eat in my kitchen

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

Category: SOUPS

10 Pumpkin recipes to inspire your Thanksgiving table

Pumpkin

Thanksgiving calls for pumpkin on the table, lots of pumpkin! Since winter squash is so versatile, I wouldn’t mind having a festive meal dedicated to these gorgeous beauties in orange, green, and golden yellow. Nibbles, soup, main, and dessert – I’d be up for a pumpkin celebration.

When it comes to the main course, we have two options, we can either go vegetarian and in this case I strongly recommend the Pumpkin Crespelle with Ricotta and Sage – although the Pumpkin Gnocchi wouldn’t be a bad choice either. However, if you need some meat on your plate, I’ll share my suggestions with you tomorrow. But we can already start thinking about the sides and there’s a universe of options. Gnocchi always work, there’s no doubt that their spongy softness is perfect to soak up the juices of a roast, or you can go for maple orange pumpkin with sage and walnuts from my tartine recipe below (without the bread); pumpkin, stilton, and rosemary is also a very pleasant combination (taken from another sandwich recipe below). Roast it, cook it, sauté the squash – thinly sliced – in a pan (like in the Hokkaido Pumpkin Spaghetti), or bake a soufflé. If you want to keep the crowd entertained while you’re cooking, serve the Pumpkin Pesto, Date, and Chèvre Sandwich and everybody will be happy.

(Click on the titles to get to my recipes)

Pumpkin Crespelle with Ricotta and Sage:

Pumpkin Crespelle

 

Pumpkin Pesto, Date and Ripe Chèvre Sandwich:

Pumpkin Pesto Date Sandwich

 

Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup with Chèvre:

pumpkinsweetpotatochevresoup5

 

Pumpkin Taleggio Quiche with Crisp Sage:

pumpkintaleggiosagequiche1

 

Hokkaido Pumpkin Spaghetti:

Pumpkin Spaghetti

 

Maple Syrup and Orange Pumpkin Tartine with crisp Sage and Walnuts:

Maple Syrup Orange Pumpkin Tartine

 

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Pesto:

gnocchi_2

 

A Bun with Butternut Squash, Stilton and Rosemary:

butternutstiltonrosemarysandwich2

 

Pumpkin Pie with Coriander Caramel:

pumpkinpie1

 

Pumpkin and Ginger Brack:

Pumpkin Ginger Brack

meet in your kitchen | Marina Fabic’s Maltese Summer Feast at Villa Bologna

Villa Bologna

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

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.

Villa Bologna

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.

Follow Marina, Neroli & Spice and Villa Bologna on Instagram.

Villa Bologna

 

Villa Bologna

Marina’s recipes for a summer lunch

Gazpacho Soup

Marinated Swordfish with Pistachio Sauce and Linguine

Oven Roasted Eggplant with Pomegranate and Mint

Serves 4

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
sea salt
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
sea salt
black pepper

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
sea salt

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
olive oil
sea salt
1 pomegranate
fresh mint
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.

Villa Bologna

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.

Thank you Marina!

Villa Bologna

 

Villa Bologna

 

villabologna11.8

 

Villa Bologna

 

villabolognaVilla Bologna7

 

Villa Bologna

 

Villa Bologna

 

Villa Bologna

 

Villa Bologna

 

Villa Bologna

 

Villa Bologna

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

Sometimes I am asked by a reader to come up with a certain recipe. Quite often it’s a dish connected to a childhood memory of theirs, a food experience saved many years ago, and now they’re hoping to find this specific flavour again. But it’s a tricky thing, it’s almost impossible to relive something as an adult and expect the same satisfaction that we felt back then when we were young.

I used to love Dutch coconut sheets for breakfast, which is as weird as it sounds. This is compressed dessicated coconut, pressed into thin sheets and, to make it even more appealing, they were either pink or pale white. I was obsessed with them. After a culinary break from this delicacy, I tried them again years later and I was so disappointed. But there’s another Dutch classic, which still lives up to my memories, and I enjoy it with the biggest passion whenever I pull it out of my oven: sticky honey cake.

