What’s Cooking in… Malta

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 51 of the January 2018 issue.
Dining room in the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa — San Anton, Malta. Photo by Sandra Scott

Located between Sicily and North Africa, Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean that has been influenced by the cultures of a variety of peoples, including the Romans, Moors, French and British. 

While visiting Malta in October 2016, my husband, John, and I stayed at the luxurious Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa (de Paule Avenue, San Anton, Malta; phone +356 21 440301, www.corinthia.com/en/hotels/palace-hotel-and-spa), where we paid $133 per night, including taxes. 

The hotel, once the luxury villa of the founder of Corinthia Hotels, retains many of the villa’s architectural details. Set in a quiet, gentrified area of the capital, it is near the Presidential Palace and the botanical gardens.

San Anton Botanical Gardens — Malta. Photo by Sandra Scott

Among the dishes listed on the menu of the Corinthia Palace Hotel’s restaurant was Torta tal-Fenek, or rabbit pie, a Maltese national dish. The Executive Head Chef, Stefan Hogan, agreed to let me watch him make it. The pie was very savory.

Rabbit is an ingredient not commonly found in New York state, but there is a meat market near us that sells a wide variety of unique meats, including rabbit. However, I think any meat could be used for this recipe if rabbit weren’t available.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email at sanscott@gmail.com.

Torta tal-Fenek (Maltese-style Rabbit Pie)

Chef Stefan Hogan with the rabbit pie sliced in half.

Olive oil, as needed
3 lbs rabbit, ready to cook
sprig of rosemary
2 celery sticks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 leek, sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
bay leaf
1 cup red wine
4 cups chicken stock
8 shallots, minced
½ cup mushrooms, sliced
½ cup peas
2 pie crusts
Flour for dusting
Egg wash for brushing and glazing (one egg blended with 1 to 3 tsp milk and a dash of salt)

To prepare filling — Heat oil in pan. Add rabbit pieces and fry until golden brown. Transfer to an oven-safe dish and set frying pan aside.

In a separate pan, heat some oil and sauté half the celery, half the carrots and the leeks with one-third of the garlic until lightly brown. Add mixture to the rabbit along with bay leaf and rosemary. With the red wine, deglaze the pan used to fry the rabbit and pour the liquid over the rabbit mixture. Cover rabbit with chicken stock, cover dish with aluminum foil and cook in a preheated oven at 350°F for 1½ hours. After cooking, and once it’s cool enough to handle, pick the meat off the bones in large chunks and place in a bowl. Strain cooking liquid into a sauce pan and reduce over medium heat by half.

In a clean pan, heat some oil and lightly brown the remaining garlic, celery, shallots and carrots; drain off excess oil and add to rabbit meat. Sauté mushrooms in a little oil until golden brown and add to rabbit mixture. Mix in peas, and allow mixture to cool completely.

To assemble pie — Lightly brush a circular baking dish with oil and dust with flour. Line the baking dish with one rolled-out pie crust, leaving half an inch of the dough hanging over the sides; fill with the rabbit mixture. Fold the overhanging dough over mixture, then cover with the other pie crust. Seal edges of dough by pinching together, and brush top liberally with the egg wash. Prick dough with a fork in several places to allow steam to escape while cooking.

Bake in an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes; lower temperature to 350° and continue to cook for another 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool before taking it out of the pan. Let it rest 15 minutes before cutting.

The completed Torta tal-Fenek (Maltese-style rabbit pie). Photo by Sandra Scott
Some of the ingredients for Torta tal-Fenek. Photo by Sandra Scott