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—warm, dry, and sunny and, for snowbirds like us, no snow.
Malta has many wonderful places to visit. In fact, the island nation has three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. Several other interesting sites are on UNESCO’s Tentative List awaiting inclusion. That’s pretty Impressive for an island that is only 17 miles by 9 miles.
John and I loved visiting the many sites in Valletta, the capital city, including St. John’s Cathedral with its golden carved pillars and fabulous painted vaulted ceiling. The Cathedral’s Oratory boasts Caravaggio’s painting, “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.” It’s the only one the famous painter 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 had no idea that Malta was one of 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, the island’s pan seared octopus.
Chef Borg told us that Maltese cooking is simple, colorful, and tasty. He explained Since many countries have invaded Malta over the years, the chef explained, many recipes are a mix of Italian and Arabic cuisine.
Qarnit Mogli is usually served as a starter, but we found it was plenty for a lunch. Husband John, a seafood lover, declared it excellent. While I am not fond of seafood, I, of course, had to try it. And I was pleasantly surprised to find the flavor was wonderful. However, the octopus proved a little too chewy for my liking, but you may really love it—just like John. — By Sandra Scott, RFT Contributor
Pan seared octopus (Qarnit Moqli) Maltanize Style
2 whole medium-sized octopus
1 fresh chili
1tbsp black pepper corn
6 bay leaves
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small red onion, diced
1 oz fresh mint
1 oz fresh basil
10 cherry tomatoes, cut in halves)
1 tbsp sundried tomatoes (diced)
½ cup white wine
1tbsp pitted black olives, roughly chopped
Freshly ground pepper as desired
Extra virgin olive oil as needed
Crusty white loaf (Hobz tal-malthi) or bread bowls
Boil the octopus together with half the chilies, half the lemon, black pepper corns, bay leaves and half of the garlic. Let it boil gently until the octopus is tender (approximately 40 minutes).
When the octopus is ready, separate the tentacles from the head and cut them in half. Cut the head into three thick slices (be careful about the sharp octopus beak as most of the times this is not removed before cooking).
In frying pan, add a dash of olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onions until they starts to become soft; then add the rest of the garlic, sundried tomatoes and the remaining chilies. Add the octopus and white wine. Cook over medium heat until the liquid 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 the octopus mixture. Serve with crusty white bread.