 34 days (in English, on October 4th) and my German book will see the book stores even earlier, in less than a month, on September 26th. It’s becoming real. It’s the transition from a project that existed as an idea in the heads of a handful of people to a finished, physical book, which will lean against other books in book shelves and hopefully come to use in many kitchens. Soon, this transition will be complete and then it won’t just be my ‘baby’ anymore. Then it will be out in the world, it will live its own life, create lots of stories around food, and I won’t be a part of it anymore. Soon, it won’t be in my hands anymore.
You could say that it’s not really a huge difference to the blog, which is true to a certain extent. For almost 3 years I’ve been sharing my recipes (more than 600) here, in the digital world. Whoever felt inspired cooked or baked them, many sent me pictures or emails, and enjoyed it. This interaction still made me feel like I’m a part of it, a part of my Eat In My Kitchen blog that changes constantly, it grows and evolves. But the book is different, it’s done, it’s printed, it reached the warehouses already, there’s nothing I could change, even if I wanted to. Now, I have to learn to let go.
Although there’s no work left to be done on the physical book, there’s tons of organization left. My book launch events in London, Berlin, Malta, New York, and Washington seem to need my attention 24/7, there are interviews and photo shoots on my schedule, and so many things that come along with a book, things that I never thought about. It felt like a lot of work writing this book, but to send it out into the world seems even more crazy.
I have a habit, whenever my life resembles a rollercoaster, I try to be a little more disciplined and create a rhythm that I stick to. I have my rituals, I take Saturdays off, I go jogging more regularly, I set up more tea time breaks than usual, and I don’t skip dinner. It’s often quite simple, due to a lack of time and inspiration, but that doesn’t matter. I chop my vegetables, nibble on my cheese, and sip at my wine glass (not every night though). I try to create normality within the chaos, a routine, and that helps me.
My current life leads to recipes that neither require much work or time, nor many ingredients. Unfortunately, the time that’s left for my beloved grocery shopping decreased considerably in the past few months. But there’s no need to complain, those dishes created out of spontaneity taste just as good. On one of those late nights, I opened the door of my fridge, I spotted a head of cauliflower, a jar of my homemade preserved lemons, and capers from Malta. I cut the cabbage into pieces, tossed it in olive oil and my tasty preserves, and ended up with the most delicious comfort food. It was a happy night.
If you’re curious about my Eat In My Kitchen book, you can pre-order it here:
Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Preserved Lemon
cored cauliflower, cut into medium pieces, 600g / 1 1/3 pounds
olive oil 60ml / 1/4 cup
preserved lemon, thinly sliced, 1/2
capers, preferably preserved in salt, rinsed, 3 tablespoons
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.
Spread the cauliflower in a medium baking dish. Add the olive oil, preserved lemon, and capers and toss to combine. Season with a little flaky sea salt (mind that the capers are salty) and crushed pepper. Roast for about 18 minutes or until the cauliflower turns golden. Flip the cauliflower and roast for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, turn on the grill (broiler) for the last few minutes, if you prefer it a bit more crispy. Serve warm or cold.
Piles of plums, peaches, and apricots fill my kitchen’s countertops. Plates with tiny yellow mirabelles and slightly larger greengage plums make it look and smell like a farmers’ market, the fruit flies are having a feast. Every season has its culinary highlights, but late summer is the most lavish time of the year. Figs and berries are at the their peak, packed with sweet juices. The whole variety of stone fruits is ready to be picked from the trees, and early apples tease me with their sour quality, which is so perfect for baked treats. Sponge cakes, muffins, tarts, and pies are just waiting to be paired with one of these summer fruits – who needs whipped cream or butter cream frosting? Now is the time to stir some fruit into the dough and enjoy one of the best sweet combinations ever: cake and fruit.
Sunday is my favourite day to bake cake. I start the oven right after breakfast, which tends to end rather late. Not so much because we sleep in, it’s more because I enjoy the luxury of not having to rush after a busy week. I take my time, lots of time.
Looking at the long tradition of baking in my life, I think there have been two recipes that I have come to use far more often than others, not only on Sundays. The first one is my fluffy German waffle recipe, it’s a family weekend ritual, and the other one is a fruit cake, any kind of fruit cake. It may sound quite simple but there are a million possible variations of this treat: you could add white chocolate, cornstarch for a lighter texture, or put some crumble on top. Olive oil creates a warm flavour and adds a juicy texture, great for a cake but also for my fig and ricotta muffins.
So here we are, today I went for a classic French yogurt cake, which is usually enjoyed plain. However, my enthusiasm for fruit led to a juicy filling of greengage plums. They were supposed to become a topping, but gravity, in combination with a light sponge dough, had different plans and the fruit sunk. The dairy product is mixed with mild olive oil, no butter (!), and adds a slightly sour hint. The yellow-green plums make it sweet and fruity, it’s just right for my late summer Sunday.