At the end of this winter, I got asked to share a traditional German hot chocolate recipe, which my reader, who lives in the US, connects with the time he spent in Germany as a child. Somehow, I never felt in the mood for it, and my hot chocolate is also a rather simple creation made of milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, and ground cinnamon and cardamom, which is not a traditional German take on this drink. I’m sorry, I’ll try to write about it next winter.

But last week, someone dropped a comment on Instagram, telling me that I haven’t made a soup in a long time – and this person was right! She lives in Asia and asked for a soup that she can have with her morning rice. I don’t think that someone who lives in Asia, needs a German girl to tell her how to make a fragrant broth with ginger, spices, and lemon grass, so I thought about something that I could share from my background. Our summers spent in Malta made me fall for minestrone, and when I cook this warming soup with just green vegetables – like fresh beans, peas, and zucchini – it tastes like spring. To turn it into a full lunch, I add tiny meatballs refined with lots of chopped arugula and lemon zest. The strong aroma of the citrus fruit reminds me of the Mediterranean but at the same time, it adds the same lemony freshness that you know from a clear broth made with ginger. Enjoy!

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

 

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

Serves 2-4

For the meatballs

ground beef 400g / 14 ounces
fresh arugula leaves, finely chopped (with a knife or in a blender), 1 large handful / 50g
zest of 1 lime (1 heaping teaspoon)
garlic, crushed, 2 cloves
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon
a generous amount ground pepper

For the soup

olive oil
garlic, cut in half, 1 clove
green vegetables (a mix of trimmed green beans, peas, and zucchini), beans and peas cut into bite size pieces, about 350g / 12 ounces
vegetable broth, hot, 1l / 4 1/4 cups
freshly squeezed lime juice 1 tablespoon
bay leaf 1
fine sea salt
ground pepper

For the topping

ramp leaves, thinly sliced, 2
and/ or
spring onion, thinly sliced, 1

For the meatballs, in a large bowl, combine the ground beef, chopped arugula, lime zest, garlic, salt, and pepper and mix until well combined. Wet your hands and form the mixture into tiny meatballs.

For the soup, in a large saucepan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the vegetables, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, lime juice, and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper to taste, and bring to the boil. Add the meatballs and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat to medium, cover with a lid, and simmer for 4 minutes. Split 1 meatball to check if it’s done. Season the soup with salt, pepper, and additional lime juice to taste.

Serve the soup in deep bowls, sprinkled with ramps and / or spring onion, and enjoy warm.

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

 

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

 

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

 

Green Minestrone with Lime-Arugula Meatballs

 

greenminestronelimemeatballs7

 

greenminestronelimemeatballs13

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto, Lemon and Fried Chickpeas

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto

A couple days ago, we left Berlin to visit the gardens of Sanssouci Palace a few miles outside Berlin. The palace used to be the Prussian king, Frederick the Great’s summer residence, built in the 18th century. The building itself is beautiful but the terraced garden is stunning. I love being there in summer, when it’s all lush, green and in bloom but there’s a certain melancholic mood woven into the misty air on a cold, grey day that fits this time of the year perfectly. It’s pure silence, no leaves left on the trees, the marble sculptures high up on their pedestals looking down on us, wrapped in jackets and scarves on our way to another one of the park’s winter attractions, a Christmas market and its warming mulled wine.

When we got home I felt so frozen that I promised myself I’d make a rich soup the next day. I cooked canned chickpeas and potatoes in broth, puréed it into a velvety, smooth soup and sprinkled it with fresh rucola pesto, lemon zest and fried chickpeas. It’s a great winter soup, thick and refreshing, and just right before tomorrow’s feasting begins.

I wish you a wonderful and peaceful Christmas with your loved ones. Enjoy the moments of love, joy and good food! xx

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto

 

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto, Lemon and Fried Chickpeas

For 2-4 people

For the soup

olive oil
medium onion, chopped, 1
garlic, crushed, 2 large cloves
potatoes, peeled, cut into cubes, 250g / 9 ounces
canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained, 250g / 9 ounces, reserve 4 tablespoons for the topping
vegetable broth 900ml / 3 3/4 cups
bay leaf 1
salt
ground pepper
nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
ground cumin 1/8 teaspoon

For the pesto

rucola (arugula) leaves 60g / 2 ounces
parmesan 25g / 1 ounce
pine nuts 25g / 1 ounce
olive oil 75 ml / 1/3 cup
salt 1/8 teaspoon

For the topping

freshly squeezed lemon juice
olive oil
lemon zest
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar

You won’t need all the pesto for the soup but I don’t like making pesto in small batches. We used the remaining pesto to spread on toasted dark bread, which we enjoyed with the soup.

