Fit for a Masterchef challenge

IMG_0070
Tuna tartare prepared for a previous dinner. Lighting conditions were impossible for photos of yesterday’s dinner.

The guests are about to arrive in 40 minutes, you are around 30 minutes into your food preparations but given the choice of menu you have to cook everything at the last minute. Your kitchen equipment all runs on electricity. And suddenly there is a power-cut and you don’t know when it will be restored again.

This would be a challenge fit for an episode of Masterchef or the French version Top Chef where the chefs are given countless challenges to try and cook their way out of a tricky situation.

Yesterday evening Malta suffered a nationwide power cut and the challenge to continue with my plans was probably fit for a future episode of Top Chef.

The cause of the power-cut was a fault in a  generating unit in the power station followed by an explosion at a distribution centre resulted in the whole of the island being without electricity for several hours.

The temperature is still high, above 30C, and the small gas lamp is emitting heat making the conditions in the kitchen pretty tough. But amid these adverse conditions there is hope. The first part of the meal does not require any cooking. The choice is now either to fire up the gas barbecue or else a gas hob which is picking up dust in the garage and has not been used for many years.

Given a pasta dish is involved we opt for using the gas hob and not the barbecue to continue. But the oven remains in the garage and we need to quickly create a make shift kitchen. Out comes an old table which will serve as the main base from were to cook once it becomes necessary.

A gas cylinder is now connected to the gas hob and oven but the focaccia we have prepared to serve with the fish starters cannot be placed in this oven because it is too small. We decide to bake it after the dinner instead.

In the meantime, the wine bottles are open and we start with raw fresh prawns and a tuna tartare. This is the prelude to a roller coaster ride of an evening. From now onwards it is running to and fro from the garden just outside the kitchen to the garage on a lower floor. I forget countless ingredients or pots and pans and have to run back to the kitchen every so often.

The grilled calamari and the clams cooked in garlic and wine will cook pretty much at the same time. Once everything is sorted out, the cooking starts and within minutes we are enjoying the second part of the starter.

The water is now boiling ready for me to throw in the linguine. Luckily the main course is not complicated by any stretch of imagination. Still, it required a few runs back to the kitchen to get one thing or another. First I forgot the pan I was going to cook the sauce in, then I needed a solution to drain the pasta while making sure it remained al dente.

The main course would require just 10 minutes to prepare. While the pasta cooked, I prepared the sauce for the linguine with bottarga di muggine (mullet roe). First I fried the garlic in extra virgin olive oil, drizzled some white wine and added cherry tomatoes. As soon as the pasta was cooked (more al dente then usual), I ran to the kitchen with the large pot to drain the water and then back to the makeshift garage kitchen where after adding the bottarga to the sauce, we added in the pasta, stirred a bit before finishing off with some rocket and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Power cuts and water cuts are a very sore point in Malta and subject to great political controversies and discussions both because of their recurrence since the 1980s despite millions in investments to sort out the problem.  Since I no longer live here, it seems like it happens less often though in the news it was reported that the last nationwide power cut occurred in January.

When it happens, however, it allows for countless discussions and arguments but also points of reflection worth pondering about.

There are the lessons one takes:

  1. Be prepared.
  2. In whatever situation you find yourself in, you need to always have a plan B. Its not about being paranoid but about ensuring resilience.
  3. Turn adversity into positivity.
  4. Enjoy the moment.

 

What I enjoyed reading this week (6)

Here is a list of interesting articles I have come across this week. Enjoy your Sunday with these nice reads.

You will find a great article about wine fraud and counterfeiting from wine searcher here which is food for thought especially for the risk it involves of buying expensive wines. For those in the know, drinking wines from Fleurie or Morgon may no longer be considered as inferior pleasures.

Have you ever wondered in awe about wine sommeliers and their incredible depth of knowledge about wines. Here you will find what it takes to become a master sommelier.

Chablis is a fantastic wine region and wine that is excellent with seafood. Here you will find a great lesson about Chablis.

Fast food has a very bad reputation for health. However, eating in restaurants might not be any better according to a study.

