Tuesday, January 27, 2009

80 Plates: Malta: A Tale of Four Onions

Well, as you all know, we were supposed to cook Maltese last weekend. Sadly, we didn't get around to it. Sadder still, the meat I bought for the experiment went bad. Nothing smells worse than bad pork, I can assure you. It was gag inducing. So off I went to get more pork and beef and prepare two different Maltese dishes: timpana and bragoli.

As you know from reading my reports on these different cuisines, TIMING has been my big issue. Malta was no different. However, Malta was so off the charts that I am now going to make it a point that I read through the entire thing from start to finish before cooking. It's just insanity. Plus, whichever Maltese people wrote the recipe for timpana should be boiled in a vat of macaroni for not putting everything in the ingredient list! NAUGHTY MALTESE!

Ok, so timpana is basically a macaroni dish that is baked in puff pastry. Since I figured I would need some time to a) boil the macaroni and b) bake it, I started with it first. The ingredient list did say that chicken livers were optional, and taking a poll, it was determined that we would opt out of the chicken liver portion of the recipe. Everything else we stayed true to. The remainder of the ingredient list calls for macaroni, mixed ground beef and pork, puff pastry, onions, garlic, tomato paste, parmesan cheese, ricotta, eggs, and salt and pepper.

Ok, so first we browned up the onions and garlic in margarine. Wait, margarine?! Didn't see margarine on the ingredient list? Neither did we. Fortunately, we had some. Crisis averted. While that was going, I mixed up the pork and beef--often I can find a meatloaf mix of different ground meats in my local grocery store, but this week I shopped at SuperTarget, and they weren't so obliging, so I wasn't able to locate the mix. It was OK, however, because the bragoli called for a half pound of ground beef, so I only had a leftover half pound of ground pork, which I froze. Doubtless we will use it one of these times.

The next set of directions called for browning the ground meat in with the onion and garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste, stirring well, and cooking for 15 minutes. Ok, great, no problem at all. So I put that aside and let it cook on its merry way and turned my attention to continuing to chop up onions. Although there were only 4 large onions in both dishes combined, it seemed like A LOT of onions. And these onions were the fairly strong kind, so I was a little weepy while I was cutting them.

So, the fifteen minutes elapses, and I read the next set of directions: Add tomato paste and 1 cup of beef stock and simmer for an hour.

Panic set in. First of all, "WHAT BEEF STOCK!?!?!?!?" Beef stock is not something I keep in the house, honestly. Occasionally I have other stocks on hand, but beef stock? No.

Secondly, simmer for an HOUR!?!?!?!?!?!!? Ok, it was already 5pm. And I had already read the baking directions, so I could put on the oven, and I knew that this bad boy had to bake for NINETY MINUTES and then sit out for THIRTY MINUTES. Tacking on this additional and unexpected hour, that led me to a total of THREE HOURS of cooking time. I started to hyperventilate just a little bit. Why? Because A Very Duggar Wedding was coming on at 9pm.

Yes, I know, I know, but I am totally obsessed with the Duggars. It's probably got something to do with not being able to have children of our own and being endlessly fascinated that one man and one woman have managed to not only create 18 children, but to raise them to be polite, well-dressed, nicely mannered, musically gifted, and not all hate each other. Freakishly so, yes. But the fact that Michelle and Jim Bob were again expecting while their oldest son was getting married to a young woman and the two of them had never even kissed--well, you can bet your butt I wasn't about to miss that. Not for all the malt in Malta.

Ok, so I scrambled through the cupboards and came up with a box of chicken stock. It was going to have to do. I poured it over the beef, added the tomato paste, and set it to simmering. Then I got to thinking. Probably the only reason why I'm supposed to simmer it that long is to a) make the meat tender and b) simmer the liquid down to a saucier consistency. And if that's the case, well, couldn't I just jack up the heat a bit and make it all happen a little faster? So I took a chance and let that happen.

While that was simmering, I lined a pan with the first sheet of puff pastry. I used a 13x9 pan, although the directions didn't give a measurement for what kind of pan I should use. I did have to stretch out the puff pastry a good bit, but it worked out fine. After I had simmered everything for about 30 minutes, I poured the beef mixture into the macaroni, and added a mixture of ricotta, parmesan, and eggs. Then I poured the whole thing on top of the puff pastry, covered it with another layer of pastry, and shoved it in the oven.

Ok, it was time to turn our attention to the bragoli, which are little rolls of beef stuffed and cooked in a vegetable and wine sauce. Ok, again, if there is anything else about which I am as ignorant as I am about wine, it is about cuts of beef. Fortunately most recipes tell you what cut to get, but if the store in question doesn't have that particular cut, I don't know what to get as an alternate. This was the situation I found myself in when purchasing supplies for bragoli. The recipe directed me to purchase a rump roast. When I got to the Super Target, nothing was labeled 'rump roast' on the shelves. There was a little chart that explained what each cut was good for, but the little chart didn't even label rump roast. I took a look at the various cuts of meat there. Weight Watchers counsels that you should pick something with very little fat. So I found the least fatty looking thing and bought it. I think it was some kind of a chuck roast, but I really don't know.

So I sliced it up and let my sister have the honor of pounding it out. She was having a little bit of a bad day as Baby Dottie was screaming for no good reason a good part of the time. Judy may have overdone it, however, on account of the handle nearly broke off my pot, and when she switched to a can of soup, it got all dented. I'm thinking I need a meat mallet. (Yes, I know this picture is dark, and in fact, nearly all of them were, unfortunately! The lighting in my kitchen sucks, but using the flash makes everything super bright. I'm going to have to see if someone messed with the settings on my camera.)