For the soup, heat a splash of olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion on medium-heat for a few minutes until golden and soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes and chickpeas, stir and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the broth, add the bay leaf, and season with a little salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.

While the soup is cooking, purée the ingredients for the rucola pesto in a blender or food processor. Season to taste and set aside.

For the fried chickpeas, heat a splash of olive oil in a small, heavy pan on high heat. Add the reserved chickpeas, close with a lid immediately (the chickpeas will pop) and fry for 1 minute or until golden. Take the pan off the heat.

When the potatoes are soft, discard the bay leaf and purée the soup in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cumin to taste, bring to the boil, and simmer for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Divide the soup between bowls, drizzle with a little lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkle with rucola pesto, lemon zest, crushed pepper and the fried chickpeas.

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto

 

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto

 

Chickpea Potato Soup with Rucola Pesto

 

chickpeapotatosouprucolapesto6

Saffron & Mussel Tomato Soup

Saffron & Mussel Tomato Soup

It’s getting colder here in Berlin, all of the trees in front of our windows are finally naked, their last colourful leaves swept away in a single stormy night. Before the winds came, the light in our living room was golden and warm, filtered through autumn’s pretty yellow linden leaves. Now that they’re gone, the light is much harder. All of a sudden, the city seems a bit more harsh, which made me long for a cozy soup.

Seafood has been on my mind for weeks, sweet mussels from the North Sea, adding their fine taste to a thick, fruity tomato soup refined with aromatic saffron. It warms the body and caresses the soul, what else could you want on a cold and misty November day? This dish may seem elaborate but that’s not at all the case, it’s a quick one. The fruit’s red juices only cook for a bit longer than 10 minutes and the mussels sink into a fragrant broth of white wine and spices for just 5 minutes. I use the wine, infused with a soft hint of the sea and the noble taste of saffron, to stir into my glowing soup. It’s supposed to serve 3-4, which I still believe is quite realistic, but we loved it so much that we almost emptied the large pot of soup in one go at lunchtime. We were hungry.

Saffron & Mussel Tomato Soup

 

Saffron & Mussel Tomato Soup

Saffron and Mussel Tomato Soup

Serves 3-4

For the mussels

mussels in shells  1 kg / 2 1/4 pounds
olive oil
medium sized onion, finely chopped, 1
garlic, thinly sliced, 2 large cloves
white wine 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
bay leaves 2
saffron threads 1/8 teaspoon / 1g
sea salt 1/2 teaspoon
ground pepper

For the tomato soup

olive oil
tomatoes, finely chopped, 1 kg / 2 1/4 pounds
garlic, thinly sliced, 1 big clove
broth, used to cook the mussels, 400ml / 1 2/3 cups
a pinch of sugar
sea salt
ground pepper

For the topping

fresh parsley, roughly chopped, 4 heaped teaspoons

Rinse and scrub the mussels under cold water and cut off the beard, discard any broken mussels.

For the mussels, heat a splash of olive oil in a large pot and cook the onion and garlic on medium heat for a few minutes or until golden and soft. Add the wine, bay leaves, saffron, salt and pepper, stir and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to low, gently add the mussels to the pot, shake the pot or stir with a slotted ladle and close with a lid. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shells open, shake the pot once or twice while cooking. Take the mussels out with a slotted ladle, discard any mussels that don’t open. Measure 400ml of the mussel broth, together with the onions and the bay leaves, and set aside. Peel the mussels out of their shells, leave about 6-8 inside the shells for the topping of the soup (optional). Set the mussels aside.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pot, add the tomatoes and garlic and cook for 4 minutes on medium-high heat (open), stir once in a while. Add the mussel broth with the onions and bay leaves, sugar, salt and pepper and cook for about 7 minutes (open) or until the tomatoes are soft and the soup is thick. Season to taste and, if necessary, chop the tomatoes with a knife if they are too chunky, or purée the soup in a food processor. Stir in the mussel meat, divide the soup between bowls, sprinkle with fresh parsley and pepper and garnish with the mussels in their shells.