French Yogurt Cake with Greengage Plums
Makes a 20cm / 8″ cake.
plain flour 230g / 1 3/4 cups
baking powder 2 1/2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
plain yogurt 155g / 2/3 cup
mild olive oil 155ml / 2/3 cup
organic eggs 3, lightly beaten
granulated sugar 200g / 1 cup, plus 2 teaspoons for the topping
zest of 1 medium lemon
greengage (or normal plums), cut on 1 side and pitted, 500g / 18 ounces
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (preferably convection setting). Butter a 20cm / 8″ springform pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Add the yogurt, olive oil, eggs, sugar, and lemon zest and mix with an electric mixer on low speed for about 1 minute, just until there’s no trace of flour left and the dough is combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and arrange the greengage on top of the batter (vertically, see picture above). Sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar and bake for about 60 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden brown on top. If you insert a skewer in the center of the cake, it should come out almost clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes before serving.
Besides all the excitement that our Mediterranean summer offered last month, we also got the chance to spend a more than relaxing, but nonetheless very inspiring evening at one of our friends’ house. Alex and Benjamin live a life that’s just as busy as ours, which makes it a bit difficult to meet. They love to travel, they celebrate their weekly gatherings and dinner parties with their loved ones, and they also split their life between Malta and London. And this I’ll never understand and I’m sure you’d agree if you could see their gorgeous palazzo in the silent heart of Żebbuġ – if I lived there, I’d never leave the house! However, we managed to find a free evening, or rather a few free hours, and visited them for drinks and nibbles.
When you meet Alex, a man who seems to either work or spend his time in his beautiful kitchen (click here for pictures), you’re treated to the most scrumptious culinary pleasures. Even his ‘nibbles’ are heavenly. He’s a true connoisseur, a man who loves the fine arts, exquisite food and wine, and who’s always up for a good conversation. Alex is a critical mind and and you’ll never feel bored in his presence. Benjamin is the most beautiful person who’s helped me deal with the struggles of my current crazy life more than once. Whenever my mind and body can’t keep up with the challenges anymore that come with writing a book and organizing book launch events, I call Benjamin. He’s the best reflexologist I know and whatever problem my body comes up with, Benjamin will fix me! And if you happen to be in Malta and you have some time off, spoil yourself and book an appointment with him (I wish I could do that right now!).
But back to the nibbles: I’ve always been a huge fan of Alex’s dips. Be it hummus or smoky grilled eggplant, they are all addictive. And there’s one of his creations that struck me with its subtle salty note. I couldn’t make out what it was at first, but I loved it since I enjoyed the first bite last summer, spread lusciously on a thick slice of crusty Maltese bread. Alex purées boiled yellow split peas, mixes in chopped onion, olive oil, lots of lemon juice, and – here’s the secret – capers. The salty fruits add a special flavour, it doesn’t really taste like caper, it could also be canned tuna. I totally fell for it and couldn’t stop eating the thick spread. Now I made it at home, it was my first try, but in my version I use canned cannellini beans. They are sweet and smooth, velvety, and fit just as well to this Mediterranean composition. A few thick slices of golden sautéed zucchini, some ciabatta, and lunch – or dinner – is served.
Bean and Caper Dip with Golden Sautéed Zucchini
For the bean caper dip
rinsed and drained canned cannellini beans 360g / 13 ounces (you could also use boiled yellow split peas as in Alex’s original recipe)
capers, preserved in salt, rinsed, 20g / 1 ounce
small shallot, roughly chopped, 1/2 -1
olive oil 75ml / 1/3 cup
freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 tablespoons
small zucchini, cut into thick slices, 2
fine sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
fresh ciabatta 1 small loaf
For the dip, purée the beans, capers, 1/2 of the shallot, olive oil, and lemon juice in a blender. Add more of the shallot to taste and purée until smooth. If the texture is too thick, add more olive oil, and, if necessary, season with additional lemon juice and salt to taste.
In a heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil over high heat, turn the heat down to medium-high, and sauté the zucchinis for 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden with brown sprinkles. The zucchini should only start to soften outside and still have some bite on the inside. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the zucchini between plates and add a dollop of the bean caper dip. Drizzle the dip with a splash of olive oil and sprinkle with a little pepper. Serve with fresh ciabatta, enjoy warm or cold.
I’m back in Berlin, back in my kitchen, and I’m enjoying every bit of the calm silence around me. My life here is a stark contrast to the Mediterranean craziness that I inhale from the moment I arrive until I jump back on my plane, taking me back up north. Living in Malta feels like living in a beehive, and although there are ‘only’ 420,000 people on the islands, it feels far more loud and lively than Berlin and its 3.5 million people. I love and hate this buzz at the same time, it excites me, it pushes me, and it entertains me constantly. There’s no other place in the world where I laugh as much as on our Mediterranean archipelago. But it also exhausts me. It’s hard to find a moment just for myself, the tranquil atmosphere that I need so much to get ready for my next adventure. Berlin satisfies this craving perfectly, but here, I miss my Maltese people and the sea – I guess you can’t have everything in life.
Our kitchen in berlin faces a very quiet backyard. I leave the windows open to hear the birds sing, and then it’s often just me, alone with my thoughts and ideas, picturing ingredients and remembering old classics or coming up with new recipes. I get the cooker or oven started and my meditation begins. I have celebrated this ritual every day since we got back, I just cook in silence. Seeing that the weather hasn’t shown the slightest hint of summer, I concentrated on rather hearty pleasures. I made cheese spaetzle (Southern German egg noodles with lots of melted cheese and golden onions), pasta with sautéed radicchio, chicken liver, and mustard butter, and we had our obligatory Sunday pizza night. I tried out a new cake recipe with the sweetest greengage plums, which was great, and I experimented with some dip variations. It was all very relaxing, calming, and it put my mind at ease.
