Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pan seared octopus Maltese style

Malta is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  The Malta archipelago
of islands is located in the Mediterranean south of Sicily which means it is blessed with a Mediterranean climate - think no snow.  There are many wonderful places to visit; in fact, Malta has three UNESCO World Heritage sites including the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.  Several other sites are on the UNESCO Tentative List awaiting inclusion. Impressive for an island that is 17 miles by 9 miles.  

We toured many places in Valletta, the capital city, including St. John’s Co-Cathedral with golden carved pillars and fabulous paintings on the vaulted ceiling. In the Oratory is Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” painting; the only one he signed. I was especially impressed with Casa Rocca Piccola, a unique 1850 house/museum where the friendly owners are still in residence. They have an extensive bomb shelter where the family sought safety during WW II.  I didn’t know that Malta was the most bombed place during WW II.  

One day we scheduled a ‘hotel day’  -  reading around the pool,
enjoying the spa and learning how to make a traditional Maltese recipe. Ramla’s Executive Head Chef Christian Borg showed us how to make Qarnit Moqli. Chef Borg said Maltese cooking is simple, colorful, and tasty.   He explained further that many countries invaded Malta over
the years so many recipes are a mix of Italian and Arabic cuisine.  Qarnit Mogli is usually served as a starter but we found it was enough for a lunch.  John, the seafood –lover, declared it excellent.  I am not a lover of seafood but of course I tried it.  The flavor was wonderful. I knew it would be from the aroma when it was cooking; however, I found the octopus a little too chewy to my liking. 

Qarnit Moqli

2 whole medium-sized octopuses
1 medium fresh chili, diced (depends on how hot you want it)
1 lemon
1tbsp black pepper corns
6 bay leaves
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small red onion, diced
2 – 4 springs of fresh mint 
2 – 4 springs of fresh basil 
10 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, diced
½ cup white wine
1tbsp capers 
1tbsp pitted black olives, roughly chopped
Freshly ground pepper as desired
Extra virgin olive oil as desired 
Crusty white loaf (Hobz tal-malthi) or bread bowls

Boil the octopus together with half the chili, half the lemon, black pepper corns, bay leaves, and half of the garlic. Let it boil gently until the octopus is nice and tender (approximately 40 minutes). When the octopus is ready separate the tentacles from the head and cut them in half. Remove the beak. Cut the head into three thick slices. In a frying pan add a dash of olive oil when warm  add the onions until it starts to become soft then add the with rest of the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and the rest of the chilies.  Add the octopus and white wine. Cook over medium heat until it is reduced by half. Add the capers (rinse these before adding to the pan) and the olives and let them cook slowly for about 5 minutes.  Finish with a squeeze of lemon, freshly ground black pepper, and more olive oil. Scoop out center of bread bowl and fill with octopus mixture. Garnish and serve. 

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