Tag Archives: traditional Italian

Pasta alla Norma

Norma (6562)

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
  1. 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.
  2. In the meantime place a pan of water on the hob for the pasta and wait for it to come up to a boil.
  3. 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.
  4. Scatter a pinch of salt in the pasta water and cook the dried Spriali as per packet instructions.
  5. 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!

Rob x

Easy Almond Biscotti

Kwarezimal-(5471)

Kwareżimal is a Maltese traditional biscuit made and eaten during Lent. Even though many have abandoned the idea of fasting during the forty days (quaresima) leading up to Easter, these simple bakes are still widely found throughout the island on shops and in homes. My friend M makes wonderful kwareżimal which I cannot get enough of. However what I will give you now is something a little different…

What I have for you here is less of a kwareżimal, and more of a biscotti. It wouldn’t be fair to call them otherwise, mostly because these babies contain eggs and butter; it is more a matter of convenience than anything else. I have taken the liberty of naming them “Cheat’s Kwareżimal” though, hoping not to offend anyone here! I have no idea why I tend to eat almonds (and/or bake with almonds) after the Christmas period. They may be rich but in my mind they are still healthy and good for you.

J came up with this recipe while we were still in MI, and since it always works well for us I decided to leave the measurements in cups rather than grams, as they are in my notebook. To be honest I prefer this way of measuring. For me, it’s quicker and more convenient (and I have an affinity for it because that’s the way I learnt) especially when you use large glass containers for storing baking ingredients. I cannot do this anymore due to the lack of storage space in my kitchen, but I know that one day I will find a way to do this again…eventually that is.

OK, enough talk and let’s get down to the really fun stuff…For 4 large rectangular-shaped portions you will need:

  • 2 cups soft light brown sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups flaked almonds
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten as egg wash
  1. Preheat the oven to 175 ºC/350 ºF and line two large baking trays with parchment or baking paper.
  2. Place the sugar into a large mixing bowl together with the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and almonds and lightly mix these before adding the softened butter. I would recommend using your hands for this (clean, of course!). You risk breaking the flaked almonds if you use a mixer on high speed and I like to see the almonds clearly when cutting into the biscuits.
  3. This mixture will turn into a dough, and when it does place it on a floured surface. Cut this in four approximately equal pieces and roll each one into a log shape.
  4. Place the dough onto the lined baking trays and flatten them into around 1cm thick rectangles. Brush the tops with the egg wash and bake for around 25 to 30 minutes, till they turn golden brown.

Store them in an airtight container and cut as many pieces as you like, as you go. Do not attempt to cut them up before serving since they will almost certainly dry out.To make this even more traditional, you can add lemon peel and a few drops of orange flower water, something found in the Maltese version.

Happy Baking!

Rob x