Saffron & Mussel Tomato Soup

 

Saffron & Mussel Tomato Soup

 

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Saffron & Mussel Tomato Soup

meet in your kitchen | Alex’s Kusksu Soup with Beans, Goat Cheese & Eggs

Maltese Kusksu

I’m in love – with my dear Maltese / British kitchen hosts Alex and Benjamin, with their beautiful 400 year old palazzo in Zebbug, their wonderful friends who joined us for a delicious traditional lunch and with the most gorgeous kitchen island I’ve ever seen in my life. A huge slab of Carrara marble on top of a simple wooden shelf took my breath away as I walked into the gorgeous kitchen. It’s one of those rooms that you never want to leave again. It’s welcoming and cozy, with an old fire place on one side, sparkling copper pots and pans hanging on a long limestone wall and a rustic wooden table at a glass door facing a bright courtyard. Here, you can cook, bake, chop and stir in peace and with plenty of space. A lot of the fresh produce comes straight from the garden, the cheese is made by a lady who lives in the village and Alex has enough ideas, energy and creativity to throw fantastic dinner parties on a weekly basis. It’s my Mediterranean heaven.

The house is  a gem and every detail feels effortlessly right. Found and restored by Alex more than 20 years ago, he saw the old walls’ beauty built of thick Maltese limestone. The charismatic man used his sense and sensitivity to bring his home’s true soul to life. Alex believes that everybody can create a nice house but not necessarily a home – a home needs a past, present and future and this palazzo has plenty of them all. It’s a peaceful oasis, tranquil and calm, in the middle of an ancient village. Hidden doors and winding corridors, steps and balustrades cut out of the island’s typical golden stone turn it into a playful labyrinth. The rooms furnished with elegant antiques are surrounded by walls more than 1m (3 feet) thick, the charm is rather introverted, here, the focus isn’t on the world outside but surprises with dreamy views onto the lush green garden and into the courtyard with an almost cloistral atmosphere.

Maltese Kusksu

We met to cook and what is more fitting in this scene than an old Maltese recipe – the traditional Kusksu. The locals call it peasant food, I call it the most comforting, nurturing and scrumptious soup. Thick like a runny risotto, it’s made with lots of onions, concentrated tomato paste, fava beans and peas, enriched with Maltese short cut pasta – the Kusksu pasta resembling couscous – eggs poached in the fruity juices and Gbejna, the islands’ fresh goat cheese. The soft egg and cheese melt into the soup and spread their fine flavors, it’s delicious!

Alex uses the tasty greens from their garden in Gozo, Malta’s sister island. The fertile soil around another old house of his – this time from the 18th century –  supplies the passionate cook and his food loving sous chef Benjamin with fresh produce all year round. I have only seen pictures of Casa Mezzodì in the village of Kercem but it looks like paradise. You can rent it for holidays, unfortunately without Alex in the kitchen, here’s the contact and some pictures.

Alex loves to use his self-taught kitchen skills to treat his friends to casual lunches and extravagant dinner parties. I’m very happy to be one of them, thanks to Benjamin who I’ve been visiting for years due to his amazing treatments. Originally from London, Benjamin left England a while ago to live with his partner on the Mediterranean archipelago and work as a reflexologist. He is simply the best, he knows the foot map and its pressure points so well that I trust him blindly. If you ever happen to be in Malta, I can only recommend you to book an appointment with him – click here if you’d like to get in touch with him.

Maltese Kusksu

Kusksu – Maltese Pasta Soup with Beans, Peas, Eggs and Goat Cheese

Adapted from the fantastic ‘The Food and Cookery of Malta’ by Anne and Helen Caruana Galizia.