While she was pounding away, I was preparing the stuffing. I had already boiled and peeled two eggs. It was at this point when I discovered that we had eaten the required bacon for breakfast and that I was out of carrots. Because it was getting late and they needed gas, Judy volunteered to go to the store and pick up the stuff we were short. This would also save us some time on the other end of getting ready to head out before the Duggars came on so we could watch it up at their place. Meanwhile, I grated the one carrot I did have, chopped up the egg, and prepped the vegetables for the sauce. Among the most frustrating directions was that I needed four tomatoes, PEELED. Have you any idea how frustrating it is to peel a tomato? I know, there is a way to do it with a quick boil and then an ice water bath, but the directions called for this tomato to be raw, and I didn't really want to cook them if I didn't have to. So I didn't. And I also didn't peel them. I figured the skins would fall of later of their own accord. I chopped up more onions and garlic, and when Judy returned, she chopped up the bacon and I chopped up some more carrots.

It was time to assemble the stuffing. We combined ground beef, bacon, hard boiled eggs, parsley, bread crumbs, a carrot, and salt and pepper. We did have a debate over whether or not the bacon should be cooked before it was put in the stuffing and Judy advocated bacon bits. But I was of the opinion that the bacon would cook when it was all put together, so we left it raw. The next directions called for us to put about 2 tablespoons of stuffing onto each slice of meat, roll, and secure with toothpicks.

No problem there. There was a LOT of stuffing left, however, so I did decide to put a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and rolled the remaining stuffing into little meatballs. I baked them in the still-hot oven.

Ok, then we had to cook more garlic and onions in "enough water to cover the onions". Onions have a nasty habit of floating in water. I pushed a piece of onion down and poured in water until it was covered. We were then supposed to add the beef rolls and brown them. Well, browning appeared pretty much out of the question. It was more or less a matter of boiling--and honestly I hadn't put in that much water. But it was definitely too much, I would come to find out.

After the beef appeared 'pretty cooked', I took it out and then added in everything else--the carrots, tomato paste, potatoes, bay leaves, worcestershire sauce, and red wine. I decided to let it cook down and jacked up the heat on the electric frying pan, as I was already pretty darned suspicious of what might be going on with this "sauce".

Ok, well by now we were at darned near 7pm. Our cut off departure time was 8pm. I let everything cook for a while and I raced upstairs to take a fast shower, throw some clothes in a bag, and then back down to the kitchen to pack the General's lunch. I put the beef back in the pot of vegetables and pulled the timpani out of the oven. If I'm being honest, I started to get extremely concerned. The 'broth' that the beef was cooking in was smelling rather unappetizing. It didn't look bad, per se, it just didn't look like much--a bunch of vegetables and beef floating in somewhat murky water. The timpani, on the other hand, looked fabulous. The pastry had browned up beautifully. I pulled the beef from its bath and half-heartedly sprinkled some of the veggies over top of it. Then I called the troops to dinner.

Everyone admitted to a serious case of the nerves where that beef was concerned. We all took a bite at once and were all immediately proven wrong. Despite the spectacular failure of the 'sauce', the beef was absolutely fabulous. The flavor of the bacon had cooked through the stuffing, and all the other flavors combined to create a really marvelous dish. I did ultimately elect to heat up some jarred tomato sauce and put that on my beef, and Judy said that she would have liked to have had some horseradish on hers, but as a stand alone dish, it was really, really great.

And I don't know what I can say about the timpani. It was also really delicious. The crust was flaky and wonderful, as puff pastry is, but the macaroni part had really packed together and created a dense and wonderful filling. The cheese and eggs bound all the beef and noodles and veggies together, and the General even tried it and liked it. Not enough to eat a helping himself, but considering that he doesn't like pasta very much, the fact that he liked it at all was a great sign in its favor.

For dessert, I had found a ChocoDessert on clearance at Super Target. It is direct off the boat from Italy, and while I was aware that Malta and Italy are two separate countries, I thought that perhaps geographically they were close enough that the dessert might make a nice ending to the meal.

The first thing we all thought when we bit into it was "BOOZE!" It definitely had some sort of liquor in it. I'm not hot on alcohol and on the flavor it imparts in sweets, so I didn't eat very much of it, but everyone else gobbled it right up and loved it.

We finished dinner, quickly loaded up the dishwasher, rinsed off what was left, and hauled butt out to Alexandria. We made it with 6 minutes to spare on the Duggar wedding special, and it was everything I hoped it would be.

I know I keep saying over and over again how great the dishes are that we've had from each country. I don't know if it's the fact that we are trying lots of different flavors and recipes or if it's the experiment itself, but the taste buds are coming alive with each country.

On the completion of Malta, we have done 6 countries in January and my calculations tell me I need to do 6 or 7 per month, so that's pretty good. I am enjoying the heck out of this. I've also gotten Lesley to promise to teach me some tricks from Canada when they come to visit, my brother is sending me some typical Ecuadorian recipes, and a co-worker from China has offered to teach me a few tricks. I am also looking ahead to February. I'm going to hit England and make beef wellington, Cuba and prepare Cuban sandwiches (I saw Tyler Florence prepare them yesterday on the Food Network and even though I'm not a big fan of mustard and pickles, I can't wait to go for it!), and something Swiss during Fasnacht in February. Any other special requests?

Thanks goes out to Amy for suggesting Malta! We were eating really, really well with our Maltese feast!

1 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Seraphim9 said...

Yay! Gooooo Malta!

Oh, and the Duggers rock. I didn't watch the show but I DVR'd it to watch when I have a moment.

Oh, that Maltese food sounds sooooo good. We'll have to find something equally good for Swiss food! :-)