Back on the islands: Grouper with Watermelon and my first days in Malta
by eat in my kitchen
I’m back, I’m back, I’m back! My first days in Malta have been packed with excitement, overwhelming joy, and a tight schedule. When you haven’t seen your Maltese family and friends for so many months, you have to be prepared that everybody wants to see you as soon as possible – which led to two weeks of dinner parties and long chats at breakfast tables and in beach bars. Whenever it was possible, I squeezed in extensive snorkeling trips and my beloved visits to the fish market, my vegetable man Leli, and the (almost) daily treats at my confectionary in Msida, Busy Bee.
We went to a beautiful wedding just two days after we arrived to celebrate the love of Michelle and Michelangelo. The event was announced as a ‘farm wedding’, so I slid into a simple flowery dress. However, my German idea of a farm had nothing to do with the venue that extended before my eyes as the heavy gates opened. We passed countless trees, a gorgeous cubistic house built of golden Maltese limestone, and a bubbling fountain. After a quick stop at the tempting cocktail bar, I found myself in the middle of a huge space surrounded by fields, filled with beautiful people wearing long dresses and swallow-tailed coats. Needless to say I felt a little underdressed, but that didn’t matter at all, as the food was served and the dancing began, no one gave any thought to the dress code.
The following days were so windy that most of our favourite snorkeling spots were not safe for swimming, the currents were too strong. Luckily, my Maltese mama Jenny pointed out a protected bay I had never visited before, which allowed us to jump into the clear blue Mediterranean Sea despite the strong winds. Xrobb l-Għaġin bay is framed by white cliffs and a nature park situated on a small peninsula in the south east of Malta. It’s a hidden spot, which isn’t known by many tourists and a bit hard to find, so we had the whole bay almost to ourselves. Sunday morning started with a creamy cappuccino in Marsaxlokk and a look at the fishermen’s latest catch. After a little bargaining we drove home with 2 pounds of sardines and the same amount of mackerel, an octopus, and some swordfish. Lunch was long, accompanied by a nice bottle of chilled white wine, and the rest of the day was rather lazy.
I celebrated my birthday last week and I always have the same gift for myself: a day in Gozo with my man and no internet. We went to Il-Kantra at the tip of the Mgarr ix-Xini bay, had an espresso, and enjoyed the sparkling blue as we jumped off the rocks. It’s one of my favourite spots for swimming and snorkeling. You can see a lot of fish there – and bright red starfish. There were a few jellyfish this time, they looked beautiful, sparkling purple in front of the bay’s mesmerizing turquoise. I always wear my goggles to avoid an unpleasant and painful collision with these slow moving creatures. I could have stayed in the refreshing waters for hours but our lunch appointment urged me out of the sea. A table at my most beloved restaurant in the whole world was waiting for us. Noel treats his guests at his Rew Rew Kiosk/ beach bar/ restaurant to the most amazing seafood fresh from the sea and the glasses are filled with Livio Felluga‘s wonderful Sharis wine, an elegant cuvée of Chardonnay and Ribolla-Gialla grapes. We ate grilled Barracuda, which was divine, juicy tuna belly, and calamari from the BBQ. A chameleon came to visit us in the branches above our heads before we finished the meal with a scrumptious crème brûlée. We left Noel and his restaurant 4 hours later with happy smiles on our faces. The Blue Hole at Dwejra was next on our schedule, a moody spot in the sea, which is too rough to swim in most of the time. We were luckily, the sea was almost as calm as a lake and allowed us to explore its breathtaking underwater scenery until we felt ready for dinner. We picked up our obligatory Gozitan ftira pizzas at the Maxokk Bakery, our appetite was surprisingly strong after our luscious lunch, and enjoyed them on the rocks of Daħlet Qorrot bay. We had a sundowner at Gleneagles Bar in Mgarr (another one of our countless traditions) and took the ferry back to Malta. It was a happy birthday.
Cooking in Malta feels so different to cooking in Berlin. The produce is fresher – straight from the fields and the sea – and everything seems tastier, the food is honest and pure and so satisfying that I don’t even bother mixing too many ingredients together most of the time. This leads to very simple salads, seafood seasoned only with pepper and a little lemon and some herbs. To combine grouper, called Ċerna in Maltese, with watermelon, basil, and mint, is as far as it gets at the moment. I’m after easy treats when I live under the hot Mediterranean sun. The combination of the firm fish and the sweet and juicy fruit didn’t let me down, we enjoyed every single bite of our lunch snack.
Grouper with Watermelon, Basil and Mint
For 1-2 people (makes a lunch snack for 2)
large slice of watermelon, peeled and seeded, cut into chunks
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
grouper fillet 1 (about 2oog / 7 ounces)
fresh basil leaves, a small handful
fresh mint leaves, a small handful
Divide the watermelon between plates, drizzle with olive oil and a little lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.
In a heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil over high heat and cook the grouper for about 2 minutes on each side until just done. Cut the fish in half and divide between the plates, then season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little lemon juice. Sprinkle with basil and mint and enjoy with a glass of chilled white wine!