The art of Mal­tese food

HE­LEN CARU­ANA GALIZIA talks to Marie Benoît about the lat­est edi­tion of The Food and Cook­ery of Malta and Gozo; food sovereignity; the Mal­tese ħobża; bees and re­lated sub­jects

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

First tell us some­thing about you.

A priv­i­leged ide­al­ist and an eth­nic mis­fit in both coun­tries.

In your lat­est edi­tion of ‘The Food and Cook­ery of Malta and Gozo’ which has just been pub­lished by Mid­sea Books, apart from recipes you also give us some in­ter­est­ing chap­ters, two of them about some of your pas­sions such as the prob­lems which have de­vel­oped world­wide with bee­keep­ing and honey, and over­fish­ing for Bluefin Tuna. There are so many po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, med­i­cal, en­vi­ron­men­tal, cul­tural, even eth­i­cal facets to what we eat. In your view is there any hope that th­ese prob­lems will be soon solved?

They won’t be solved as long as the global cor­po­ra­tions in­crease their stran­gle­hold on food pro­duc­tion (see the chap­ter on Food Sovereignty). Over­fish­ing of the bluefin tuna can and should be stopped but the threat from bee de­cline is re­ally se­ri­ous. As for eth­i­cal is­sues the chap­ter on Vege­tar­i­an­ism looks at some of th­ese. In or­der to save agri­cul­tural land non-veg­e­tar­i­ans can learn to cut down their weekly con­sump­tion of meat. An acre of ce­real pro­duces five times more pro­tein than an acre de­voted to meat pro­duc­tion.

You are a strong ad­vo­cate of the Mediter­ranean diet. Since your home is now in Eng­land do you find it easy to fol­low this diet?

I have no dif­fi­culty in fol­low­ing the Mediter­ranean diet here in Lon­don, a multi-cul­tural city. We have Ital­ian, Turk­ish and Mid­dle East­ern shops and be­tween th­ese three I can get al­most any­thing – in­clud­ing wild thyme honey, ġulebb tal-ħar­rub, qara bagħli and ġdur and much more.

From what you have writ­ten you are a fam­ily of ‘food­ies’. Has this pas­sion for food been passed on to your chil­dren?

Yes, my chil­dren are, if not ac­tual “food­ies”, in­ter­ested in good cook­ing and learn­ing all the time. At least one of them has started to make bread.

What were your great­est chal­lenges in writ­ing this edi­tion of your book... and the great­est joys?

The chal­lenges came from having to use mostly sec­ondary sources and in fit­ting time for re­search into a very ac­tive life. As the acknowledgements chap­ter shows I pay trib­ute to my sis­ter Anne as she and I worked on the first three edi­tions to­gether. The joy came when the book was fi­nally pub­lished after so many years and learn­ing that it has been wel­comed.

I see that you have a recipe ‘A Small Sweet for a Great Tenor’ which you have ded­i­cated to our Joseph Calleja whom you have re­cently heard per­form­ing in Norma at The Royal Opera House, Covent Gar­den. Does he know about this recipe?

Yes, he wrote to say how much he liked re­ceiv­ing the book on the first night of “Norma”(12 Septem­ber 2016) and that it made it even bet­ter to have that recipe named after him.

Do you have any par­tic­u­lar favourite recipes from this col­lec­tion?

I think ‘Aljotta’ (es­pe­cially when real Mediter­ranean mar­jo­ram is used ( not oregano which is too strong) and Ross fil-Forn with plenty of saf­fron to cel­e­brate the Phoeni­cians and the Knights.

Do you have a food prej­u­dice? Some­thing you would never eat.

I can’t get to like caviar which is just as well in view of its cost. Other than that I eat ev­ery­thing and when my chil­dren were lit­tle I gave them the op­tion to “not like” two things. Ev­ery­thing else they learned to eat and en­joy ex­cept that one has be­come veg­e­tar­ian which is very laud­able.

You’re trapped on an is­land with an abun­dance of nat­u­ral foods and can re­quest a crate full of one condi­ment. What would it be?

Saf­fron again, as­sum­ing other herbs and spices would also be avail­able.

How long did it take you to com­plete this edi­tion?

Years and years; find­ing time for re­search, check­ing, adding and cor­rect­ing. One could go on for­ever es­pe­cially on de­vel­op­ments re­lated to the last three chap­ters.

What do you hope read­ers will take away from your book?

En­joy­ment in cook­ing and a re­spect for food and for those who pro­duce it by which I mean small scale pro­duc­ers. A com­mit­ment not to waste food and al­ways to choose fruit and veg­eta­bles in sea­son. “Shar­ing meals with fam­ily and friends is one of the joys of all so­ci­eties and good cook­ing is cen­tral to it.” For women and men who work out­side the home (as well as in it) I would say that pre­par­ing good meals is still pos­si­ble and prefer­able to con­ve­nience foods, if we or­ga­nize our­selves in ad­vance; of­ten one can cook two meals at once so you have some­thing ready for the next day. I would en­cour­age bread-mak­ing; you won’t put your lo­cal forn out of busi­ness if you just bake the oc­ca­sional loaf. Never cut out bread – just eat it in mod­er­a­tion; much bet­ter than silly pack­aged ce­re­als for break­fast, since you pay more for the pack­ag­ing, the pic­tures, the words etc than the ac­tual food in­side.

In our con­ver­sa­tions (and in­deed in your book) you have lamented the fast dis­ap­pear­ance of the “real” Mal­tese Hobza and at the end of your recipe of prin­jo­lata you have re-

A ru­ral scene in Gozo

Olive oil is very much part of the Mediter­ranean diet

Bread­mak­ing in the tra­di­tional Mal­tese way

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