International Cooking: Food from Malta

I feel like I say this a lot but this is a week I had been looking forward to! I tried rabbit for the first time and made pastizzi, something I’ve eaten before and enjoyed. I also was excited to experience some other food from Malta.

Malta is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea, consisting of an archipelago between Italy, Tunisia, and Libya. Its capital city, Valetta, is the smallest capital city in the EU by area and population.

Malta has been inhabited since around 5900 BC. Historically, its location has made it strategically important as a naval base. Over the years, various empires have fought over the islands, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French, and British.

Malta was primarily a Muslim country under Arab rule during the Middle Ages, but Christianity gradually became dominant after the Normans invaded in 1091.

In 1813, Malta became a British colony and was the headquarters for the British Mediterranean Fleet. During World War II, it was an important Allied base.

Malta gained independence in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, though remains a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Malta’s economy relies heavily on tourism; it has a warmer climate than the rest of Europe which makes it attractive to many travelers. It also has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including seven megalithic temples. These prehistoric temples are thought to be some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.

What Do People Eat in Malta?

Malta’s close proximity to Italy shows in its cuisine; there are definitely some strong similarities between the food in both countries, with the most obvious being a shared love of pasta. There are also influences from Spain and France, and I feel I’ve noticed some North African touches in some of the spices used in some recipes.

Maltese people enjoy typical Mediterranean ingredients such as olives, garlic, tomatoes, cheese, and fish, along with a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to meat, pork is very common, while rabbit, beef, and chicken are also seen often. All kinds of seafood and fish are used.

I didn’t make any desserts, but there seems to be a lot of variety there, from Italian panettone to date-filled pastries, which feel closer to something you might find in North Africa. Citrus, nuts, and spices show up in a lot of sweets.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Maltese dishes I didn’t make!

Torta tal-Lampuki (Fish Pie)

Torta tal-Lampuki (Fish Pie)

Also known as ‘lampuki pie,’ this pie is filled with mahi mahi (lampuki in Malta) and a range of vegetables seasoned with tomato sauce, garlic, lemon, herbs, and olives. I decided to make small pies rather than a large pie, which I think was okay since the recipe I used suggested it at the beginning.

First I made the pastry, mostly because I wasn’t 100% sure of what kind of pastry I should buy. The recipe called for ‘Acqua e Farina – Sfoglia pastry’ but I was coming up with pasta recipes when I tried searching for that. It’s possible it’s like puff pastry, but the pastry in the recipe video didn’t look that flaky. So I ended up finding a different lampuki pie recipe and making the pastry from that one! I combined flour, olive oil, salt, and an egg, then added just enough water for it to come together. I let the pastry rest for about half an hour while I worked on the filling.

I started by poaching the fish in salted water and briefly boiling some cauliflower so it was mostly cooked. Then I sautéed the onions and garlic in olive oil, and a few minutes later I added the fish and cauliflower, along with spinach, peas, olives, tomatoes, tomato sauce, lemon zest, mint, marjoram, salt, and pepper. I cooked this for a few minutes, then let it cool a bit and stirred in a beaten egg.

I lined some ramekins with my pastry, added the filling, and topped them with more pastry. Then I brushed the tops with beaten egg and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking until the pastry was golden.

I think these pies turned out pretty well. This was definitely a new combination of flavors for me, and I’m not sure I love it enough to make this again. But it wasn’t bad.

The recipe I used for the pastry is from Food and the filling recipe is from Maltese Cuisine.

Stuffat tal-Fenek (Rabbit Stew)

Stuffat tal-Fenek (Rabbit Stew)

Rabbit is something I have always wanted to try, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. Stuffat tal-fenek is rabbit stew, and it’s a popular dish in Malta. It’s thought that the dish started as form of symbolic resistance to the hunting restrictions imposed by the Knights of St. John. It became popular after the restrictions were lifted in the late 18th century and rabbits were domesticated. The sauce is often served with pasta as a first course, with the rabbit and vegetables as a main.

I used rabbit legs for this, instead of cutting up a whole rabbit as called for in the recipe. Since this was my first time cooking (and eating) rabbit, I thought it would be simpler to start with just the legs. I marinated them in red wine, bay leaves, and garlic overnight.

The next day, I strained the marinade and reserved it. I seasoned the rabbit legs with salt and pepper, then browned them in oil and set them aside.

I sautéed some onions, then added garlic and tomato paste. After another minute or so I added tomato sauce and the reserved marinade, along with the rabbit, large chunks of potato, and more bay leaves.