Serves 4 as a main.

olive oil
medium sized onions, thinly sliced, 2
garlic, crushed, 2 cloves
tomato paste 3-4 tablespoons
water 2l / 8 1/2 cups
fava beans, fresh or frozen, shelled, the outer skin removed, 350g / 12 1/2 ounces
bay leaves 2
peperoncino, chopped, to taste
salt and pepper
Kusksu pasta (or any other rice sized short cut pasta) 100g / 3 1/2 ounces
peas, fresh or frozen, shelled, 200g / 7 ounces
eggs 4-8
small fresh goat cheeselets (like Maltese Gbejna or soft Chèvre) 4-8
Parmesan, freshly grated

Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a large pan and soften the onions and garlic for about 10-15 minutes, they should be golden but not dark. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the water, stir in the beans, bay leaves and peperoncino and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the beans are al dente. Add the pasta and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stir once in a while. Add the peas, take the pan off the heat, cover and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Season to taste. Gently slip the eggs and goat cheeselets into the hot soup and let them cook off the heat for a few minutes. Serve the soup when the egg whites are still slightly soft, sprinkle with Parmesan and black pepper.

Maltese Kusksu

What fascinates you about old houses – and especially – their restoration?

I have been very privileged in my life to have been able to do a job I thoroughly enjoy. In my opinion, old houses allow us to revisit the past, which although can never be recreated, is fascinating to dip in to. It gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction to revitalise a period building and adapt it to contemporary living, whilst preserving the atmosphere and charm of past centuries. 

You collect antiques. Some say it’s impossible to stop collecting once you got started, do you feel the same? Where do you look for new finds?

Some of us suffer from Horror Vacui, and I suppose it is fair to say that there is a magpie in all of us. However, jesting apart, an old house needs props, rather like a stage and it is the love of old houses which leads one to forming collections.

I mainly find things at auctions and house clearance sales. I also like rummaging on the barrows at Portobello Road whenever I happen to be in London.

As a passionate cook you host wonderful lunches and dinner parties for your friends. How important are these gatherings for you?

I am a very gregarious person by nature and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see friends and family gathered round the table sharing food I have prepared. Besides, houses need to be filled with laughter and friends, and our house really comes alive when we give a dinner or a lunch party. As my partner is British, we frequently have house guests to stay. This always presents an opportunity ask our Maltese friends to lunch or dinner to meet them. 

When did you start cooking and who or what was your inspiration?

As I have always been (overly!) fond of my food, I remember experimenting with recipes at about 16. Although, I suppose that I started taking cooking seriously in my twenties. One of my earliest inspirations was the great Elizabeth David, who pushed boundaries in her time and was seminal in bringing the Mediterranean cuisine to the rest of Europe. Malta at the time was still very British, with a tendency towards food of the meat and two veg variety, in spite of the great choice of Mediterranean vegetables available in local markets. I discovered a worn paperback copy of Elizabeth David’s Italian Food in the local RSPCA second hand bookshop, and it was this publication that flung open the doors for using local ingredients, and I still dip in to it to this day. Later on I discovered The Food and Cookery of Malta by Anne and Helen Caruana Galizia, and this publication has been my most thumbed cookery book since, as it revives all the traditional and wonderful Maltese dishes.

Some of the fresh produce you use in your kitchen is grown by your gardner in Gozo, from Malta’s sister island, where you also spend a lot of your time. What are the differences between living in Malta and in Gozo?

We are very fortunate to have a weekend house called Casa Mezzodì in the village of Kercem in Gozo, where the garden is looked after by a very special man called George Spiteri. George is passionate about growing indigenous crops using organic methods, and we are very privileged to be able to have these vegetables made available to us.

Gozo is essentially composed of rural communities living off the land and the sea. In spite of the close proximity, Gozitan kitchens produce different fare to Maltese ones. Gozitans being particularly inventive with stretching ingredients, creating delicious pies and stews made with the wonderful vegetables and fresh fish available.

While we rarely venture out to restaurants in Malta, in Gozo we take every opportunity to visit the charming fishing village, turned resort, of Xlendi which is a mere five minutes from our home. There, we visit our favourite waterfront restaurants, and especially enjoy the cheese-less Gozitan “pizza” or ftira as it is known locally, which is topped with unusual layers of thinly sliced potato, tomatoes, capers, olives, anchovies and onions. The freshness of the ingredients, without the heaviness of cheese, on the crispiest of bases is the most heavenly combination.

What do you love about the Maltese cuisine?

The most simple, and frugal of ingredients, are always transformed into delicious dishes, which never fail to please. The stuffing of vegetables with rice, or meat, or fish…the wonderful pies, the vegetable stews, all combine European and Arabic influences and truly reflect Malta’s extraordinary geographical location at the crossroads between North, South, East and West.

