Beyond guidebooks around the Maltese islands (part IV.)
The best Sunday pastime on the island? Sure you can get your suntan lying on the beach or have a grand buffet brunch out, however to me Sunday’s were about the always so lively, always so loud fish market.
Even though the alarm went-off pretty early, I was a regular customer at the Marsaxlokk market, where week-by-week only the vendors were the same. The fish supply changes season-to-season, new market-goers appear and disappear, the weather is pleasant or insanely hot. The good thing is that among all the swordfish, rock fish, sea bass, tuna, shrimp, octopus, squid, clams and mussels, you will find the one and only fisherman (or his wife) who will become not only your permanent supplier but also the person who you will trust the utmost, at least when it comes to your Sunday lunch. When I found my fisher family I immediately knew my start-up cooking adventure is on the right track. Not only I got excellent fish, some discount and a few kind words but also an introduction to the secrets of the real Mediterranean cuisine. So what did I actually learn from them? Two authentic recipes that redefined the meaning of Sunday eat.
Mediterranean Stuffed Fish
This is far the best recipe I’ve ever come across. You can use nearly any kind of fish that is good to bake and the filling can be totally adjusted to your taste. Here’s how I make it.
Whole fish (if you get sea bass that’s the best) – 1 per person
Garlic, chopped – to taste (I use 3-4 cloves pp)
Ginger, chopped – to taste (I add a teaspoon pp)
Spring onion, finely cut – to taste (I cut one onion pp)
Olives, cut – to taste (I add 3 teaspoons pp)
Capers – to taste (I add 1-2 teaspoons pp)
Fresh lemon juice – to taste (I pour over 2 spoons pp)
Chili flakes – to taste
Salt – to taste
Pepper – to taste
Wash and clean the fish properly inside and outside. Rub-off leftover scale with coarse salt. Heat the oven to 180C. Cut a piece of aluminium foil for each fish, big enough to cover a whole fish. Pour some olive oil on the foil, then place each fish separately on them. Fill the fish with the garlic, ginger, spring onion, olives, capers, then sprinkle over the chili flakes, salt and pepper. Pour the lemon juice and olive oil on top. Wrap the fish into the foil, place them in an oven pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes – depends on the size of the fish – until it is soft. Serve with rice or boiled potato.
Tip: take a whole tomato, wash it and place it on a piece of aluminium foil. Make two intersecting cuts on top of the tomato. Pour olive oil, then sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper into the hole. Wrap the tomato to the foil and bake it along the fish. You get a delicious side dish when served with the fish and rice.
Spaghetti alle Vongole (Spaghetti with clams)
A light spaghetti meal with a characteristic taste. You can play with the amount of garlic and anchovies to set the flavors to your taste.
Ingredients (for 4 people):
500 g spaghetti
800 g clams
1 small onion
5-10 cloves of garlic pressed (to taste)
Chili flakes – to taste
A bunch of parsley, chopped
200 ml white wine
200 g anchovies, pressed with fork
200 ml water from pasta pot
If you use fresh clams, put them in a bowl of fresh water and wait until the sand is released. Then change the water and wait 5-10 minutes again until the rest of the sand comes out of the clams. Discard water.
Fill a large pot three-quarters with water and bring it to boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. While pasta is cooking heat the olive oil in a pan, then add the onion. When onion starts to get translucent, add the garlic and chili flakes and fry for about one minute. Add the pressed anchovies and stir. Add the clams and toss, then pour the white wine and cook until the clams are all open (remove and discard the clams that did not open). Add the pasta cooking water, half of the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Drain the spaghetti when ready and mix it with the vongole sauce. Serve with fresh parsley sprinkled on top.
There are lots of good recipes out there, but for the best ones don’t forget to check your local market.
Off the beaten track around the Maltese islands: