"It is not made to demonstrate table manners, only to fill an empty stomach!"
Potato slices on a pizza, you say? Trust the Gozitans to come up with something like that. The carb-loaded Gozitan ftira, seems to be our sister island's hybrid of ftira and Italian pizza. And it's scrumptious.
Using first principles, a ftira is an oven-baked bun-shaped bread whose diameter can vary between 5 to 15 cm. It has a thick dark crust and a deliciously soft white centre which Maltese call the qalba, i.e. the heart. In a Gozitan ftira although the dough is similar and is baked in the same manner, the shape is flattened, has an approximately 7cm diameter and is topped with fish, vegetables or both. No mozzarella is used, however, the recipe uses quite a fair amount of olive oil.
Perhaps the town of Nadur in Gozo is famed for its excellent execution of two things, namely, the spontaneous carnival, held annually in February and Tal-Maxokk, one of Gozo's best bakeries which produces an average of 150 ftiras a day. The middle aged couple who run the place... which has now become a tourist attraction... would love to retire, only in light of the bakery's overwhelming success, they might end up being frowned on by the Malta Tourism Authority. Baked in an old stone oven over a wood fire this is one meal you literally cannot afford to miss. There are five types to choose from, though the Farrugia family who run the business don't mind customers adding or removing toppings. Perhaps a closed goat's cheese ftira will suit your fancy - you may also prefer an open one topped with tuna, sardines or olives, capers, tomatoes, basil and onions. Sound good?
So how will you get your hands on one? Although nothing beats a freshly baked Nadur ftira, perhaps you don't need to hop on a plane to Malta to sink your teeth into one.
Stop teasing... I want a gozitan-style ftira NOW. Here's the mandatory How-To...
1. Visiting Tal-Maxokk
If you are fortunate enough to be making your way to the island of Gozo make sure to preorder your ftira meal. According to www.june29th.com ftiras must be ordered at least two hours beforehand - My friends and I usually call their landline on, say Saturday, and pick up our ftiras on Sunday at noon. The easiest way is to get to the parish church then carefully pick your way to St James' Street by following the Maxokk signs.
2. Visiting a local Food Festival
The Tal-Maxokk family have recently graced the 5th Mediterranean Food Festival 2006 at the Eden Arena, St Julians.
3. Try a Maltese supermarket
Frozen Gozitan-style ftiras have recently began appearing in local supermarkets... - I got mine from Carters, Paola. Unlike your ordinary 'pizza-in-a-box', ftiras should be allowed to reach room temperature before baking.
4. Make your own!
Noone has access to the Maxokk recipe, however, the following is close enough and will secure your culinary success during international nights.
For the dough, get your hands on:
400g of plain white flour
100ml of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt/Water, as required
For the topping, you'll be needing:
Thinly sliced Potatoes, as many as you need to cover the ftira base
Ripe Red Tomatoes, cut into wedges. Sundried Tomatoes work beautifully too.
Olives (no stones)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Rough Sea Salt
Black Pepper, freshly ground
To make the dough, sieve the flour and put it into a food processor with the salt and the olive oil. Blend the mixture, slowly adding water until the dough forms into a ball. Put the dough into a plastic bag or bowl and chill it in the fridge for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 200 deg. C. Spread the dough as thinly as possible so that it is at least 5cm wider than the baking dish. Thinly slice the potato as if for crisp frying and lay the slices over the dough base. Add the tomato pieces, capers, olives and onion, and season with salt and pepper. Fold the edges of the dough inwards, drizzle some olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Fold the edges of the dough inwards, drizzle some more oil over the top and bake the ftira for 15 minutes, or until the dough is just starting to turn golden1.
Serve with Twistees and Kinnie.
1Adapted from the first issue of Taste magazine, June 2004.