I also pulled one glorious – and much appreciated – dish out of my oven that combined all the luscious enjoyments of summer: a spongy, oily focaccia topped with ripe figs, soft chèvre, honey, and rosemary. It’s perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a snack – I could even eat it at teatime with a cup of flowery Darjeeling tea.
Fig, Chèvre and Honey Focaccia with Rosemary
Makes a 25 x 32cm / 10 x 12 1/2″ focaccia
For the dough
plain flour 500g / 3 3/4 cups plus 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
honey 2 tablespoons
ripe figs, cut in half, 6
soft chèvre, torn into pieces, 150g / 5 ounces
fresh rosemary needles, a small handful
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar (optional)
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). Heat the honey in a saucepan over low heat for about 1 minute or until liquid.
Using the round bottom of a wooden spoon or your finger, punch around 6 x 7 holes into the surface of the dough. Pour the remaining olive oil over the dough and into the holes. Spread the figs (cut side up) over the focaccia and push them gently into the dough. Sprinkle with the chèvre, rosemary, and a little flaky sea salt, and drizzle with the warm honey. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and light brown. Sprinkle with crushed pepper and enjoy warm or cold.
When I started my blog back in November 2013, I didn’t really have much of an idea of what was going on in the food blog scene. It was all new to me and I was curious to see what it would be like to write about my food and share a recipe every day – my chosen task for the first 12 months of blogging. So in the beginning, I focussed a lot on my own work, but then, in the cold early days of 2014, I began to discover more and more bloggers, their approach to food, their recipes, and their style of writing. It was a whole new world to me. And when I saw the food photography on some of these pages, I knew I had to improve considerably behind the camera!
One of those blogs caught my attention at first sight. I Am A Food Blog is written by Stephanie Le from Canada. Her dishes sound and look delicious and the photography is just stunning. It didn’t surprise me in the least bit that she published her first cookbook, Easy Gourmet, in the same year I ‘found’ her. There are three things that strike me in Stephanie’s work: Her easy way of cooking – it’s not fussy at all – her unique, clean style of presenting her creations, and the fact that the world meets in Stephanie’s kitchen. You can find Canadian classics next to Chinese, Japanese, British, French, or Mediterranean dishes. It’s all comfort food, it’s all yummy, and, most of the time, it’s relatively quick and easy to prepare. The young cosmopolitan woman likes to travel the world, literally, but also in her cooking.
Camping is one of Stephanie’s latest, re-discovered travel adventures and her Camp One Pot Beef Stroganoff leaves no doubt that she’s a pro in the wilderness. The recipe she shared with me would also be a great snack for this lonely life, out in a tent, unplugged and cut off from civilization: A Japanese inspired Avocado Toast. For those days when even a camper needs a special treat.
Japanese Inspired Avocado Toast
This toast is perfect when I have a sushi craving but also want avocado toast. I love a crunchy toast base and the roast-y saltiness of laver pairs perfectly with creamy avocado. The salty ikura are tiny pops of brightness and the sesame seeds add a bit of nuttiness. Seriously good!
Makes 10-12 toasts
toast or baguette 10-12 thin slices
baby arugula 1 handful laver (roasted seaweed) 6 pieces ikura (salmon roe) 1-2 tablespoons (leave out the roe for a vegetarian version)
toasted white and black sesame seeds
Place the avocado on a cutting board and cut lengthwise, in the middle carefully, rotating around the seed. Twist half of the avocado off and remove. Place the remaining half (with the pit) on a dish towel and carefully tap your knife into the pit so that it wedges itself in. Twist the knife and remove the pit. Place the avocado, cut side down on to your cutting board and peel off the skin. Cut into 10-12 thin slices.
Top slices of toast with arugula, half a piece of laver, 2 avocado slices, a bit of the ikura, sesame seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
When did you start your food blog I Am A Food Blog? What got you hooked on writing about food and recipes?
My husband and I started I am a Food Blog in 2012 – it was after our other food blog, where I cooked through the entire Momofuku cookbook. Cooking through Momofuku is where I learned to love blogging – taking the photos, working through recipes, and sharing stories.
You just started a camping series on your blog. What do you love about camping? What are your favourite camping spots?
Camping is just fun – it’s always hard for me to unplug and stay away from the internet. I’m pretty much addicted. So camping is a fun (and enforced) way to take a break from the internet. My husband and I hike, sit around the fire, have heart-to-hearts and generally appreciate nature. We love camping along the West Coast – all of the National and State Parks in the US have really nice sites, but they book up fast.
Can you give us some catering tips for life in a tent?
Cooking while camping isn’t really a wing it sort of thing, so make sure you’re prepared. Make a list and check it twice! I like to measure out ingredients before hand and I also like to collect tiny condiments (like tiny ketchup packets) so I can bring them along. It’s best to also consider cooking fuel – recipes that don’t take a long time to cook are best.
Which city in the world inspires you the most when it comes to food culture and why?
I love Japan and Japanese food, so I’d have to say Tokyo. And the beauty of Tokyo is that they have myriad of other types of cuisines too, so it’s very inspiring. I love their attention to detail.
You live in Vancouver, Canada, what do you like about Canadian food?
