All posts by Corto Maltese

About Corto Maltese

Everyone knows that food is one of the main pleasures in life, right there after sex, drugs and rock and roll. Not everybody is a food technician. Yet, it is not too difficult or expensive to make good food. I don't believe the fast-food marketing that junk tastes better than good food. It's another economic construct. They are trying to make you lazy. Empower yourself and take control of your diet. Eat well at a reasonable price. Fresh and local. If possible sustainably farmed animals. More importantly, don't waste too much time doing it. No longer than calling a takeaway. Life is beautiful.

Ispanakli Yumurta: Turkish Eggs with Spinach

Spinach is a wonderful vegetable which I look forward to when the weather starts to cool. This is a dish I had tried many years ago when I was working with some Turkish chefs. Since it was for a sizeable amount of people it was baked in the oven but I later discovered that it can be swiftly cooked on a skillet.

Ispanakli Yumurta

It works well as a rich brunch or lunch. It is usually garnished with Aleppo pepper and cumin powder. Since I didn’t find Aleppo pepper I substituted a pinch of paprika and one of chilli flakes. I skipped the cumin. I also used spring onion instead of the traditional onion. It may be served with a dollop of yoghurt

Serves 2

Ingredients:

500g Spinach washed and drained
2       Free-range Eggfs
2       Spring Onions chopped
2tbs Olive Oil
Pinch Paprika
Pinch Chilli Flakes
S&P

Method:

Heat oil in a heavy frying pan on medium heat. Add onion and toss till soft. Add spinach, season with salt and pepper and cover for 2 minutes till spinach wilts but is still bright green. Some like to add a knob of unsalted butter at this stage but I’m battling my waistline at the moment so I didn’t. Make two wells in the spinach and crack an egg in each of them. Cook until white sets but the yolk is still runny, about 3 minutes if covered. Garnish with cumin powder and Aleppo pepper, or in my case paprika and chilli flakes

Garganelli ala Maltese

So yesterday I opened a can of Mayor’s butter beans by mistake. I thought ok I’ll have ftira but didn’t make it to the bread van. So I decided to create a plate of pasta with ftira ingredients. What could be more Maltese?

For pasta I used garganelli all uovo

Serves 2

Ingredients:

500g Garganelli

2 tbsp EVOO

1 large clove Garlic crushed

1 pinch Chilli Flakes

1 tsp dried Mixed Herbs

4 fillets Anchovy

1tbsp Kunserva/Tomato Puree

1 can Tuna

1 tbsp Maltese Capers

10 Black Olives smashed and stoned 🥴

1 can Butter Beans

1 dry peppered Cheeselet/ Ġbejna tal-bżar

If available freshly chopped parsley or basil to garnish

Method:

Bring salted water to a boil and add pasta. Set mobile timer for al dente. Put a pan on low heat and add the olive oil, garlic, anchovy and herbs. Once it starts to release the aromas add the ġbejna and kunserva. Toss well and add the tuna, capers, olives and butter beans. Add a little of the pasta water. By this time the pasta should be ready (around 5-6 minutes). Strain and toss with the remaining ingredients in the pan. E voilà! Ready

Spicy Vegetable Stew

Now that summer is coming to an end and we’re witnessing some wild thunderstorms it is time to change tack to more heartwarming invernal concoctions. This stew balances the bite of chili and ras il-hanout with the sweetness of sweet potato. I served it with rice but spelt could be a nice alternative.