Where do you find inspiration for new creations in the kitchen?

This wonderful age of communication has meant that one can browse for hours through fascinating blogs, such as yours, exploring new territory. In a sense, other peoples kitchens are brought in to your own at the click of a mouse, and perhaps, we do not fully appreciate how previous boundaries have now come down.

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

I made a pea soup using terribly uneconomical petit pois, and best quality bacon rashers which I had pilfered from the deep freeze in my parents’ kitchen. Despite the velvety sweetness, and the beautiful emerald green colour of the soup, my long suffering mother was unamused that I had helped myself to her ingredients!

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

I pay a weekly visit to the local farmers’ market at Ta’ Qali, which is about ten minutes from where we live. I have my favourite suppliers and will buy aubergines, green peppers and cauliflowers from Serafin, who comes from Siggiewi, which is a neighbouring village. I buy all my tomatoes, salads, cucumbers and qara baghli (the superb local sweet marrows) from Anna who hails from Mgarr. Of course, the produce is all seasonal, so it’s broccoli and cabbages in the winter, strawberries in the spring, and watermelons in the summer. I love cooking and eating according to the time of the year, and knowing that my ingredients have sometimes been freshly picked just hours before being brought to the market.

You shared a recipe for Kusksu on eat in my kitchen, what are the memories you connect with this dish?

We always had Kusksu on Good Friday when we were children, as this dish satisfied the very strict Roman Catholic fasting obligations. Once you had eaten it for lunch, it was very filling and would keep you going until supper time. It is a firm favourite of mine as it truly reflects Malta’s cosmopolitan cuisine, and besides, I get to use the broad beans, peas, and onions which George Spiteri has grown in Gozo.

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

Kelina Sultana was a Gozitan cook who worked for dear family friends. Sadly she died some years ago, but her lampuki pie (local fish pie) was the best I have ever tasted, and I would love to taste it one more time.

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

It depends entirely upon what is in the fridge! For example, looking right now it would probably be a pasta dish using a variety of fresh vegetables, or a risotto with some chicken stock I made yesterday.

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

As a child I loved my mother’s lasagne. Today it would be a risotto a la Milanese.

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

I am quite happy cooking on my own, but really appreciate it when my partner Benjamin offers his assistance as a sous chef.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

Either, I have no preference at all. Both can be fun, and have their appeal. 

Which meal would you never cook again?

Farfalle with strawberry sauce, courtesy of Sophie Grigson in the London Sunday Times. Fortunately, I had offered our guests a trio of pasta dishes, so it was easy to avoid the disastrous results of combining strawberries with pasta!

Maltese Kusksu

 

Maltese Kusksu

 

Maltese Kusksu

 

Maltese Kusksu

 

Maltese Kusksu

Parsnip & Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate & Mascarpone

Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate and Cardamom Mascarpone

Roots and fruits are a great match for puréed soups, they merge to a deliciously warming treat full of fragrant flavours. They often balance each other out, like the strong parsnip which has such an overpowering impact that it’s best in combination with other ingredients that underline its subtle sweetness.

I went for robust sweet potatoes, a great team player, and juicy pomegranate seeds, their sourness is a wonderful addition to the earthy aroma. And, of course, their dramatic look is quite a stunner on the root’s pale pink! When I cook these kind of soups I like to spare on heavy cream, I just stir in a little bit to support the natural creaminess which is already given through the puréed vegetables. It doesn’t need much of the dairy product otherwise it will turn into a heavy meal and that’s the opposite of what I’m after. I prefer to refine the roots with another kind of milkiness, a discovery I made in October for my parsnip and pear soup. I used whipped mascarpone cheese, just a small spoonful, but this time I mixed it with cardamom and a bit of orange juice, it literally melted into the root composition!

Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate and Cardamom Mascarpone

 

Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate and Cardamom Mascarpone

 Parsnip & Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate & Cardamom Mascarpone

For 4 as a starter you need

parsnip, peeled and chopped, 300g / 10.5 ounces
sweet potato, peeled and chopped, 200g/ 7 ounces
medium sized onion, chopped, 1
vegetable broth 800ml / 2 pints
bay leaf 1
rosemary 1-2 small sprigs
olive oil
heavy cream 75ml / 2.5 ounces
salt and pepper
honey 1-2 teaspoons, to taste
ground cardamom
mascarpone 100g / 3.5 ounces, for the topping
freshly squeezed orange juice, to taste, for the topping
pomegranate, peeled, 1, for the topping

In a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil and cook the onion on medium heat until soft. Add the parsnip and sweet potato and cook for a minute. Pour in the broth and add the bay leaf and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 20 minutes or until the roots are soft. Take the rosemary out after 10 minutes and the bay leaf when the soup is done. Purée the soup in a blender or with a stick mixer, stir in the heavy cream, honey and a pinch of cardamom, season to taste.

Whisk the mascarpone with 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom and a splash of orange juice. Add a bit of heavy cream if it’s too thick and season to taste.

Serve the warm soup with a dollop of mascarpone, pomegranate seeds and some cardamom sprinkled on top.

Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate and Cardamom Mascarpone

 

Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate and Cardamom Mascarpone

 

Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup with Pomegranate and Cardamom Mascarpone

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

This dish combines the two culinary worlds which influence my kitchen activities the most, Malta’s Mediterranean cuisine and Tyrol’s cosy comfort food. I cooked a warming minestrone the way I know it from my Maltese granny Edith, with lots of pumpkin, zucchini (qarabaghli in Maltese) and kohlrabi. This soup can take the most varied collection of vegetables so I also added some cauliflower, celery stalk, potatoes and carrots. It’s a deliciously sweet broth of all the strengthening  fruits of the season, and once the vegetables are chopped, it only takes 15 minutes !

Whenever I sit in Edith’s kitchen in Msida enjoying this comforting soul food, she sprinkles freshly grated parmesan over the steaming dish, but here in the North, I wanted to add something richer to satisfy our strong appetite. In the cold season, I’m a big fan of saturating additions to light and healthy soups, Tyrolean frittaten, called Flaedle in the Swabian region in southern Germany, are one of my first choices. They are made of thin crêpes refined with chives, rolled up in a tight wrap and cut into slim strips. Frittaten look like pancake snails and turn a minestrone into a special treat, the eggy pastry adds a hearty feel to this meal which I absolutely love about wintery soups!

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

 

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

For 4-6 people you need

For the frittaten

plain flour, sieved, 70g / 2.5 ounces
salt 1/8 teaspoon
organic egg, beaten, 1
milk 120ml / 4 ounces
chives, snipped 3 tablespoons
butter, to fry the crêpes

Mix the flour, salt, egg and milk to a smooth dough (with an electric mixer) and let it sit for 15 minutes before you mix in the chives.

In a non-stick pan, heat a teaspoon of butter. Pour in a ladle of the dough, holding the pan in your hand and turning it so that the dough spreads evenly and very thinly. The temperature should be on medium-high as the crêpes won’t need more than 1 minute on each side once the heat is set right. When the crêpe is golden on both sides take it out and continue with the remaining dough. Always heat a teaspoon of butter before you add new dough to the pan. Roll up each crêpe very tightly and cut into thin strips (snails).

 

For the minestrone

medium sized onion, chopped, 1
cauliflower, cut into small pieces, 160g / 5.5 ounces
butternut squash, peeled, cut into small cubes, 160g / 5.5 ounces
zucchini, cut into small cubes, 160g / 5.5 ounces
kohlrabi, peeled, cut into small cubes, 50g / 2 ounces
carrot, peeled, cut into small cubes, 80g / 3 ounces
potato, peeled, cut into small cubes, 100g / 3.5 ounces
celery stalk, cut into small cubes, 1
medium sized tomato, cut into small cubes, 1
broth, hot, 1.5l / 3 pints
garlic, crushed, 2 cloves
bay leaf 1
spring onion, thinly sliced, 2
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil and fry the onion for a few minutes on medium heat until golden and soft. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add a little more oil and the chopped vegetables (apart from the spring onions), stir and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the hot broth and the bay leaf, season with salt and pepper and cook for 15 – 20 minutes. Stir in the spring onion, season to taste and serve with the frittaten.

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

 

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

 

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

 

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

 

Maltese Minestrone with Tyrolean Crêpes Frittaten

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