Ross il-forn: Maltese Baked Rice

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This is Maltese home-cooking at its best. The sort of thing locals would eat for an everyday simple lunch or supper. The recipe is usually very similar throughout Malta, the variants are usually the type of cheese used, quantity of eggs (the more you use, the denser it will be) and whether smoked pancetta or bacon is included in the ragu.

This recipe has been passed down to me from my great grandmother Georgia, who I was lucky enough to meet as a small child. She passed away when she was well into her 90s and up until the month she died, she went to Mass every morning and walked around with a big wrinkly grin on her face. She was a special soul.

Making this dish, a rather special rustic meal from my roots; it was something my mother often cooked for us. It’s effectively baked risotto but it uses long-grain rice instead of Arborio, although I’ve tried the later and it works fine, but is perhaps a bit too sticky. The idea is to have quite a dense dish, which when cold, you can slice into squares.

Maltese food, similarly to the language, is a real melting pot of influences. What with its advantageous location in the heart of the Mediterranean sea; throughout its history it has been occupied by France, Spain, Italy, England and various Arabic countries. In recent times, the biggest influences on fashion, music and pop culture have been from England, whereas the cooking, family life and religion, is very much influenced by near-by Italy.

Il-forn means in the oven and ross means rice, hence the simple translation – Maltese baked rice. I suspect it was invented as a way of using up leftover spaghetti ragu, using rice as a change from pasta, which being very close to Sicily and Italy, is a common staple in Malta.

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Ingredients:

400g steak beef mince

400g long-grain rice

1 litre of water

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

75g cheddar cheese

50g grated Parmesan cheese

1 finely chopped onion

3 tablespoons of tomato puree

1 egg, beaten

1 clove of crushed garlic

1 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. sugar

Sea salt and black pepper

 

Method:

  • In a frying pan heat some oil and fry onion. Add the curry powder and then the beef mince and fry until brown. Add the crushed garlic and fry for a minute.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes and the tomato puree and cook for 5 minutes. Add 2 tsp. sugar which helps emphasise the flavours and takes away the bitterness of the puree. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from heat and cool for ten minutes (this is so the eggs don’t curdle).
  • Into the frying pan (if large enough, if not transfer to a large bowl) mix the tomato beef ragu with the rice and then mix in the water and egg. Add half the grated parmesan and cheddar and mix.
  • Into a greased oven proof dish, transfer the mixture and then cover the top with the rest of the cheese.
  • Bake for around 1 hour, until golden brown. After 45 minutes I usually test the rice to see if it’s cooked.

Serve with a lightly dressed green salad. Having been brought up in the 1980s, we would always use shredded iceberg lettuce and avocado. And I’ve just spotted that my photography in this post looks somewhat 1970s / 80s kitsch? Quite fitting huh?

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