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Gozo for gold, it’s the season for dolphin fish

PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 October 2016

Lampuki, or dolphin fish

Lampuki, or dolphin fish

Archant

After a long summer, the temperature in Gozo is cooling down to the mid 20s, and culinary thoughts move away from salads and chilled vegetable soups

Lampuki tartareLampuki tartare

After a long summer, the temperature in Gozo is cooling down to the mid 20s, and culinary thoughts move away from salads and chilled vegetable soups. I might even do some baking which is still to be found in the Maltese islands. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had pastry-making lessons from experts – my friends’ mum, Maria, for one. Visitors to Malta or Gozo will surely have enjoyed the pastizzi, small crisp pasties filled with pea purée or fresh ewe’s cheese, best enjoyed fresh from the oven. It’s the pastry that makes them special. Neither short crust nor puff, it’s a type of rough-puff pastry not unlike that used for making Portuguese custard tarts, natas.

This is lampuki season. At first glance, the crowd on the quayside might resemble a group of casual onlookers, but there is nothing casual about it. They are there only to buy fish. After floats and nets have been unloaded, finally the wet sacking is slowly removed from the boxes. Each is crammed with silvery, golden lampuki. All fish are beautiful with their metallic, slippery quality and iridescent colours, but the lampuka is more than ordinarily beautiful. Also called dorada, dolphin fish and mahi-mahi, they have a flat, slender, streamlined body, with an elongated forked tail like a swallow. Fish with a golden sheen is highly prized, as this indicates that they have been line-caught.

Finally, the deals done, boxes of fish carried off, some just to the quayside, waiting on the edge of the crowd, like cats edging forward for scraps, are the women, purses in hands, ready to buy Monday’s dinner.

This classic blue fish, full of omega-3 fatty acids, is highly nutritious and distinctive in flavour, resembling mackerel, which I prepare in the same way. In a period of a few days, we ate it tartare, marinated in extra virgin olive oil, coarse Gozo sea salt and sweet lemons grown on the island. We also had it filleted, breaded and fried in olive oil, and now, having been taught how to make it, a lampuki pie. An unlikely-sounding dish, it’s delicious. A pastry-lined dish is layered with vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, fish fillets, olives, nuts and sultanas, topped with pastry and baked. Other references to the dish mention aubergines and peas. Use what you have available, whatever is in season. Broccoli too would be good, as would the tiny round squashes. Today’s recipe is the one I watched Maria make, and will adapt beautifully to salmon and tuna. Drink a Sicilian or southern Italian white; something with plenty of oomph to match these gorgeous flavours and textures.

Maria's lampuki pieMaria's lampuki pie

Maria’s lampuki pie

Ingredients:

 500 g plain flour

 2 tablespoons sunflower oil

 Water – see recipe

 ½ teaspoon salt

 500 g fat – see recipe

Method:

Make a well in the flour, add oil and salt, then wet with water, but not too much. Mix by hand, working into a ball, almost using the motion of a mixer. Put the ball of dough to one side. The less water the better as it is a firm, dry pastry. Make this a day in advance, wrap well and refrigerate or freeze, adding dusting of flour to the surface of the pastry to absorb condensation.

Work the dough, kneading it, divide into 4 and leave to rest, then roll out pastry several times.

Spread on the ‘rough side’ about 25 g fat (Maria uses a mixture of lard and margarine), as if buttering a slice of bread. Fold across, adding more fat, then roll up, squeezing the pastry into a ball, with the ends folded over to enclose the fat. For larger pies, the pastry is rolled into a thick rope, held upright the flattened into a round. Wrap in a bag and refrigerate overnight, for the fat to harden.

The sauce can also be made the day before required.

Sauce:

 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 Garlic cloves – to taste, peeled and sliced

 6-8 ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

 Herbs – fresh mint and marjoram, for example

 Seasoning

Fry the onions in olive oil until soft and golden brown, taking care not to burn them. Add the garlic, tomatoes and herbs, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until soft

Season to taste.

Filling:

 500 g flaked fish – lightly poached or steamed

 Waxy potatoes – very thinly sliced; Charlottes are perfect for this dish

 1-2 tablespoons capers

 75-100 g peas – fresh or frozen

 12 olives, chopped

Roll out the pastry and line a 25 cm pie dish. Spoon in a layer of sauce, then a layer of lightly cooked flaked fish, more sauce, tiny slices of potato, then fish and more sauce. At the end add capers, peas and olives and a sprinkle of olive oil. Cover with a pastry lid and brush with a little more oil. Bake at 180 to 200 C for 40 minutes or so.

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