Then all I had to do was let the whole thing cook on low heat in the oven until the rabbit was tender. This took somewhere between 2 and 3 hours. I also added some frozen peas towards the end, since that seemed a common addition and I thought the dish could use some color.

I took the meat off the bones after the photo so that it would be easier to eat, and mixed it into the sauce. This tasted alright but I had to add a little red wine vinegar and more salt and pepper and it still felt like it was missing something. I’m not convinced adding the whole rabbit rather than just the legs would have fixed that. The rabbit itself was fine; it really is a lot like chicken but I feel like chicken has more flavor.

I served this with some broccoli on the side, but pasta or potato would have been better. I initially thought that I didn’t need carbs because there was potato in the stew, but there wasn’t much and it cooked so long that it was falling apart, despite using red potatoes.

So overall, this wasn’t bad, and I don’t think the dish itself is bad, but I think maybe something was missing flavor-wise.

The recipe I used for this is from SBS (chosen because I saw someone recommend it as being close to the traditional version).

Bragoli (Beef Filled with Bacon, Egg, Breadcrumbs, and Parsley in Red Wine Sauce)

Bragoli (Beef Filled with Bacon, Egg, Breadcrumbs, and Parsley in Red Wine Sauce)

This popular meal is also known as ‘beef olives’ which refers to the way the beef is wrapped around the stuffing (maybe it sort of resembles stuffed olives when cut). It consists of thin pieces of beef wrapped around a mixture of bacon, boiled eggs, garlic, breadcrumbs, and parsley, then slowly braised in a red wine sauce with vegetables. It’s commonly served with potatoes.

First, I combined the filling ingredients: cooked bacon, hard-boiled eggs, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper.

Next, I pounded my beef (I used thin pieces of top round) until each piece was fairly even in thickness. I added the filling and wrapped the meat around it, then secured each bundle with a toothpick.

I browned the beef rolls in olive oil, then set them aside and added onion and bay leaves. After a few more minutes, I added carrot and celery, then a little later I added red wine and canned chopped tomatoes.

I simmered for about 10 minutes before adding my bragoli and letting everything cook, covered, for an hour or so. When the beef was nearly tender, I stirred in some frozen peas.

I served this on top of mashed potatoes, which I think was a good decision! I love mashed potatoes with a red wine sauce.

This was delicious! I actually made something that used basically the same technique for German week called rinderrouladen which you may also like to check out if you like the sound of this dish. I really enjoyed both.

The recipe I used for this is from A Maltese Mouthful.

Imqarrun Il-Forn (Pasta Bake)

Imqarrun Il-Forn (Pasta Bake)

This dish is made by cooking meat (in this case pork) in a flavorful tomato sauce, then combining it with pasta, cheese, and egg and baking it in the oven until golden.

I started by sautéing some onions in olive oil, then added garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary, curry powder, cumin, and paprika. I stirred for a minute or so, before adding some tomato paste.

Next, I added ground pork, and when it was mostly done I seasoned with salt and pepper and added tomato sauce and bay leaves. I let this mixture simmer on the stove for around an hour.

Meanwhile, I cooked some pasta—the recipe said penne or rigatoni, and I went with rigatoni.

I removed the bay leaves from the sauce (very important!) before stirring in the cooked pasta. Then I added eggs beaten with milk and some Parmesan cheese. I added the mixture to a baking dish, sprinkled with more Parmesan and some black pepper, and baked until the top was golden.

I feel the need to note here that I halved the recipe and got a bit more than the 4 servings indicated in the full recipe. I knew this might be the case as I have a pasta bake that I make often so I had a good idea of the proportions per serving. So if you do try this, know that it’s absolutely delicious but if you make the full recipe you’ll probably end up with 6-8 servings depending on appetite!

The recipe I used here is from Apron and Whisk.

Pastizzi (Ricotta-Filled Pastries)

Pastizzi (Ricotta-Filled Pastries)

Pastizzi are delicious flaky pastries that can have a wide range of fillings. I’ve eaten them often, since when I still lived in Australia I used to get my hair done a few doors down from a pastizzi place and would always buy a few bags on the way home. They had so many delicious filling combinations; my favorite savory filling was bacon and egg and they also had a really good chocolate and ricotta filling. In Malta, the most traditional fillings seem to be ricotta or curried peas.

I began by mixing flour, water, oil, and salt in my electric mixer to make the pastry. Then I kneaded it and rolled it out. I folded the dough back onto itself and rolled it out again 10 times, then shaped it into a ball and covered it in softened butter. I made a mistake here; I used pure butter instead of margarine or a butter/margarine mix as specified in the recipe. I thought that if puff pastry was made with butter, I could also use it for pastizzi dough, but this caused me some problems later.

