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In celebration of spring

Foodies in Malta are in for a gastronomic treat later this month, with the launch of the Mediterranean Culinary Academy’s pop-up dining concept, Pollen.

This first-in-a-series event will take place over three evenings on March 30 and 31 and April 1. It will present a dynamic spring menu crafted by chef Stephen La Rosa and the rest of the team that is very much in keeping with the MCA’s unique approach to food innovation and sustainability.

The pop-up will be held at Castello dei Baroni, Wardija, part of which will be transformed into an exclusive 40-guest dining room for the occasion.

As for service, the sophisticated yet informal approach being taken on the night will be managed by experienced outside catering company Delicia, which has partnered with the MCA for this event.

Chef Stephen, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and has since worked at Michelin-starred eateries Per Se in New York, Quince in San Francisco and Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London, recently returned to Malta to take on the role of chief culinary officer at the MCA.

The MCA, which will be launch-ed towards the end of 2017, will be the world’s first product-driven culinary academy dedicated to deve­loping Mediterranean cuisine while also leading the way with regard to sustainable agricultural practices.

“Our first pop-up menu will be a perfect reflection of the academy’s ethos,” explains Stephen. “The six-course selection – which will be announced soon – echoes the season and the wonderful ingredients that are available at this time of year. The huge majority of the produce has been sourced locally and will be presented in a truly modern manner that promises to give our diners a completely new experience.”

The MCA will be the world’s first product-driven culinary academy dedicated to developing Mediterranean cuisine while also leading the way with regard to sustainable agricultural practices

Beyond that, the team has also crafted a beverage pairing for each course, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinkers will be catered for. In fact, from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave, guests are guaranteed something entirely different.

“As the first event in the series, Pollen will underline the academy’s aim of promoting local and sustainable culinary heritage. The creation of this menu has taken us on an incredible journey to meet the wonderful community behind Maltese produce – from farmers and fishermen to beekeepers and winemakers.

“We have been so impressed by the quality of their products and by their dedication to the sustainable future of Maltese cuisine, and look forward to presenting an experience that will be the ultimate reflection of that,” Stephen adds.

Tickets to Pollen are available online.

www.mcamalta.com/pollen

Farro Risotto with Spring Vegetables and Pistachio

300g pearl farro
800g vegetable stock
75g pistachios
200g spring green vegetables
3 spring onions
1 white onion
Handful of mint and basil
Parmigiano Reggiano
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Lemon

Preheat an oven to 180°C and season pistachios with a few drops of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and roast for 10 to 15 minutes. Check on them every few minutes as nuts love to go from perfectly toasted to black in no time.

Dice your onion and slice your spring onions, add both to a medium sized saucepan with a generous lug of olive oil and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are softened and aromatic. To this add your farro and lightly toast for a minute or two until fragrant, add a few ladles of warm vegetable stock (chicken stock or water will do just as well) and increase the heat to high.  Once a boil is reached, cover with a lid and reduce to a light simmer and cover the pot. This should cook for 15-20 minutes.

While that is cooking blanch off your vegetables, we’re entering spring and things like peas, green beans, broad beans or asparagus would work perfectly here. A minute or two in salted boiling water should be enough, adjust cooking times towards your preference.

Once the stock has been absorbed by the farro, uncover and taste. You don’t want the farro to be too hard, but a pleasant chew is one of the qualities we want to preserve in the grain. If it is undercooked, keep adding small amounts of stock while simmering until the desired texture is reached.

To finish I like to add a fresh herbal component: chopped mint and basil would work fine or throw in a few generous spoonfuls of your favourite pesto.

Fold in half of your green vegetables and once you’ve spooned that onto the plate, top with the remainder of the vege­tables, the roasted pistachios, a few drops of lemon juice,  a generous lug of olive oil and a liberal grating of Parmigiano.

Roman Fried Artichokes

24 baby or 12 medium artichokes
3 lemons
1 teaspoon oregano (fresh or dry will do)
1 teaspoon finishing salt
2 litres vegetable oil/olive oil

Prepare a container large enough to hold your cleaned artichokes and fill halfway with water and the juice of two lemons. Begin by removing leaves from the base of the artichoke until the tender centre is revealed.

Trim off the tough outer layer (the green part) with a paring knife and cut the top half of each leaf. Cut off the stem where it becomes woody and trim around the darker green portion of that. If using baby artichokes, you should see something resembling a closed rose. On larger sized ones, there will be the not-so-delicious choke left inside but we’ll remove that after our first stage of frying.

Using olive oil is traditional and imparts a lot of flavour, while vege­table oil will allow the flavour of the artichoke to shine through. Heat two litres of your chosen oil to 140°C inside a large pot or fryer. Fry at this tempera­ture for eight to 12 minutes depending on the size of your artichoke, until the centres are fork tender. Remove onto a cooling rack lined with paper towel and once cool enough to handle tease open the leaves of the artichoke to replicate the open petals of a flower. If using larger artichokes, take a spoon and remove the choke from the centre.

When ready to serve, bring the temperature of the oil up to 180°C and cook for one to three minutes, until browned and crispy. A light squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of finishing salt is more than enough to highlight the artichoke’s flavour. (in this case, we add the zest of one lemon and some chopped oregano to our salt).

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