Every Mediterranean country has its unique shape and form of bread. They also have their own fillings to go in them for a snack lunch; the traditional choices inspired by what working folk in poorer times could rustle up. While the UK has its ploughman’s lunch (pub grub these days) with its thick slab of cheese, the Mediterranean steers clear of dairy as it tends to go off in the heat.
Here, in Malta, we opt for vegetarian or pescetarian fillings with combos of olives, tomatoes, onions, salad greens, beans of various kinds, tuna, anchovies, garlic, peppers, carrots, cauliflower and more. Whatever is in season or can be pickled and preserved. Each Med country to its own: the French port of Nice gave rise to the Pan-bagnat, which includes ingredients found in Salade Nicoise.
Malta has its much-loved Ftira, a disc-shaped semi flat bread that has a glorious texture. It’s like a ciabatta, but round and with a hole in the middle. When cut open, crusts flying off in all directions, and smothered in tomato paste and olive oil, with or without some of the ingredients above, it becomes simple summer snack heaven. You’ll find it everywhere on cafe’ menus, along with club sandwiches.
It’s risen from its work-a-day image but not lost its roots. Look around at Maltese families on our beaches this summer and spot hungry kids, fresh from the water, munching on filled Ftira or slices of Ħobż biż-Żejt (bread similarly sliced up with oil and toms). A word of warning if you do eat it wearing a suit, watch where the oil drips! Or be prepared to rush to the dry cleaners.
The ftira or Ħobż biż-Żejt symoblises summer for us. So, in celebration of the season and the wonderful vegetables that Malta has right now, we’ll point you to the most amazing Ftira filling you can make – a deluxe version of Giardiniera; that delicious mix of veg in oil you can make now and store for those long, lingering days on the beach. Mouthwateringvegan founder Miriam Sorrell has the best Giardiniera recipe we’ve come across. As her photos show, it’s ‘culinary joy’. For anyone born and bred in Malta, its aroma and taste will take you back to childhood on the beach.
If you’ve never made Giardiniera before, make this and you’ll never buy it from the shops again!