If you are heading to Amsterdam any time soon here is a list of 10 pop-up restaurants or food hotspots you can find in this Dutch city.

In Valletta head to Cafe Cordina for the perfect coffee

IMG_5149It is a cliche that has been written about many times but one which has stood the test of time. Valletta is a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen. It is Malta’s capital city with a population of just under 7,000.

Known in Malta as il-Belt (the City in English), it is essentially a Baroque city build in the 16th century built just after the Great Siege of Malta when the country was under the rule of the Order of St John. I will give you an insiders guide to Valletta in the coming days.

But in the meantime, I will share one cafe which you should not miss when you are in Malta. Practically, every visit by locals to Valletta has to include a stop in one of the many cafes which can be found in this architecturally stunning city.

There is however one cafe, which stands above the rest because of its stunning location, tradition and quality and because it has the only coffee counter on the island. This is Cafe Cordina. A walk down Valletta’s main street, Republic Street leads you to this popular cafe which serves probably the best coffee on the island. After you pass the Law Courts, walk another 100 metres. To your right you will see the National Library and in front of you is the President’s Palace and St George’s square.

Walking into Republic Street you will find Cafe Cordina just before you reach the palace. It is to your left opposite another landmark, the national library. If you are heading to Valletta early in the morning to avoid the crowds, then you can just order an espresso or a cappuccino and stand by the coffee counter (just like in the main cafes in Italy) and watch as the city slowly wakes up and locals enter for a quick coffee before they head to work.

coffee baristaCoffees are being prepared constantly and there is a lot of hustle and bustle but this is all part of the fun of the experience. The barista will probably make you the best coffee south of Italy.

The cafe has been open on its site since 1944 and since then has grown to comprise tea rooms, a pasticceria, a coffee bar and an ice-cream parlour.

Pastizzi at Cafe Cordina
Pastizzi at Cafe Cordina

If you have skipped breakfast, or you have decided to stop here after some sight-seeing you can do like the locals and order ‘pastizzi’. These are pastries stuffed with either ricotta or peas. The ones at Cordina are not the same as the ones you find in the many shops selling pastizzi around the island. Nevertheless, they are excellent.

People watching at Cafe Cordina is also part of what is on offer. The Cafe has a beautiful terrace in the square in front of the national library. If you stay at the back, you have a view of the National Library. At the front end, you will have a view of the Casino Maltese in front of you (built by the Knights of St John) as the Treasury and on your right the President’s palace also built by the Knights.

Malta's Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace in Valletta. Next door to Cafe Cordina.

What I enjoyed reading this week (5)

We are against war and tourist menu

 

It has been a depressing week in the news. The above photo which was shared by Gambero Rosso on their Facebook thread while being humorous pretty much sums up my feelings for the week.

Wherever you look in the media, whether it is the news on television, newspapers or even social media sites, you see photos of destruction. And you ask yourself why? Why is this happening? Why is there so much hatred?

Please stop to think about what is happening and what we could do to try and make a difference.

In any case, these are a few links to articles/video I enjoyed this week.

My readers by now know that I have a fascination with Massimo Bottura, who is considered as Italy’s most creative chef. Here you will find a fantastic interview about the creative process and evolution in his cooking. If you need some creative inspiration I recommend you watch it.

This is a beautiful piece of writing in its own way. In this article, Eric Asimov, one of my favourite wine writes looks at the wines of Irouléguy, in French Basque Country. It makes me want to go and visit. It also makes me want to look for the wines he suggests.

There is a lot of discussion about eating out solo in a restaurant. I must say that until a few years ago I would probably have thought twice about doing this even when travelling alone. Not any more. Read about the issue here.  why should you be deprived of a great dining experience just on the basis of the fact that you are alone. There could be 100 reasons for this and

Many of us still recall the horse meat scandal which rocked the food industry last year. Matters seem to be improving considerably but we are not out of the woods yet.

Barcelona is one of the top five cities I want to visit as soon as possible. Here you will read about some great places to try out if you are heading there.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

 

 

A warm welcome from Cornwall

I have great memories of a holiday in Cornwall on the South Western coast of England. More on that to come later this month. In the meantime a friend shared this. Hilarious.