I let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour or so, then rolled it out so that it was very thin. I covered the dough with more softened butter and rolled it up, then covered it with more butter and plastic wrap and left it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I encountered an issue that might be from using butter instead of margarine—the plastic was sticking pretty badly to the dough. I’ve never had this happen before when greasing with oil, even with stickier doughs. So I think maybe the water content of the butter caused the dough to stick (I’m just guessing here; I don’t know for sure). Anyway, I did manage to unwrap the dough, but it was a bit difficult.

I stretched the dough roll out to form a long sausage, then cut it into pieces. Here is where I think I had the biggest issue with using butter instead of margarine. Butter is pretty solid when cold but margarine is still quite soft. So when I tried to shape the pastizzi as indicated in the recipe video, my butter layers were stiff and so I think I messed up a lot of them. It’s also possible that the butter layers just weren’t thin enough. But either way, I had some issues shaping the pastizzi.

I went with a simple ricotta filling, made from ricotta, egg, salt, and pepper. Once I’d filled and shaped my pastizzi, I baked them until golden.

As you can see, I didn’t get the exact right effect with the pastry, but it didn’t matter too much since it’s still pastry and pastry is delicious. I loved these and wouldn’t mind having another go at making them, especially since I’ve since eaten some I stored in the freezer and found them to be very nearly as delicious as when first baked.

The recipe I used is from PACE COOKS CHANNEL on YouTube.

Ftira (Maltese Bread)

Ftira (Maltese Bread)

Malta has a few popular types of bread, and I decided to make ftira, a sourdough loaf in the shape of large bagels.

This was an interesting recipe; although it uses a sourdough starter, it includes enough yeast to make the dough rise without it. There’s also no mention of making sure the starter is ready. Additionally, the recipe author says that their recipe only works with a bread machine, but I decided there was no way that was true and went on without one.

I first mixed the yeast with sugar and warm water. After a short rest, I added bread flour, salt, and olive oil, and kneaded for a while. I let the dough rest for about an hour, then shaped it into rounds with holes in the middle and let it rest for around half an hour further before baking. I made mine a little smaller than in the recipe, since I was aiming for each one to make a two-serving sandwich.

I evidently did not make the holes big enough, since the top ftira in the photo is the only one that still had one after baking. This didn’t matter though since it didn’t affect the taste. Bread is pretty hard to really mess up, and this tasted quite good. It didn’t really taste much like sourdough though.

The recipe I used is from Tal-Forn.

Ftira Biz-Zejt (Tuna Sandwich)

Ftira Biz-Zejt (Tuna Sandwich)

One reason I wanted to make ftira was so I could use it to make this sandwich. The filling ingredients can vary, but it typically includes tuna and pickled vegetables.

I spread tomato paste on one side of my ftira and ricotta on the other. The ricotta was in place of a type of fresh cheese that I couldn’t get, and since I had ricotta left over from the pastizzi I thought I would use that. I also drizzled a little olive oil over both sides. I added lettuce, then topped that with a mixture of canned tuna, olives, capers, Giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables), green onion, and sundried tomatoes. I was meant to also add sundried tomato pesto and cannellini beans but I omitted them. Finally, I added chopped shallots and the sandwich was ready.

This was a great sandwich; I really liked the combination of the tuna with the Giardiniera. I’d make the filling again for sure.

The recipe I used here is from Ch-Eat.

  • Bigilla – mashed tic beans (similar to broad beans), olive oil, salt, and chili, used as a dip or spread.
  • Zalzett tal-Malti – fresh sausage made from pork, salt, pepper, coriander seeds, garlic, and sometimes parsley. Can be eaten raw, boiled, pan-fried, or grilled.
  • Soppa tal-armla – also known as ‘widow’s soup’ since it contains primarily cheap ingredients such as vegetables, which a widow would be able to afford. Typically, it includes cauliflower, potatoes, onion, garlic, tomato paste, and carrots, but there are many variations. Often served with a poached egg and soft cheese.
  • Timpana – baked pasta with a pastry crust—it looks pretty similar to the imqarrun il-forn but with pastry.
  • Imqaret – diamond-shaped pastries with a date filling.
  • Kwarezimal – traditional Lenten sweets, made from almonds, flavored with citrus and spices, and topped with nuts.

Final Thoughts

This was an excellent week! Everything was great but my favorites were the bragoli and the pastizzi, even though the pastry didn’t quite come out properly.

Next week, I will be cooking food from the Marshall Islands.

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