I love that Canada is multicultural. We have so many different people from different cultures here that there is a very diverse food scene, especially in Vancouver. I think everyone thinks of poutine (crispy fries topped with squeaky cheese curds and gravy) when they think of Canadian food and I have to say, I do love it. When I don’t have poutine for a while I definitely crave it. It’s a guilty pleasure.
You call your husband your chief taste-tester, do you also cook together with him?
Yes! We actually work on the blog together – he designed the site and takes photos as well. He’s actually the one who taught me to take photos. He doesn’t cook for the blog, mostly just for us, family and friends. He’s really good at things that take a long time, like soups and stews.
Did cooking and food play an important role in your family when you grew up? When did your love for the kitchen and its creations start?
I actually didn’t like food much when I was a little kid. I was super picky. Although I remember having a play kitchen that I was obsessed with. My mom gave it away when I was at school one day and I was devastated. My mom cooks a lot, both now and when we were little, so I think I learned my love for cooking from her, through osmosis.
What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
To be honest, I don’t remember what the first thing I cooked on my own was. I do remember baking cupcakes at day care, being extremely proud and bringing one for my mom to try.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
It would definitely be a DIY type meal: maybe tacos, or Vietnamese vermicelli bowls, or build your own salad. Something like that. I like interactive meals where everyone can make things to their individual tastes.
What was your childhood culinary favourite and what is it now?
I loved cereal when I was a kid. I used to eat it exclusively. Now, it would be entirely too difficult to choose, I love so many things. I could never give up noodles, that’s for sure.
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
I would say I like cooking with others, but my husband wouldn’t agree (laughing). I do love collaborating, but maybe I’m not so good at it?
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
I like both! I like the casualness of improvised meals, but if I feel any sort of pressure at all, I will need to plan because I’m a planner. I think the best of both world would be having an extremely well stocked fridge and pantry so that I could improvise without constraints.
A month has passed and I have to leave my beloved archipelago in the deep blue Mediterranean Sea behind. This is the last recipe from my Maltese summer, but I’ll be back soon, in October, to present my ‘baby’ at one of my book launch events, at the fabulous Villa Bologna in Attard.
It’s been a summer full of emotions, with lots of work during the day and family gatherings or evening swims afterwards – the fun began as soon I closed my laptop and put my phone aside. I’ve been busy organizing the book launches in Europe and the US, I survived my first interviews and photo shoots and I met so many wonderful people who’ll be helping me over the next few months. To my surprise, I’ve been enjoying everything that comes along with being a cookbook author. I love giving interviews (I love talking!) and I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve only met very interesting and entertaining people to talk to so far. Photo shoots are still a bit challenging for me, I prefer to stay behind the camera. Usually, I ask my man to accompany me, he manages to make me laugh in the weirdest situations – the result is that we have lots of photos with a big smile on my face. We had a fun shoot with my friend, the great photographer Luke Engerer in Malta. He put me on the roof terrace of his house, the sea in front of me, sparkling in the light of the sinking sun. It was so amazing that I didn’t even mind getting naked on the roof to change (I just hope that none of the neighbours had a camera at hand).
The problem with such a busy schedule is that time flies even quicker. It feels like we just arrived, on that hot night in July and now it’s already mid August and I’m sitting at our dining table, back home in Berlin. For some reason, my home city must have misunderstood the season, Berlin welcomed us with autumn weather, I had to pull out the wool pullovers from the far back of my wardrobe. To ease the pain, I keep looking at the hundreds of pictures I took during the past 4 weeks and I remember every single second that I see in the pictures. I can smell the salty air, I can feel the hot wind on my skin, and I can even taste the ice cream that Marina made for us when we met in the kitchen and gardens of Villa Bologna. It was very lemony and it tasted so good – it was also the first recipe Marina ever made for me, back in the summer of 2015. This recipe is genius, it’s only made with lemon marmalade, heavy cream, milk, and the juice and zest of a Maltese lemon. We were so impatient, that she took it out of the ice cream machine as soon as the motor stopped. It was an early afternoon and so hot, that the ice cream started to melt as soon as we scooped it into the glasses. Marina topped it with caramelized pistachios and lemon zest and I can’t think of a better ice cream for summer – it was divine!
Whenever I have to exchange my Malta life for my Berlin life again, I tend to get a little stressed during our last two days on the islands. There’s a lot of packing to do, but this time we had to sort out the transportation of 33 pounds (!) of sea salt from Mr Cini’s salt pans in Gozo – and we managed. I also had to put away numerous packages of ottijiet cookies from Busy Bee and there were many fragile shells collected from the bottom of the sea waiting to be brought to Berlin to find a place on our window sills. Although they are already covered in shells, I can’t stop collecting more and more of them. When the packing is done, we have a long goodbye ceremony with the family at our granny Edith’s house, accompanied by a few tears and food. And when we’ve waved the last goodbyes and I’ve finally gone through security at the airport, I usually feel exhausted. I just want to get on the plane and relax, which always works out perfectly, thanks to the country’s national airline, Air Malta. I love their cute looking planes, their friendly staff, and the fact that I don’t have to worry about the weight of my luggage. Everyone gets 20kg (44 pounds) for free, just like in the good old days of flying.
Thank you Malta for another amazing summer! xx
And my last tip for the islands: I found a new old bakery in Rabat, they work traditionally and their baked goods are to die for!
