I have a confession to make, and I am quite scared to say it. There’s no denying the truth though so here it goes. Before our memorable trip to Rome last year, I was a food sceptic. No need to panic: I am a food lover through and through. However I used to think the goodness and freshness of Italian food was hyped up. Quite a declaration, don’t you think? Many were those, including my husband and brother-in-law, who said “Oh you will absolutely *love* the food there!” (The words love and food seem to pair up and reach atmospheric levels in Italy.) I thought it was all an exaggeration notwithstanding the number of people who kept repeating this over and over to me. I almost got sick hearing the same thing until I said to J “Right. I’ve had enough of this. We’re going there and I want to see and taste the food myself!” We did go, I did taste and the rest is history.
Around two months ago, we were treated to a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant pretty near our neck of the woods, in the company of around 50 Italian ex-pats. I couldn’t ask for more. The food kept on coming, the wine kept on flowing, and the people were truly unique. At the end of the I-can’t-remember-the-number-of-courses-we-had dinner, I turned to my Italian friend and said: “This is great food!” He answer was simple: “We are Italians!” I am now a loyal follower.
One of the first things I tried in Rome was Pasta alla Norma. Now every Italian foodie knows that this dish is Sicilian in origin. The Maltese and Sicilians are practically cousins. Well, the Maltese like to think so anyway, so I thought of recreating my own version. Coincidentally (because truthfully I did not plan it), the recipe for Kwareżimal in the previous post is also Sicilian. The Maltese have adapted it and lovingly made it their own; such is the story of food. I used tinned tomatoes here. I’m sure Angela Hartnett will approve. The one thing you will not find here, is the ricotta salata unfortunately. I couldn’t get my hands on it, so I replaced it with halloumi. I hope my Italian friends will forgive me…
- 500g aubergines
- ½ to 1 teaspoon salt to remove excess liquid from the aubergines
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 500g polpa di pomodoro (approx. 1 can of tinned chopped tomatoes)
- 450g dried Spirali
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
- ¼ teaspoon dried chillies
- 150g Halloumi, cut into small cubes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Cut the aubergines into cubes, scatter the salt on top and place them in a sieve on top of a bowl for around 30 minutes. The salt will extract excess liquid from the aubergines.
- In the meantime place a pan of water on the hob for the pasta and wait for it to come up to a boil.
- Place a large shallow pan on the heat. When it’s hot enough pour in the olive oil and crushed garlic. Wipe the aubergines with a thick kitchen towel and tip them in the pan with the oil and garlic. Fry these until they turn slightly golden. Add the tomatoes, dried chillies. Let the sauce simmer for a while and taste it. Add some salt and pepper if you feel the need.
- Scatter a pinch of salt in the pasta water and cook the dried Spriali as per packet instructions.
- When the pasta is cooked, reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water and add some of it to the tomato sauce. Preferably tip the cooked pasta into the sauce and mix well. Divide everything into 4 bowls and sprinkle each serving with the cubed Halloumi. You can also add some fresh roughly torn basil leaves on top of the cheese.
A simple dish but it works so well. I read that using smaller aubergines pack a bigger punch in terms of flavour and are less bitter. This makes sense however I get whatever I find at the market during the week. Enjoy!
I love a good pizza – always have and always will. It’s something that I reserve for the weekends, when time is my friend. Since moving to the UK we never found a good place where to get it, and even though I cannot replicate the ones I had in Rome, I now opt to make and eat it only at home. It takes some work but I find handling the dough most therapeutic and unlike shortcrust, pizza dough is very forgiving. My latest thing is to top it up with some fresh greens once it’s out of the oven, but I wavered that last Saturday and topped it with my trusty old chum: chorizo. There’s nothing more comforting other than a bowl of soup or minestrone in this gloomy cold weather, and the heat the oven gives off is very welcome on a Saturday night in. That, and Il Comissario Montalbano, of course! (oh my!)
A few posts back, I have shown a couple of photos from my attempts at replicating some of Nigella’s cake and pudding recipes from her new book Nigellissima. Here I will tell you how I did it and what equipment I used. It didn’t take much adjusting because I have found that Nigella’s recipes are quite adaptable, even when it comes to baking. Obviously the Tiramisini, which are really individually portioned Tiramisù, are not baked. This makes them even more appealing: not only are they very easy to make, but also they are perfect for when you have friends or family over for supper because there’s no mess when it comes to serving. Less cleaning, less stress. The photo for this recipe in Nigellissima has them in small but elegant martini glasses (serving suggestion indicates quantities for 4, volume for each glass 125ml). I’m afraid I don’t have martini glasses so I served them in ramekins. Please note that this is *not* a good idea for when taking pictures! For this disappointing result see my photo. This doesn’t say anything about the photographer though, so please J – relax.