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

1 Onion chopped

1 large clove Garlic chopped

2 Green Peppers sliced

1 Sweet Potato cubed

2 Zucchini cubed

250g Peas

2 bird’s eye Chilies

2 Tomatoes chopped

1tbsp Tomato Purée (Kunserva)

2 Bayleaves

1 tsp Ras il-Hanout

1 tsp Coriander powder

1 cup Water

Salt

Method:

Sweat the onion with a 1/4 tsp salt till it starts to soften. The salt helps draw out the moisture and cooks it faster. Add green peppers and stir for a few more minutes. Add garlic, chili, coriander powder and ras il-hanout. Add tomato puree and stir for another minute. Add tomatoes sweet potato and zucchini. Add a cup of water and lower the heat to a simmer. Add peas and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for half an hour. Meanwhile prepare rice or spelt

Lampuki fried in Breadcrumbs

Traditionally, lampuki are fried in flour or semolina. Today I tried using a mixture of breadcrumbs and semolina with lovely crunchy results

Lampuka mogħqlija

Basically it’s very simple. Dip lampuki fillets in a half half seasoned semolina breadcrumb mixture and shake off excess. Heat vegetable oil (about 1-2 mm) in a heavy based pan and add a large smashed clove of garlic. When the garlic starts sizzling properly add the fillets skin side down and leave for a couple of minutes until the skin develops a nice colour. It’s difficult to specify a time as it depends on the size of the fish but normally, when the skin looks nice and crunchy it will be about three quarters cooked and only needs another minute or two on the other side. This can be served with salad, caponata or a tomato caper sauce with thin round chips 😋

Of course I didn’t let the heads and bones go to waste and made a lovely Aljotta or fish soup, but that’s another story…

PS Oh dear! Had a case of late night malnutrition and put the leftover lampuki fillet on a slice of Maltese bread rubbed with ripe summer tomato, drizzled with olive oil and topped with kapunata. Mmm mind blowing 🤯

Thai Beef Salad (Yum Nua)

Thai salads are delightful concoctions of freshness, bright surprising flavours and colours. Perfect for hot weather, they are often a meal in themselves

Thai Beef Salad

In this recipe I used a Polish rib-eye. Although it turned out pretty well next time I think I’ll use fillet as it is more tender and contains less fat and sinew. Flank and sirloin may also be used, use your favourite steak basically.

The secret of this salad is in the flavoursome dressing which is sweet and fragrant with a lot of bite.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

Dressing:

1 Clove Garlic crushed

2tsp Ginger grated

1 Small bunch Coriander, stalks separated and finely chopped

2 Limes juiced

1tbsp Palm Sugar (I used brown)

1tbsp Fish Sauce

2tsp Sesame Oil

1tsp Soya Sauce

1-2 Chilli Bird’s Eye sliced diagonally

Salad:

300-400g Beef Tenderloin

200g Cherry Tomato (Pachino) halved

1 Cucumber, halved and thinly sliced diagonally

1 small Onion

Handful Basil Leaves

Handful Mint Leaves

Handful Coriander Leaves, (previously seperated from stalks)

Handful Peanuts, toasted and chopped

Method:

Put the dressing ingredients in a mortar and pestle and pound, or else whisk everything in a bowl.

Season the meat and place on a very hot griddle, 3 minutes on each side. The meat should be quite rare. Leave to rest on a plate for 10 minutes covered in foil.

Place the remaining salad ingredients in a bowl. Slice the meat finely and marinate in half the dressing. The lime juice cures and tenderises the meat. Add to the salad and drizzle the remaining dressing. Toss the salad with the peanuts

Bastard Risotto

I hate wasting food!

Sometimes, when I’m at the supermarket, I get tempted to buy a chicken from the rotisserie. I’m sure everyone does sometimes. You can eat your fill with a nice salad, make chicken mayo sandwiches with the leftovers and then… there’s the carcass! Instead of throwing it away this can make a lovely broth or stock with minimal effort. Just stick it in a pot with any juices it came with, add roughly chopped celery, carrot, onion and a teaspoon of salt and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1.5- 2 hours. Check for seasoning and if it’s too bland add a chicken stock pot but it should be tasty enough on its own. You can freeze this, make a nice soup or a lovely risotto.

I called this bastard risotto as I added some unlikely oriental flavours to a traditionally Italian recipe. In Italy I’d probably be put in stocks and pelted with tomatoes. But hey, I’m out of saffron!