Lemon Marmalade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios
Makes about 1.5l / 6 cups of ice cream.
heavy cream 500ml / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
milk 500ml / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
lemon marmalade 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
juice and zest of 1 lemon
For the ice cream, chill all the ingredients and churn in an ice cream machine until creamy. If it’s still too soft, keep it in the freezer until completely frozen.
For the topping, add the sugar and pistachios to a frying pan and stir over low heat with a wooden spoon until melted. Quickly transfer the caramelized pistachios to a baking sheet and break into pieces when cool.
Divide the ice cream between bowls and sprinkle with caramelized pistachios and freshly grated lemon zest.
When you meet someone who follows a passion with dedication and humility, who loves every single part of the process of creation, you should stop to witness art in its purest form. Marina is this kind of person. She’s very close to nature and loves to include all her senses in her work. Whatever she does, she uses her eyes, her nose, her taste, her sense of touch to get the whole picture. Her perception is holistic, she’s a true artist, and I adore her for this reason. Food is her profession, her feel for simple yet stunning combinations of flavours is outstanding. To watch her picking fruits and vegetables in the extensive gardens of Villa Bologna, foraging for wild fennel, chives, and allspice is calming, as you can see a woman who has found her peace.
The first time we met, this Swedish lady caught me with her smile. It was at a lavish lunch at a mutual friend’s palazzo, at last year’s meet in your kitchen feature with Alex and Benjamin. Marina and I clicked straight away and decided to meet so that she could show me the place where she had just started a restaurant – which soon became the restaurant that all of our friends in Malta started talking about: The Villa Kitchen at Villa Bologna. Be it for a romantic dinner or a birthday garden party, everybody who loves food wants to visit Marina’s kitchen in the heart of Attard where the stunning villa is located.
Villa Bologna was built in 1745 by Fabrizio Grech, as an extravagant wedding gift to his daughter Maria Teresa, married to Nicholas Perdicomati Bologna, the namesake of the opulent Baroque villa. One of the family’s most politically influential descendants, born in 1861, was Gerald Paul Joseph Cajetan Carmel Antony Martin Strickland, 6th Count della Catena, also known as the 1st Baron Strickland. The busy Lord’s roles included being Prime Minister of Malta, Governor of the Leeward Islands, Governor of Tasmania, Governor of Western Australia, and Governor of New South Wales, in addition to being a member of the House of Commons and House of Lords in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Over hundreds of years, the members of this aristocratic Anglo-Maltese family left their marks in Malta, both politically and culturally. The Stricklands are part of the Mediterranean archipelago, their roots are British, but their influences combine English and Maltese traditions. Lord Strickland and his first wife, Lady Edeline Sackville-West, had eight children. One of their daughters, Hon. Mabel Edeline Strickland, was an exceptional and remarkably modern woman of her times. She was a pioneer of emancipation, co-founder of The Times of Malta and one of the principal political leaders of the 1950s. Her older sister, Hon. Cecilia Victoria Strickland, established a strong support for the arts. Cecilia founded an arts and crafts institute in the 1950s and archived numerous traditional Maltese blue prints for lace and fabric patterns. She understood the importance of protecting the arts and knowledge of former generations. The traditional pottery attached to the premises still uses the old patterns for its beautiful designs, to create plates and platters that turn every table into a Maltese feast. I love the minimal design and its strong colours, which seems so modern even in our days, all hand painted on robust white ceramic.
Although times have changed, the villa is still a place to learn about the past and appreciate the crafts of former generations. Cecilia’s son, Gerald de Trafford, and his wife Charlotte opened the villa to the public eye for weddings and events in the 1980s. Their son Jasper has taken care of the villa since 2009 and initiated further projects. The current restoration of the representative rooms on the villa’s ground floor should be finished in autumn, when guided tours will be offered by appointment. The visitors will get an idea of the original life at Villa Bologna. To present the house in all its glory, Marina is strongly involved in the creative process of going through hundreds of years of furniture, artworks, and tableware, as is Jasper’s mother Charlotte who has called the villa her home since she was a young woman.
Marina left London, her former home, two years ago to come to Malta and live here with her boyfriend Dom Strutt who’s a close friend of the Strickland family. She brought many years of catering experience with her, which she gathered while working as a chef in England’s capital. As soon as she arrived on the island, she started building up The Villa Kitchen, aiming for an honest, simple, and creative style of Mediterranean cooking. Marina and I have a similar approach in the kitchen, we try to avoid too many ingredients and distractions, just the right combination, with maybe one element that breaks the usual pattern. Marina’s next step is to transform her vision from food to perfume. Her senses and sensitivity that guide her explorations of the culinary world work just as well in the world of aromas and led to three unisex perfumes united under the name Neroli & Spice. The beautiful perfumes enticed me with strong notes of spices and citrus, they will be launched this autumn, at the same time as my book, which I’ll celebrate at an event at Villa Bologna. Somehow, Marina and I have had a strong bond ever since we first met under the hot Mediterranean sun.
Last week, we met to cook together and Marina turned lunch into a summer feast with family and friends from London, Malta, and Sweden. She caressed our taste buds with Gazpacho made with tomatoes and peppers fresh from the garden, refined with anchovies – her little secret – to enhance the vegetables’ flavours. The fish is not dominant, but delicious. The meal moved on to swordfish marinated in lemon oil and linguine with an amazing pesto made with lots of pistachios, fennel, and parsley, accompanied by oven roasted aubergine with pomegranate and warm rosemary focaccia. The dessert was divine, but I’ll keep it a secret for now and share it next Sunday, it’s one of Marina’s famous signature dishes!