Welcome to Cornwall

The Cinque Terre in Liguria

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre
The colourful Riomaggiore

Many people rave about the Cinque Terre that you may wonder whether you might end up being disappointed when you visit. Sometimes places just do not live up to their hype.

This is not the case with the five villages which make up the Cinque Terre. As the sun glistens on the sea, the waves break on the bow of the small ferry taking you from Monterosso al Mare to one of the other villages, you cannot help but stand in awe at the natural beauty of this place.

The sea is a beautiful dark blue, the cliffs are dark grey making them all the more dramatic and in the background you see beautiful greenery and vineyards and you wonder how this all came about.

It is difficult, if not outright impossible to list what the must see destinations are in Italy. If you do not live there, the only way to go about it is to return time and time again to different parts to savour it all in.

Many times, it all depends on what you would like to do and see. Whether its city trips, a mix of city and countryside or else spectacular scenery, there is a choice for pretty much everyone.

View from Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
The view from a bar in Riomaggiore

There is, however, something spectacular about the Cinque Terre which makes them one of the most well known destinations in Italy. The “Five Lands” which is the literal meaning of CInque Terre in Italian comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. When  you go there you will realise why it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Ligurian coast might not be as spectacular as the Costa Amalfitana but it gives it, in my view, a very good run for its money.

The Cinque Terre is a must visit in any case. With villages perched over cliff-tops, or accessible only by train, sea or on foot this is really a special pal e.

Both if you are at sea or looking towards the sea the views are nothing short of breath-taking. There are many ways to approach the Cinque Terre. Many people head there for a day trip from Tuscany or some of the main cities of Italy. This is a great pity because Liguria has so much to offer.

The first time we visited, the Cinque Terre had been hit by deadly floods which caused devastation and havoc in some of the villages, particularly Monterosso and Vernazza. The marks of the flood where still visible when we visited.

There are four ways to get to the Cinque Terre. The best option is probably by train. The train ride which goes from Genova to the Cinque Terre and keeps going to La Spezia is spectacular. In many places you will be literally within a stone throw away from the sea. The views are great.

If you are staying in any of the coastal villages or towns (check out my post on Sestri Levante) you will be able to catch the train to the Cinque Terre. In that case, I would recommend that you stop in Monterosso, visit this first village and then take a boat-ride to Riomaggiore which enables you to see the villages from the sea. This is clearly one of the highlights.

Another option would be to take a boat ride from Sestri Levante or Porto Venere at the other end of the Ligurian coast. There are also boats from the harbour of Genova and La Spezia. We are told that the views are amazing. Unfortunately, the two times we visited the boat rides were not operational because of the rough sea.

The third option, once you get there, is to walk from one village to another. The Cinque Terre are in fact famous for a walking trail called the Sentiero Azzurro which connects the five villages. Given that most of them involve climbing or going up stairs, we have unfortunately not walked the trail or parts of it yet given our children are still too young to walk the whole way.

The other option is to go there by car. But this is not recommended. First it is not easily accessible and you will only be able to reach a few of the villages. Parking is not cheap and easy to find particularly during peak season.

The villages have been built over the centuries by people who carefully built terraces on the rugged steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. One of the allures of these villages is the fact that they are not ruined by commercial interests and while paths, trains and boats connect the villages, most of them are not reachable by car.

The wines of the Cinque Terre are very special. You can see why from the photos because the terrain is very rough and the vineyards are on cliffs which go down to the sea and the wines produced therefore have exceptional minerality. The grapes are Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino. These grapes are used to make the Cinque Terre wine as well as the Sciacchetra which is a really special sweet wine. One recommendation if you are in the Cinque Terre is to try the Sciacchetra as an aperitivo. Sip it while enjoying great views. Life doesn’t get much better.

Vernazza
Vernazza with the vineyards in the background
Tiles of Riomaggiore
The tiles of Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre
View from Monterosso al Mare
Cinque Terre
View from the sea

Cinque TerreCinque Terre