Serves 2

Ingredients:

For the stock

1 carcass Roast Chicken

1 medium Onion halved

1 medium Carrot roughly sliced

2 stalks Celery roughly sliced

1 tsp. Salt

1.5 L Water

1 Bayleaf

For the Risotto

1 cup (250g) Arborio or Carnaroli Rice

2 cups (500ml) Stock

1 medium Onion finely chopped

3 sweet thin Spanish Peppers sliced

1 tsp Turmeric

1 tsp Cumin

1 dash Cayenne Pepper

1tbsp EV Olive Oil

1/2 Cup Parmeggiano grated

1tsp Butter

2tbsp Parsley finely chopped

Method:

Put the stock ingredients in a pot, bring to the boil and simmer for one and a half hours or longer. Test for seasoning and strain. This can be prepared beforehand and refrigerated or frozen.

Gently warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a wide shallow pan. Add onion and peppers and sweat till soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rice, stir and toast for a couple of minutes, stir in the spices for a further minute and start adding the stock. When it seems to be getting dry add more stock. After about 16 minutes add butter, cheese and parsley and stir. Check for doneness. It shouldn’t be too dry but nice and creamy

PS. For a more classic risotto you may omit the spices and add a pinch of saffron to the stock

Spaghetti Cuttlefish (sepia, siċċ)

Spaghetti Cuttlefish

What I love about Sicily is that when you go for a stroll by the sea you encounter a bewildering variety of delicious, yet simple, food offerings. Using just a few but fresh and tasty ingredients they combine them in the best ways possible to titillate your senses as you sit by the sea and enjoy its fruits

More known for the Sugo Nero di Sepia, Cuttlefish is also very tasty without the ink. Inspired by the ingenious simplicity of Sicilian cuisine this recipe starts off with the cuttlefish sautéed with garlic, chilli and olive oil, deglazed with white wine and simmered with tomatoes and a touch of capers.

If you want to make Sugo Nero add the ink sacs from the cuttlefish

Ingredients:

Cuttlefish 500g cut in 1cm squares. You can ask fishmonger to clean cuttlefish and save the ink if using. If doing yourself make sure to remove the cartilage and innards

Garlic 2 cloves crushed

Chilli Flakes 1/2 tsp

Olive Oil 1tbsp

White Wine glass

Tomatoes 3 chopped. I used very ripe beef tomatoes but long cherry tomatoes cut in half are good as well

Capers 1tbsp preferably Maltese

Marjoram 1tbsp

Spaghetti or Linguine 500g

Method:

Heat olive oil on medium high heat and add garlic and chilli for 1 minute. Add cuttlefish for about 5 minutes until the translucent bits turn white then add the wine. This might flame a bit don’t panic! Turn down heat add tomatoes and capers and a dash of water. Cover and simmer until tender about 20-30 minutes. If it gets dry add water from pasta, if it’s too liquidy take off lid and turn up heat towards end of cooking. Meanwhile cook spaghetti al dente in lots of well-salted water. Drain and mix in the pan

Open Ftira with Seared Tuna and Chickpea Salad

Due to the circumstances I have been availing myself more of the ambulatory services that prowl the streets of Mosta. Every morning the bread van brings its freshly and traditionally baked bread from Qormi at 10.45 on the dot. I bought some lovely ftira this morning.

Today I also chanced a mobile fishmonger who had some nice fresh tuna for sale. It is the season for wild tuna. My first thought was to make ħobż biż-żejt with fresh tuna. This would also have been lovely, with a mix of kunserva, tuna, butter beans, olives, capers, tomatoes and olive oil but I had that not so long ago so instead made a simple chickpea salad with tomatoes, spring onions, basil and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

250g Fresh Tuna

1 Ftira

1 Chilli chopped

1 Clove Garlic chopped

Few mint leaves

1 Tomato cut in half

Olive Oil

S+P

For the Salad

1 Can Chickpeas drained and rinsed

3 Tomatoes Chopped

1 Spring Onion sliced

6 Basil Leaves thorn roughly

Balsamic Vinegar

Olive Oil

S+P

Method

In a plate place garlic, mint, chilli and a tablespoon olive oil and set aside

In a bowl mix the chickpeas, tomatoes, basil and spring onion. Add 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper.

