Fava Beans, Bigilla and the Silent City of Mdina
by eat in my kitchen
Here’s another speciality of the Maltese Islands, the famous and delicious Bigilla! This country dish is made of cooked dried fava beans, garlic, olive oil, dried chili pepper and herbs. I like to mix in fresh oregano, other recipes feature mint, basil or marjoram. Bigilla is a thick dip, often served with fresh bread as an appetizer in restaurants. In the past and occasionally even today, street venders sell this dish in the streets of Valletta and other old villages but it’s also very easy to make at home, preferably in big batches!
I first ate Bigilla years ago in a pretty little restaurant in one of the narrow streets of Mdina, Malta’s magical old capital. The medieval town’s architecture was originally influenced by the Arabic period, from 870 to 1091. After many buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1693, they were rebuilt with Baroque elements in their majestic facades. Its history goes back even further, to 4000 BC. Mdina is located on a hilltop in the middle of Malta and it always had strategic importance for the island. Today, less than 300 people live in the old houses and palazzi and no cars are allowed, just the inhabitants have permission to drive through the tiny roads. It’s one of the most peaceful and quiet towns I know which explains its nickname, the Silent City. The foundation of the new capital Valletta was laid in 1566, it’s much bigger than Mdina and located right above the Grand harbour, one of the most important harbours of Europe at that time.
When we go to Mdina, we always stop at a little bar, Crystal Palace, which is at the entrance of a town right opposite Mdina, in Rabat. It’s famous for its Qassatat and Pastizzi, I mentioned the two delicacies a couple days ago when I wrote about our grilled amberjack from Marsaxlokk. If you ever visit Mdina, you should enter this simple looking bar and enjoy a couple of their buttery snacks!
Bigilla with fresh Oregano
You have to soak the dried fava beans in cold water overnight.
For 6 people you need
dried fava beans 400g / 14 ounces
olive oil 100ml / 3.5 ounces
water 150-250ml / 5-8 1/2 ounces, more depending on the bean’s texture
small dried hot chili peppers, chopped, 2
garlic, crushed, 5 big cloves
fresh oregano leaves, chopped, 1 1/2 tablespoons plus more to taste
Cook the soaked beans in lots of water (no salt!) until soft, for around 45-60 minutes.
Mix the beans, olive oil, water, chili peppers, garlic and oregano and purée to a smooth paste in a blender. Season with salt and oregano to taste, add more water if the texture isn’t smooth enough.
Enjoy with bread or crackers.