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.

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!

Chickpea and Spelt Risotto

IMG_0381A staple grain used since neolithic times, spelt has a wonderful consistency and texture which does not tend to get soggy in liquid and keeps better than rice. I have taken to experimenting with it lately and this is one of the results.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 cup Spelt

3 cups Vegetable Stock

1 onion chopped

1 Carrot chopped

2 sticks Celery chopped

1 clove Garlic chopped

1 can Chickpeas

1 tsp Tomato Puree

2 tsp Ras el Hanout

1 tbsp Olive Oil

1 tsp Chilli Oil

Method:

Fry the vegetables in the oil till the onions are soft, about 6 minutes. Add the spelt, tomato puree and the spices and cook for a further 2 minutes. If you don’t have Ras el Hanout, a popular Moroccan spice mix, substitute ground cumin. Add stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 50 minutes stirring occasionally. Add chickpeas and cook for a further 10 minutes. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Easy but very tasty mmm…

Parmigiana di Melanzane

parmigiana

Apparently Parmigiana does not derive its name from Parma, the place, or Parmiggiano, the cheese. Rather it refers to the slats in Persian blinds, whose construction is reminiscent to the way the aubergine slices  are piled up in this wonderful veggie dish.
Traditionally the aubergine slices are fried, but I have gone for a healthier version which is extremely tasty as well, in which the aubergines are grilled.

Ingredients:

Slice aubergines in 1 cm slices. Pile in a colander, sprinkling every layer with salt. Place a weight on a plate on top of the aubergines and put the colander in a bowl to catch the liquids. Leave for about an hour. This step serves  to remove the bitter liquids from the seeds and is not necessary if the aubergines are young and don’t have too many seeds.

Meanwhile make the tomato sauce. Heat the oil and fry the garlic and onion on medium low heat for 10 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and the tomato puree and simmer until the sauce thickens, around 15 minutes. Add the basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper and a little wine vinegar (optional).

Meanwhile back to the aubergines. Rinse the slices from the salt and dry with paper towels. Grill in batches on both sides on a very hot griddle and set aside.

IMG_0208

Now we are ready to assemble the Parmigiana. Preheat oven to 2oo°c. Drizzle some olive oil on the base of the baking pan. Spread a bit of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan, sprinkle with parmesan and cover with a layer of aubergine slices placed next to each other. Repeat these layers until the pan is full, topping with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan and torn pieces of the Cacciacavallo or Mozzarella.I also like to add some seeds, in this case sesame and poppy seeds, to give it a bit of a twist.IMG_0217

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling.

Broccoli and Barley Broth

Broccoli and Barley Broth Serves 4

Ingredients

3 Onions chopped

3 Carrots sliced diagonally

3 celery sticks chopped

1 head Broccoli

4 small potatoes scrubbed, cut in half

100g Barley rinsed

1 small chilli (deseeded if you don’t want it very spicy)

1 litre Water

Olive Oil

2 tsp coarse Sea Salt

1 tbsp Pumpkin Seeds

Grated Parmesan

Method

Sweat the onions, carrots and celery in a little olive oi for 5 minutes. Meanwhile cut the broccoli into small florets and set aside. Add the stalk of the broccoli, chili and the potatoes to the pot for another couple of minutes. Add the boiled water, the salt and the barley and simmer for 45 minutes making sure the barley is tender. Remove the stalks and add the florets and pumpkin seeds, simmering for another 10 minutes. Serve with grated parmesan

Black Eyed Beans Stew with Sweet Potato, Squash and Spinach

IMG_0319

Ingredients 

500g Black Eyed Beans soaked overnight and cooked till tender (usually around 1 hour)

1 Large Squash

1 Large Sweet Potato

1 Red Pepper chopped

500g Spinach

6 Onions thinly sliced

3 Cloves Garlic chopped coarsely

4cm Ginger Root

1 tsp Ground Coriander

1/2 tsp Ground Ginger

2 Bay Leaves

500ml Vegetable Stock

2 tsp Hot Chilli Oil

Sunflower Oil

1 Tin Tomatoes Polpa

Salt and Pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 180°c

Peel squash and sweet potato and cut into bite-sized chunks. In a baking tray mix with a little oil and season with salt and pepper, ground coriander and ground ginger. Bake for around 30 minutes, stirring once half way through, until they start to speckle with gold.

Meanwhile saute the onions, garlic, pepper, bay leaf and chili oil and grate the ginger. When it starts to get fragrant ( a couple of minutes) add the stock and simmer for 40 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes cooking for a further 25 minutes.

Add the squash and sweet potato and simmer for 5 minutes.

Finally stir in the beans and the spinach, simmering until the spinach wilts and the flavours blend, around 10 minutes.

This is one of those dishes that taste even better the next day as the flavours blend so keep any leftovers.

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Olde English Mustard and Wine Reduction

The quintessential festive pièce de résistance; slow roasted pork embodies the spirit of seasonal hedonism, suggesting a refined debauchery that can subvert the structured order of our civilisation. It reminds us of our proximity to our neanderthal precursors. Enjoy it before it becomes illegal.

IMG_0282I used a joint of 3.5 kg for four people. Leftovers won’t go to waste as cold pork makes the best sandwiches ever. Ask the butcher to score the skin and tie the joint. Rub the skin with salt, insert slivers of garlic and rosemary into slits you make into the scored flesh with a sharp pointed knife. Optionally you can make a spice rub.

Spice Rub

1 tsp Coriander Seeds

1 tsp Fennel Seeds

1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds

1/2 tsp White Pepper

1 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp Chilli Flakes

3 Bay Leaves

Roast ingredients in a dry frying pan and crush coarsely in a mortar and pestle. Rub into the flesh and skin and leave for at least an hour to overnight.

Preheat oven to 200°. Place joint on a rack in the roasting tray. Roast for 30 minutes until the skin starts bubbling than lower the temperature to the lowest mark on gas mark ovens, around 90°. Cover with double aluminium foil. I allowed it to cook gently at this temperature for 15 hours. A meat thermometer can prove quite handy when preparing a large joint like this as it is quite difficult to ascertain how much it has cooked on the inside. Ovens vary and one may cook much faster than another. Pork should be 85° on the inside to be ready to be served. Âround two hours before dinner is to be served remove foil and turn up heat to 200°. After an hour check internal temperature and if its 85° remove from oven.

Red Wine Reduction:

250ml Red Wine

English Mustard Powder

Rosemary and Thyme

Once the meat is completely cooked remove from baking tray and cover with foil. While it rests remove most of the fat from the baking tray, place the pan on a brisk flame and add 250ml good red wine, a sprig of rosemary, some thyme and a teaspoon mustard powder. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula and cook until the sauce thickens to a gravy consistency. If you like lots of gravy add some chicken stock.

Pork and Veg

Freshly made English mustard fiercely complements the succulent pork with a heady bite. Just mix 3 tbsp mustard powder to 3 tbsp water in a bowl and whisk to a paste.

Accompaniments:

Pesto Potatoes with added Pork Fat

Red Cabbage with Apple and Vinegar

Brussel Sprouts tossed in Olive Oil and Bacon Julienne

Roast Sweet Potato and Beetroot

Raw Garden Mix

Pure indulgence. Just once a year. Promise