Marina is planning a ‘Food & Travel’ trip for late September, it will be a 1 week gourmet holiday / workshop in Spain to celebrate good food and wine, click here for more information.
Marinated Swordfish with Pistachio Sauce and Linguine
Oven Roasted Eggplant with Pomegranate and Mint
For the Gazpacho soup
1kg / 2 1/4 pounds best ripe tomatoes
1 red pepper
3 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves
100ml / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons best extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
dash of Tabasco
a handful of fresh basil leaves, plus a few chopped leaves for serving
4 ice cubes, for serving
Blend everything in a food processor till smooth, season to taste, and chill. Divide the Gazpacho soup between bowls, add an ice cube, and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil and some chopped basil.
For the swordfish
150-200g / 5-7 ounces swordfish steak per person
juice and zest of 1 lemon
fresh rosemary, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
Spread the swordfish on a large plate. Combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, rosemary, a generous splash of olive oil, salt, and pepper, add to the swordfish, and mix well, using your hands. Let it marinate while you prepare the pistachio sauce.
For the pistachio sauce
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
100g / 3 1/2 ounces unsalted pistachio kernels
2 cloves garlic
large bunch of parsley
juice and zest of 1 lemon
100ml / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons best extra virgin olive oil
In a dry frying pan, toast the fennel seeds first and then the pistachios till fragrant.
Grind the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar. Grate or finely chop the garlic. Chop the pistachio nuts and parsley quite finely and mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and olive oil bit by bit to create a sludgy texture. Season with salt to taste.
For the oven roasted eggplant with pomegranate
2 medium size purple aubergine
pomegranate syrup (optional)
Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.
Slice the eggplant lengthwise and spread on an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil on top, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes or till dark golden. Let the slices cool to room temperature and layer on a serving dish. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds and chopped mint on top and drizzle some syrup over, if using.
For the pasta
500g / 17 1/2 ounces linguine pasta
Cook the linguine till al dente while cooking the swordfish: In batches, panfry the swordfish steaks in olive oil, about 5 minutes on each side over medium-high heat or till slightly golden. They should be just cooked through.
Divide the swordfish, pasta, pistachio sauce, and eggplant with pomegranate between plates and enjoy.
You grew up in Sweden and lived in London for 20 years, but you’ve lived in Malta for the past few years, what made you settle in the Mediterranean?
My friend Jasper de Trafford, the owner of Villa Bologna was looking for someone to set up a cafe / restaurant at the villa and I had been looking for the right opportunity to change my London lifestyle. It was the perfect chance for us both to start a new venture.
Was it hard to switch from a northern European to a southern European culture? What do you like about the Maltese way of life?
No, it wasn’t difficult at all. I’ve always had it in my blood since my father is Slovenian and I spent much of my childhood in Portoroz on the Adriatic. I love the Maltese way of taking each day as it comes and the enthusiasm for new projects and the friendliness of the people. It’s made me feel very welcome here and has made it easy to settle in.
Do you remember what you felt when you first visited Villa Bologna?
I first visited six years ago for Jasper and Fleur’s wedding party at the villa and I was totally smitten by its’ enchanting beauty and charm.
Having run The Villa Kitchen restaurant at Villa Bologna for 2 years, what do you enjoy most about being a chef and about cooking in general?
The best thing for me is the creative process of putting together local and seasonal produce in an endless variety. The villa has its’ own organic fruit and vegetable gardens so there is always fresh and delicious ingredients to use. It’s a cook’s dream to be able to pick and choose straight from the field to the table, so to speak. It’s also amazingly satisfying to have happy customers enjoying our food!
What inspired you to start a career in food?
Food has always been a passion for me and I suppose that I’m a natural cook. I had an opportunity to set up a catering business in London with Andrea Bauer-Khadim, formerly of Grosvenor House and Somerset House, called Wild Peacock Events. We catered for high end occasions from weddings to intimate dinners and cocktail parties. This gave me experience in working with food on a professional level and gave me confidence to start The Villa Kitchen here in Malta. My mother Britt-Marie also encouraged me and helped me set up the cafe from scratch. She has been an enormous help and a very hands-on collaborator particularly in developing fantastic products for our shop, such as marmalade, chutneys and cordials.
You’ll be launching your first perfumes this autumn. Are there similarities in working with food, which needs the attention of all of your senses, and with fragrances, which are purely developed with the help of your nose?
Yes, this may seem like a departure from food and cooking but for me it’s very much a continuous progress. When cooking, I focus on the layering of flavours and balancing spices, herbs and other ingredients in order to achieve a whole result. There are many similarities in creating perfumes using Mediterranean scents such as citrus, spices, herbs and botanicals. The process of layering and balancing to create a specific vision is similar whether olfactory or gourmet. This crossover inspired me to create Neroli & Spice, which is launching as a niche perfume house soon. My best friend Gunilla Freeman is my partner in this venture and she brings business savvy and a brilliant eye for detail.
Do you have the final composition in mind when you start working on a dish or a perfume or do you add ingredients until the result fits your vision?
