I was half-involved in the conversation. It was my first time at my grandmother-in-law’s house, at one of her fortnightly family dinners, and I was only partially listening to what was happening at my end of the table.
I thought I was hearing things. Maybe I was missing home, or could it have been the wine she kept encouraging? Either way, I swore I was hearing Arabic. Small bits of Arabic, interspersed between other semi-recognizable tones.
She must have known – by that point I’m sure my eavesdropping was too obvious not to notice – because halfway through my next bite, Mum came over and said, “you must recognize some of these words!” It was Maltese they were speaking, which if you have never heard it, sounds like a lovely mixture of Italian and, yes, Arabic. I was not going crazy. At least not that day.
A tiny Mediterranean island, Malta is located just south of Sicily. Due West is Tunisia. The Arabs occupied Malta for 220 years between 800-1000AD, imparting upon them plenty of citrus fruits and, apparently, language.
Though these pastizzi represent far more of Malta’s Italian than Arab side, they are too irresistible not to share. A common street snack on the island, they are puffy little pastries filled either with mild ricotta cheese or lightly curried peas. I’ve made mine a bit smaller than the traditional size… really as an excuse to have more than one.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Thaw puff pastry (or, thaw before starting, depending on your preferred brand’s instructions). Cut 3″ circles using an overturned glass or biscuit cutter.
Fill each circle with a small teaspoon of the pea mixture. Fold one side of the circle into the middle, then the other, folding over at the top to seal (see photos above). Then, pinch each end to seal, and if desired, twist once. Don’t worry too much about how they look when the pastry is still raw. The puffiness will hide any imperfections.
Place the pastizzi on a lined baking sheet, and bake 20 minutes until the dough is puffed and golden. Cool on a wire rack and serve immediately. Or, reheat later in a 180C / 350F oven for 5 minutes until re-crisped.
Audio pairing: Alpine, “Seeing Red”