I am always searching for different ways to cook meals using fresh local ingredients and as the season changes, I am running out of new ideas. What is available at this time? Summer pumpkin, oranges, courgettes, tomatoes, strawberries ……all at the peak of their freshness and flavor…
I meet with Andrew Borg who at 31, is one of the Mediterranean’s up and coming chefs to watch out for. He is carving a reputation for quality and innovation using only seasonal fresh produce that has been locally sourced. I discover that in an effort to cook the freshest food possible, Andrew has started to grow some of his own food and he has even cultivated a world class herb garden on some private land in the countryside. He explains that home grown herbs have more essential oils than those found in grocery stores and that it is both more economical and fun to grow herbs from seeds and cuttings.
Andrew promises to meet my challenge and help me create a menu to introduce my overseas guests to a taste of the Mediterranean using local ingredients in dishes that are simple, light and full of flavour. I am in search of a straightforward meal that can easily be prepared with minimal effort by a home cook with a busy lifestyle.
I return for a tasting session a week later and I am wowed by the simplicity and choice of a light summer menu using fresh local ingredients that Andrew is so passionate about. I can very quickly assess that the hard work has been done as Andrew has set the guidelines to follow by marrying the ingredients harmoniously making this a meal that is easy to prepare at home. This is a simple, elegant and clean farm-to-table menu using traditional Mediterranean ingredients in an inventive way.
Andrew suggests serving Chilled Minestrone in beautiful clear glass soup bowls. The soup is delicate, creative and colourful with finely chopped fresh summer pumpkin, courgettes, turnips and carrots that have retained their colour as they are barely cooked in a light vegetable consommé. Each bowl is garnished with a giant raw Mediterranean Prawn and finely dusted with a fresh grating of hard goat’s cheese or ‘gbejna’.
This is followed by a choice of braised Pork Cheeks, Loin of Rabbit or a simple salad of Octopus and Ham Hock.
There are about 160 pig farms on the island and local pork is reputed to be a very high quality product. Pork cheeks respond well to slow cooking. These plump cushions of meat look brilliant when plated and Andrew shows me how to turn a humble cut into a delicacy. A tartare of apricots and kohlrabi is garnished with fresh marjoram and a drizzle of freshly pressed virgin olive oil.
The Loin of Rabbit is perfectly poached in olive oil and then glazed in local thyme honey and tossed in orange zest and fennel seeds. This is a light dish, very different to the traditional “Fenkata” version of stew in wine sauce that is one of island’s national dishes. I am delighted as rabbit meat is almost cholesterol free and contains less fat and sodium than other meats. I feel I can now indulge without the guilt!
I love fresh summer meals and the interplay of charred Octopus and Ham Hock makes a wonderful salad bringing a burst of bright colour to the table with rucola, courgette flowers, endive and blue basil. This salad balances the rich flavours and tenderness of the octopus and ham hock with the crispness and acidity of the al dente vegetables. The result is a triumph and I am excited about the simplicity which will allow me to easily make it at home without spending hours in the kitchen.
Fresh handcrafted soft goat’s cheeselets are readily available locally and Andrew creates a delicate edible flower and rose peppercorn salad using home grown nasturtium blossoms. The vivid orange and yellow flowers are packed with flavour, a combination of peppery, sharp and sweet . The young seed pods taste of capers and Andrew explains that they can be pickled and also make a very good pesto.
The ricotta and mint ice cream is light and refreshing, an ideal way to end a summer meal. Once again I am inspired and think of endless ways to use local ricotta and mint which grows abundantly on the island…. perhaps a ricotta and mint spread or dip, roasted courgettes stuffed with ricotta and mint….so many possibilities! Sweet wild mulberries handpicked from the countryside are served with the ice cream and the combination is magic!
Andrew says. “Using quality produce reduces cooking and preparation time and adds amazing flavours to home cooked meals. Simplicity is always best…..”
Andrew Borg is Chef/Proprietier at The Black Pig
Photography: James Bianchi