Dinning with a view

Sep 2, 2009

One of the great things about our trip to Malta was our apartment.  Located in Valletta on Old Theatre Lane, it had a great view of the Marsamxett harbour and a well equipped kitchen.  So we were able to save money while having romantic dinners, relaxing and enjoying the views that were offered to us.

Mel loves pasta, and I was happy to oblige. Here, I made Spaghetti with a very simple tomato-basil sauce. On the side, bread with a cheddar gratin. To accompany our meal, we had a bottle of Corvo Vendemmia 2006, a very nice wine from Sicily, smooth and light in tanin.

In the background, Manoel Island and its Fort, which was built in the XVIII century and was a strong defensive position all the way to World War II, when anti-aircraft guns were deployed in and around the fort.

Another Spaghetti dish, this time I decided to be more creative. I first roasted some garlic in olive oil, then added some lardon. When everything was nicely golden, I tossed in some oregano and bits of Ġbejniet. Ġbejniet is a cheese, originating from Gozo. When you buy it, it looks like a ball of Mozzarella. Made from sheep milk, but originally from goat milk, it has a smooth texture and a subtle, creamy flavour. I was hoping it would melt a little like Mozzarella, but it remained much firmer. A bottle of Medina Sangiovese was the wine du jour. Very soft tannins, but a little acidic. It did worked with the dish, however.

Malta is a very Catholic country, and they take their Saints very seriously. Our stay began a few days before the Feast of St. Julian. So every night in the leadup to the feast, there were fireworks, from two, sometimes three different locations. Every night. And on the Saturday before the feast, the spectacle lasted for well over two hours.

For this meal, even though I decided to stick with pasta, I mixed it up a bit, going for penne this time.  The sauce is a tomato-chili base, with garlic and oregano.  I topped the dish with lardons and fresh green peppers.  Vegetables were easy to find in Valletta, and all kinds of little outlets were offering them in fairly wide varieties.

We enjoyed our penne with a bottle of Cape Quarter, a Shiraz Pinotage from South Africa, as the sun was setting on the islands and numerous boats were coming back to  the harbour. I had never had a South African wine before, and this one was quite pleasant, lots of dark berry flavours including blackcurrant.

Right in front of the Grand Master’s Palace is Valletta’s covered market, the Is-Suq, which has various stands and stalls where you will find fresh vegetables, fish, groceries, meat, herbs and spices.  It is quite busy in the morning, as is the rest of merchant street.  However, the longer you wait, the less merchants there are .  We wandered there a few times, especially when we were craving meat. We got two huge steaks – the Suq’s butcher basically had half a cow on the counter, and asked us how thick.

I cooked the meat in olive oil, adding just a few spices as I wanted to maximize the pure meat flavour.  Then, I reserved it, and caramalized some shallots and garlic in the jus. When that was done, I deglazed with some red wine.  The meat was not the most tender I have ever eaten, but the meat was oh! so fresh.  Obviously, they had not aged it 30 days here, and the taste was very powerful.  On the side, we have yellow courgettes, baked with fresh tomatoes, herbs, and finished with a blend of fresh cheese.

The view at night was spectacular.  The lights from the more modern buildings and hotels from Sliema were reflecting on the water, making our dinner even more enjoyable.  The wine, a Bacchus Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, was bold enough to go well with our meat, but again, this Maltese Winery can only improve with time.

One could think we would have gotten tired of pasta, but the atmosphere just was right for more and more.  With cheese bread on the side, it was simple enough not to take too much time, but I could find a twist everyday to make every meal very different.   This time, I picked three fresh maltese sausages.  Maltese sausage are made from minced pork, mixed with spices and herbs. They are air cured and are often served and eaten raw. Melissa was unpleasantly surprised when she was served some with a platter of Maltese Antipasto at Giannni – but I personally didn’t mind it, though the texture is somewhat strange. So I fried them slowly, sliced them, and served them with penne and a spicy tomato sauce.  Fried like that, they were quite tasty, but gone was the mushy raw meat texture.  And Mel was happy, so much so that she didn’t realize they were the same.  In fact she stated that this was the best pasta meal I made in Malta, and thankfully I made them before our escapade to Sicily.

We had a bottle of Rosso di Puglia with this meal, a solid, full bodied Italian wine. We finished it under one of the most spectacular sunsets yet, where pink and red colours were brought out by the clouds, which were present more than normal. Just spectacular.

We usually had lunch away from home, but from time to time we would have a light lunch at the appartment. Or sometimes, we would come back early from an afternoon of touristing, and we would put together a nice snack platter.  Cured meats and cheese are easily available in Malta, lots of varieties, some local made, some imported, but everything very fresh.  Add to that a fresh bunch of grapes, a cool bottle of white wine, (and, quite frankly, very cool AC!!) and there you have it! A Maltese snack at its best. We would eat slowly, enjoying the different flavours, the spices, the aromas, the textures, while looking at the ferry go back and forth in the harbour…


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