I’m strongly influenced by my travels – in particular to Egypt and North Africa – and places which hold a special place in my heart, both when creating dishes and perfumes. So I start off with a sensory memory or picture, which I then aim to evoke through experimenting and mixing until I feel that the result is right.
Where do you find inspiration for your creative projects? How do you develop new recipes – for food and perfumes?
Inspiration comes from my impressions and experiences through travel, culture and my background as a Scandinavian with roots in the Mediterranean, having lived in Sweden, Slovenia, London, Los Angeles and now Malta.
What are your future projects for Villa Bologna?
My main focus will be on curating and putting together the main rooms in the villa for it to be opened to the public. I am collaborating with the de Trafford family to create a unique insight into the way of life at this grand historic house which has been in the same family since it was built in 1745. There will be guided tours and we are looking forward to welcoming visitors to one of the finest baroque houses in Malta with its beautiful gardens and ancient citrus groves. It was the home of Jasper de Trafford’s great grandfather Lord Strickland who was Malta’s prime minister in the 1920’s as well as his daughter Mabel Strickland who founded The Times of Malta. The Villa has been used as a film location on numerous occasions and I’m sure visitors will be interested in seeing where famous actors have starred! We will also host some very special events, such as a Christmas market and classical concerts. I’m also creating a perfume especially for Villa Bologna, called Sans Mal, which is the family motto!
What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
I think it was a chicken curry with peanuts and banana for a party as a teenager but I remember helping my grandmother make jams and cakes as a child. Both my grandmothers were amazing cooks.
What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Malta?
Malta’s has a fantastic climate which produces an abundance of fruit and vegetables all year round. For me, the best places to buy are from the farmers market in Ta Qali and from local grocers specially in my home village of Siggiewi and the farming area of Mgarr. Some of my favourite restaurants are Michaels in Valletta, Il Corsaro by the Blue Grotto, Ta Majjistra in Mgarr and Carmen’s Bar in Ghar Lapsi, where we swim every day. The Corinthia Palace hotel is also a great place to eat. I prefer simple down to earth restaurants who use the best local produce, where one can relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?
I’d ask my mother to cook creamy chanterelles on toast with mint chocolate mousse for dessert. We would sit in the garden of our summer cottage by the sea in Sweden.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
Well, I would throw together a tagine or curry or some other one-pot dish with a fresh salad from the Villa Bologna gardens. There are usually a few different ice creams and sorbets in the freezer on standby to finish off with. During the orange season I can just go and pick some delicious fruit as well.
What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?
I loved my paternal grandmother’s apfel strudel and my maternal grandmother’s roast veal with her delicious creamy sauce, with prune soufflé to follow. I still love these dishes but I suppose I have expanded my taste somewhat. I really love good Dim Sum and a visit to The Royal China in London is always a must.
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
I prefer to cook on my own with an assistant for other people to enjoy!
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
I’m definitely an improvised cook and love spontaneous meals.
Which meal would you never cook again?
Anything too fiddly and I would prefer never to cook for a wedding again, it’s far too stressful.
This tart combines two of my favourite Mediterranean flavours – grapes and rosemary – and the result is nothing less than heavenly. The fact that the aromatic filling lies on top of buttery crisp puff pastry only exaggerates the temptation.
After failing miserably at making my own puff pastry on a few occasions, I only use this sweet delicacy when I’m in Malta, when I can buy it frozen in exceptionally good quality. If I ever manage to come up with a recipe that’s as good as the product that I can buy here from the supermarket, I’ll be a very happy baker. You could also use a shortcrust base for this summery tart but I like the elegant look and flaky texture of puff pastry in combination with the syrupy, juicy grapes. The chopped fresh rosemary sprinkled on top of the warm cake as soon as it comes out of the oven adds a woody aroma and gives it an unusual touch – try it, it’s fantastic. I used it for a focaccia recipe last year and got hooked on this tasty duo.
I’ve already baked this tart twice since we arrived in Malta and it immediately gained huge popularity within our family – everybody loves it, kids and grandmother included!
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F and butter a 28cm / 11″ tart pan.
Line the tart pan with the puff pastry, pushing the pastry into the pan, and put in the freezer for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, using a large spoon, mix the grapes, sugar, and lemon juice and spread on top of the chilled pastry. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp at the edges. The grapes will be juicy, so the bottom of the tart won’t be crisp. Sprinkle the tart with the rosemary and let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
Walking aimlessly through the narrow streets of Malta is one of my favourite activities when we’re on the islands. Give me comfy shoes and a bottle of water and I’m ready to brave the heat. Valletta, with its imposing architecture, will always be my first destination when I need a break of my beach life. I just love strolling along the limestone facades, shining golden in the late afternoon sun. Discovering new vegetable shops, peaking into little baroque chapels, or simply looking at the stunning grand palazzi built in the past centuries is one of the most relaxing things I can think of. To extend my circle of adventures, I take the ferry that connects Valletta and Sliema on one side of the capital or I catch the boat that sails across The Grand Harbour on the other side, towards The Three Cities: Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.
If I need a complete change of scenery, I go to the sister islands Comino or Gozo, and that’s what we did last weekend. We rented a huge farmhouse, which our family of 20 people filled easily with Mediterranean craziness. The village of Ghasri got to hear lots of laughter, accompanied by a water ballon fight, a luscious BBQ, and a late night pizza picnic at the pool. Our extensive snorkeling trips to the breathtaking Wied il–Għasri, Reqqa Point, and Qbajjar were fabulous. I had never been to Reqqa before, but it’s one of the most spectacular spots I’ve seen so far. The water is very, very deep and the dancing sunbeams that cut through the dark blue look like lightsabers – it’s hypnotic. We finished our trip with a visit to the Cini family at the Xwejni Salt Panswhere I always buy enough salt for a year of cooking. Their passion for their craft, their love for the salt from the sea, and their dedication to nature never ceases to amaze me.
Every time I’m in Malta, I bake at least one ricotta pie. This year’s creation turned into a savoury quiche, refined with lots of basil and sweet tomatoes – delicious
Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche
Makes 1 ( 20cm / 8″) quiche, serves 4.
short crust dough 250g / 9 ounces (you can use 1/3 of the pastry from my fruit tart recipe, but leave out the sugar, click here)
ricotta 400g / 14 ounces
organic eggs 3
butter, melted and cooled, 40g / 2 heaping tablespoons
Parmesan, freshly grated, 60g / 2 ounces
chopped fresh basil leaves, 4 heaping tablespoons, plus a few leaves for the topping
lemon zest 1 heaping teaspoon
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon
cherry tomatoes, cut in half, 6
Prepare the dough, form a thick disc, wrap in cling film, and put in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).
Roll out the dough between cling film and line a 20cm / 8″ pie or quiche form with the pastry. Push the pastry into the pie form and prick with a fork. Bake for about 12 minutes or until golden. Take the pie form out of the oven and turn the heat down to 190°C / 375°F.
In a medium bowl, whisk the ricotta, eggs, butter, Parmesan, basil, lemon zest, salt, and pepper until well combined. Pour the ricotta on top of the pre-baked pastry, even it out, and arrange the tomatoes on top. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until golden and the ricotta is just firm.
Let the quiche cool for a few minutes, sprinkle with fresh basil leaves, and serve warm or cold.
Most of the beaches and bays, restaurants and cafés, and markets and shops I visit in Malta are treasured finds of the past. Since I spent my first summer here 9 years ago, I gathered a long list of many places that I need to see at least once every time I come to the islands – I barely have enough time to discover something new. There are many traditions that I set up for myself, like my annual visit to the Sunday morning mass at Valletta’s St John’s Co-Cathedral, which is held in Latin and accompanied by the most ethereal choir. I went to this magnificent cathedral with my Maltese mama, the rest of the house was still asleep, and afterwards we enjoyed a strong cappuccino at Caffe Cordina. I recommend sitting inside with the locals, next to the bar and order some of their addictive treats. This time I went for spongy rum baba deeply soaked with sticky syrup followed by a buttery ricotta pastizzi – both were divine.
Fontanella Tea Gardenin Mdina is another one of my favourite sweet spots. The view is breathtaking, sitting high up on a hill surrounded by ancient bastions, it allows you to see large parts of the island. Their chocolate cake is a classic, dark and juicy and a must whenever I visit Malta’s old capital.
But all these sweets are still not enough of a reason to keep the oven back home in Msida switched off. The antique furniture, plates, and cutlery that fill our family’s Malta home inspired me to come up with a dessert that suits all the beautiful lace doileys, fragile tea cups and silver tablets with floral patterns. An elegant meringue, lusciously topped with whipped honey mascarpone and Maltese figs was just right – visually and in taste. It’s sweet and creamy, light and crunchy, with a juicy hint of fruit. Italian meringues are large and pale, crunchy on the outside and still a little soft inside. I preheated the oven to 160°C / 325°F, turned it off, and left the meringue in overnight, they came out perfect. The mascarpone whipped with a bit of heavy cream and warm honey was a nice contrast to the meringue’s crunch.
Italian Meringue with Honey Mascarpone and Figs
For the meringue
large organic egg whites 3
a pinch of salt
granulated sugar 200g / 1 cup
cider vinegar 1/2 teaspoon
For the honey mascarpone
mascarpone, drained, 250g / 9 ounces
heavy cream 2 tablespoons
aromatic honey, like thyme or orange blossom, 2-3 tablespoons
For the topping
ripe figs, quartered, 6
It’s best to prepare the meringues a day ahead and leave them in the oven overnight.
Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F (conventional setting) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
For the meringue, in a large bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites and salt for 1 minute. Continue whisking for 15 minutes, adding 1 tablespoon of the sugar at a time. The meringue should be stiff and glossy, then whisk in the vinegar. Spoon 6 large mounds onto the lined baking sheet and, using a spoon, swirl the tops a little. Place the baking sheet in the oven, switch off the oven, and bake the meringues overnight (for about 8 – 12 hours), without opening the door. If the meringues are still too soft on the outside, turn on the oven again and bake for a few minutes until crunchy on the outside.
For the honey mascarpone, in a medium bowl whisk the mascarpone and heavy cream until creamy, add more cream if necessary. Warm up the honey in a saucepan over low heat for about 1 minute until liquid and slightly warm, and stir into the mascarpone. Keep in the fridge until serving.
Cut a small top off each meringue, top with the honey mascarpone and figs, and close with the meringue tops. Serve immediately once the meringues are filled.