Season the tuna and add a tablespoon of olive oil making sure it is smeared on both sides. Heat a heavy-based frying pan on high heat and sear for one minute on each side. Place in the chilli and garlic mixture and allow to rest.

Meanwhile cut the ftira in half, rub half the tomato on each side until red and drizzle with olive oil. Spoon on some of the salad and the thinly sliced tuna.

Chilli sin Carne

Chilli sin Carne

This is a vegetarian take on the Mexican favourite Chilli con Carne. This basic sauce can be served with nachos or rice, wrapped in a large tortilla sprinkled with cheese to make a Burrito or in a smaller tortilla to make a Chilli Taco. I tend to use quorn mince but soya mince works as well

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1 Onion peeled and chopped

2 Cloves Garlic

2 tbs Olive Oil

2 Red Peppers deseeded and diced

1 tsp Cumin Seeds

1 tbs Tomato Puree

1 Chipotle Chilli soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and chopped if available

1 or 2 Red Chillies to taste chopped

400g Quorn or Soya Mince

500g Cooked Red Kidney Beans or 2 cans

2 Cans Polpa

1/2 Bunch Fresh Coriander chopped

Method:

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat and add the onion, peppers, cumin seeds and 1/2 tsp salt for five minutes. Add garlic, stir and continue cooking for another two minutes. Add the kuorn and stir for two minutes. Add tomato puree for another minute and add the tomato polpa. Simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the beans and leave for another five to ten minutes.Taste for seasoning. Make sure it is not too liquidy. Stir in the coriander leaving some for garnish.

Open Chilli Taco

Kusksu

A Maltese Spring Celebration

I had stopped updating the blog due to work commitments. Now with the social isolation taking place and more time at home it seems a good time to start playing with my food again. Also, more hands on deck for peeling ful and pizelli!

Kusksu is a hearty traditional Maltese soup that celebrates the flavours of spring. Pasta shaped like giant couscous is cooked in a simple vegetable broth with broad beans and peas. Towards the end eggs and sheep cheese are dropped in to be poached. In a break from tradition I added some Swiss Chard which needed to be used which added to the colour and the flavour.

The name and shape of the pasta seems to indicate that this dish originates from the period of Arab occupation between the 9th and 11th century. However kusksu has a different texture to couscous and its heavier body lends itself better to slow simmering. It is best to use Maltese kusksu but if unavailable the Italian Tempesta is a good substitute.

If possible use the freshest free-range eggs and unpasteurised ġbejniet. Since this is spring food go for the freshest ingredients including fresh garlic and onion if available. For people not residing in Malta the Ġbejniet can be omitted and for vegans the eggs as well. Still tastes delicious!

Serves 4 (actually finished it between two of us!)

Ingredients:

1 Onion chopped

6 Small Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped

1kg Ful peeled (Broad Beans. Frozen works as well)

500g Fresh Peas peeled (or frozen)

6 Leaves Swiss Chard chopped

1 tbs Kunserva (Tomato Puree)

1.5 L Vegetable Stock

100 g kusksu ( You can substitute Tempesta or Israeli Giant Couscous)

4 Ġbejniet (Sheep Cheeselets)

4 Free-Range Eggs

Olive Oil

S+P

Grated Parmesan optional for serving

Method:

Sweat the onion in a generous swig of olive oil on a medium low heat. When translucent add garlic, stir for a minute and add kunserva. Add ful, peas and chard. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Put in the couscous, cover and after 10 minutes stir and drop in the eggs gently. Cover for another 5 minutes, drop the ġbejniet and leave for another 5 minutes. If it looks too dry add some water and if too liquidy leave uncovered. Throughout the process check the pasta for doneness as different brands might vary in cooking time.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and grated parmesan

Mmm… Heaven!