In the springtime, another harvest of Malta’s legendary fresh produce becomes available, with some hitting their peak season throughout May and June.
Here’s some of this season’s Maltese-grown delicacies that you shouldn’t miss during your holiday.
Globe artichokes (Qaqoċċ)
Despite the name, ‘qaqoċċ’ bears no relation to the Jerusalem artichoke, and is instead the bud of one of the larger members of the thistle family. The spiny, prickly skin to these vegetables belie a soft, buttery, oh-so-tender heart when cooked. Taking advantage of this, the Maltese use globe artichokes in the popular local dish, ‘Qaqoċċ Mimli’, meaning ‘stuffed artichokes’. Filled with a variety of Maltese cuisine staples such as olives, capers, garlic, olive oil, breadcrumbs, parsley, anchovies, tuna, or sundried tomatoes, these tasty delicacies are practically a food group by themselves.
Broad beans (Ful)
A key member of the legume family, broad beans grow in most soils and climates, and are also known as fava beans. In Malta, however, the firm, crisp and chunky pods can be easily opened to reveal a sweet, bright green bean that’s as tasty eaten raw as a snack as it is when cooked into a dish. With a brief peak season, the locals feature it abundantly as a key ingredient in many dishes including ‘kusksu’ (traditional broad bean soup) and ‘qassatat’ (ricotta pies), as well as in Malta’s favourite sandwich, the ‘hobz biz-zejt’ (bread and oil).
Local asparagus (Spraġġ Xewwieki)
Mediterranean asparagus are one of the many native species of wild plants that can be found by the Mediterranean Sea and throughout the rocky regions of the Maltese islands. These tender shoots have an intense, slightly bitter taste and are frequently used during their peak season as a key ingredient in local gourmet and household meals from quiches to pies, or as speciality side dishes.
Made famous by the cartoon Popeye (visit Popeye Village in Mellieha for the full experience there), spinach is a vegetable that’s used in almost every cuisine worldwide. With bright green, crisp shoot when young and softer, darker leaves when older, the near-bitter taste of spinach is truly unique and complements various dishes according to its age. Whilst the younger leaves suit being eaten raw in a salad, in Malta the older leaves are cooked in many local favourite dishes alongside dairy products and eggs. Make sure to try the locally-produced spinach and ricotta ‘ravjul’ (ravioli pasta) for an authentically Maltese dish.
Maltese strawberries have reached such legendary status, that there is even an annual festival in their honour. At the height of their season, you would be hard-pushed to find sweeter, juicier, larger or redder specimens of these delicious berries anywhere else in the world. Perfect when eaten raw – and you won’t need to add extra sugar – the Maltese also make the most of these tasty morsels by transforming them into an infinite number of edible delights from ice-cream to jam, and even dessert pasta.
Naspli, known as medlars or loquat in English, are a tiny, extra-sweet fruit that is grown abundantly in Malta at this time of year. First imported to the Maltese islands from the Far East over a millennium ago, the peach-like texture and deliciously sweet taste of these bite-sized treats has become a signature Maltese delicacy. Although they are best eaten raw, there is such a plentiful local supply that they are also turned into chutneys, jellies, jams and pies, and even feature in some chicken dishes.
Bonus: Seasonal Special at Le Bistro!
For a delicious dish which features the freshest locally-sourced ingredients, make sure to check out Le Bistro at the Radisson Blu Resort, St. Julian’s. Their Local asparagus and spinach risotto with chunky gorgonzola, shimenji mushrooms and peppered strawberries is simply to die for!