Anyhow, you really don’t need any complicated kitchen gadget for this. A whisk and bam, job done. What I changed is the quantity of Savoiardi. (Apparently in France they are called boudoirs. In the UK you can also find them by that name, bar the s. Fascinating.) I found that one biscuit wasn’t enough for the coffee mixture to be totally absorbed, and even though the taste was great I made a note to use one and a half to two for next time. The rest is magic. What everyone will suggest here is not to give this dessert to anyone with either a weak immune system, children, or pregnant ladies because of the raw egg. However you can get pasteurised egg whites these days even from the supermarket. Trust the lovely Nigella to make the steps uncomplicated with a guarantee of good results. The chapter Sweet Things makes the book worth having. You will need:
- 100ml espresso
- 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (15ml each)*
- 4 Savoiardi biscuits (I would definitely use a bit more.)
- 2 egg whites
- 250g mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons honey*
- 2 tablespoons red vermouth (Nigella uses Marsala but I didn’t have any. Used vermouth instead and it worked well.)
- 1 teaspoon good cocoa powder (*not* drinking chocolate please!!)
- Brew the espresso, tip it into a jug, add the coffee liqueur and set it aside to cool completely. (For hot climates plunge it into a small ice bath or else it would take forever!)
- Break the Savoiardi into small chunks and divide them into four ramekins or four small martini glasses. Pour the coffee mixture over them, making sure that all the liquid is absorbed into the biscuits to form a soft base.
- In a small bowl whisk the egg whites until you get soft peaks and set these to one side. In a medium bowl tip in the mascarpone and add the honey. Using the same whisk that you used to beat the egg whites, mix the mascarpone and honey together. Then add the vermouth or Marsala slowly.
- Now fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture one third at a time, and spoon this over all four of the ramekins/servings. Place in the fridge for up to 24 hours. When ready to serve sprinkle over the cocoa powder.
Yum yum. Thank you Nigella!
In Comfort & Spice, Niamh Shields says that potato became her one of her favourite pizza toppings since her first trip to Rome. Not to worry – I *did* tell Niamh that the Maltese love that too. I remember a visit to Gozo a long time ago (I must have been around 21 I think..I did say ‘a long time ago’) while looking for somewhere to eat I was directed by a local to a lady who made the “best pizza”. I really cannot recall where this was, and I don’t know if it really was the best pizza. To tell you where you can find that I would have to get back to you. What I will say now is that it was really good.
When I’m homesick I love to recreate recipes which take me back to the islands for a little while and a really quick way of doing that is to make a basic pizza dough and put plenty of thinly sliced potatoes on top. Make sure it doesn’t dry up on you, so add plenty of olive oil. I do have a recipe for pizza dough in this blog. Whatever you put on your pizza is up to you. Traditionalists will pull their noses up and not look at these pics, but I don’t really care. Apart from the classic Napoletana, which I think is similar to the Margherita, I love it with Maltese sausages and/or potatoes. That’s how we roll in Malta.
I’m also posting here some photos taken on a recent visit to Malta – I managed some to do some cooking, including some pizzas for lunch. A few were made with goat’s cheese (ġbejniet) and the traditional zalzett Malti. Hope you enjoy them as much as much as I did.
Nothing beats good weather, good food and great company. And I had all three. In Rome. Correction: I had all four. After a long and beautiful morning drive, I asked the Js if we could kindly stop for a coffee and cornetto…yet again…to which they agreed. You see, the designated driver and his passenger (to his right) needed a coffee fix there and then. I, on the other hand, did not necessarily need one, but I wanted something sweet anyway. Obviously! When the coffee break was over (alas) we went for a short walk, after which J2 drove us to Monte Tuscolo. I soaked up the view, and something magical happened…my Italian came back…well, a teeny tiny bit of it at least! Some locals who loved the place as much as I did sat next to me and asked me about my sketch. I found myself trying to speak a few words here and there. Nothing special but I was happy. It felt good. (All those hours watching Montalbano certainly paid off. Well that’s not exactly Roman…mah!)
What felt even better was lunch, of course, at Hosteria San Rocco in Frascati. After some antipasti, which were good but somewhat overpriced, we ordered fresh pasta alla gricia and the classic cacio e pepe. These did not disappoint. I braced myself for the saltiness of the guanciale (not pancetta as loads of Italian bloggers rightly cannot stress enough) but it was simple food at it’s best I thought. The boys just wanted their coffee. I had Tiramisù, which is not typically from the region, but it was either that or fruit, so the choice was clear. I can never get over how good the coffee is in Italy. One of the first things my bro-in-law told me was this: “You can never, ever, go wrong with the coffee here.” Right he was. And with such cute coffee cups how can we ever? Guess which one I picked…
Arrivederci Roma. Hopefully that was not un addio…