Looking for a warm, central location for our world wide team to meet up (from the UK, Europe and Australia), we though where better than Malta? Located in the centre of the Mediterranean, Malta is derived from the words ‘medi’ (middle) and ‘terrain’ (earth) so literally means the middle of the world.
Malta’s a great destination if you are from the UK: the electrical plugs are the same and they drive on the proper side of the road. So all the systems are reassuringly familiar.
It’s also a magical island, lots of miracles happen here. All the churches are full of stories of hope and healing. There is a good reason for that—Malta is an ‘Apostolic See’ meaning the faith started directly from the original disciples.
Near where we were staying, there’s a beautiful icon, thought to have been painted by St Luke himself, and it’s been a place of worship ever since.
Nearby is St Paul’s Bay, where St Paul was shipwrecked. The Islanders, who were just as friendly then as they are now, lit a big fire to warm the survivors. A poisonous snake was disturbed by the fire and bit St Paul, but he suffered no ill effects! This was taken as a sign that he was a special person. Later he healed the Island leader’s father of a serious fever, which further proved how special he was. This, and other tales of wonder, were enough to ignite the faith that still burns today in the churches and homes on Malta.
The food in Malta is also magical. Reflecting its central location, Maltese food is an exciting mix of the best of Mediterranean cooking. When you think of Maltese food you may think of ‘Maltesers’ but these have nothing to do with the Island of Malta.
Traditional Maltese food is rustic and follows the seasons. A popular soup is called ‘Widows Soup’ because it was made from cheap ingredients that even a poor widow could afford: food that grew in the fields, like seasonal vegetables and beans.
However, the widows knew a thing or two as this hearty soup is by no means poor. It’s rich in flavour, protein, vitamins and minerals.
The soup is normally served with Ġbejna. This is a soft goat’s or sheep’s cheese which is produced on the Maltese island of Gozo. Ġbejna was traditionally curdled with sea water and set in baskets made of reeds. If you can’t get Ġbejna, use a nice soft goat’s cheese from your area.
Spring arrives early in Malta and as you can see (below) the broad beans used in the soup recipe are nearly ready. In the background is the ‘Sanctuary of Our Lady’ in Mellieħa which houses the famous icon pained by St Luke.
I also got enthused about their infused oils, it’s like turbo charging your olive oil with herbal goodness. Simple to make—by just soaking fresh herbs and spices in delicious olive oil. This not only flavours the oil, but extracts all the healing goodness from the herbs. Rosemary oil for instance is thought to reduce dandruff and increase hair growth.
Another traditional rustic dish is Bigilla. This is an amazing bean dip, a bit like humus but made from broad beans (or fava beans). This is delicious served with Ħobż tal-Malti the Maltese sourdough bread. This bread is made in the city of Qormi in the south of Malta. Nearly every corner has a bakery, some still use wood fueled ovens. The bread is made very early, so that the fresh loaves are ready after the first Church Mass at 5am.
The Maltese say that everything closes down in Qormi after noon and you can’t rely on the locals after that. Partly because everyone is tired from baking all night, but also because the city’s sundial goes into shade after midday. In the old days everyone relied on the main sundial to know the time. A long time ago, a building was erected near the church which cast a shade on the dial from 12 noon onwards.
Giving everyone the perfect excuse to be late!
For more great recipes see Keiths ‘Cooking with Love’ Book
Maltese Infused Oils
250 ml extra virgin olive oil (approx)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh oregano
4 fresh bay leaves
4 cloves garlic – peeled
1. Generously cover the herbs with the oil.
2. Cover and leave to stand for 24 hours. This gives the flavours time to infuse.
3. Pour into a sealed jar and store in the fridge.
4. If you can, take out of the fridge about an hour or so before use – so that it warms up a bit.
5. Can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Soppa tal-Armla – Widow’s Soup
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
small bunch parsley chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 kohlrabi, peeled and chopped
200g shelled broad beans (fresh or frozen)
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 small cauliflower cut into florets
1 ltr vegetable stock approx
1 ½ tbsp tomato paste
Salt & pepper to taste
Serve with Ġbejna, or soft goats cheese
1. Sauté garlic, onion and half the parsley in the butter and olive oil until soft.
2. Add the potato, carrot, kohlrabi, broad beans, celery and cauliflower.
3. Pour in enough stock to generously cover the ingredients.
4. Add the tomato paste and stir well.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are just cooked.
7. Add more stock to cover if it dries out.
8. Garnish with the rest of the parsley.
9. Stir in a spoon of Ġbejna.
Bigilla (broad bean dip)
500g shelled broad beans (fresh or frozen)
1 handful fresh parsley chopped
1 tsp capers drained
pinch chilli powder
2 tbsp virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon juiced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1. Place beans in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil.
2. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender (5 to 10 minutes if frozen).
3. Drain and keeping the cooking water to one side.
4. Place the cooked beans and remaining ingredients in a food processor
5. Blend until smooth, add a little of the cooking water to make a firm paste.