Legendary Dishes | Ftira Tal-hemi (topped flatbreads)

The pizza of Malta – anchovies, potatoes, tomatoes
MALTA

Breads baked to take oils and pastes don‘t always have hard crusts and soft crumbs but those that do, like the bread of Malta, are very popular. This is a tasty treat without need to dress, and there is plenty of evidence that the Maltese like their bread naked. The secret to its success is undoubtably the combination of a sourdough, sea salt and strong flour, the palatable shiny appearance that is the result of a subtle egg wash, and an ingredient rarely mentioned – whey indigenous to the island. Hobz is an example of a bread made perfect by good ingredients, good technique, good method and good sense.

‘Maltese bread has a particular sourdough crust – inside it is very soft … made with few and simple ingredients – flour, yeast, plenty of water, sea-salt, hard work and lot of patience,’ says Doris Fenech of Mellieha, describing the role bread plays in Maltese lives.

Dough from ‘the day before‘ was the starter (tinsila in Maltese). It was incorporated into the day‘s dough (il-hmira trabbiha gurnata qabel). The new dough (ghagna) was kneaded by hand in a large basin (maghgen – lembi) until the dough whitened. Flour was scattered over the dough, which was covered with a cloth and left to rise for several hours in a warm place. This dough produced a dark-brown round crusty loaf known as hobza. Bakers marked the loaves with a knife. A cross on top and the bread was called hobza tas-salib, a cut on the side hobza tas-sikkina. It also made ftira tal-hemi, a pizza-like bread with a variety of toppings.

‘Traditional ftira was made with an unbaked loaf dough, flattened in a medium size plate and covered with ripe red tomatoes, olives and capers. They folded the edges of the dough inwards, drizzled it with olive oil, sea salt and pepper and baked it until golden brown.’

The name hobz biz-zejt – bread with oil – did not do justice to Malta’s traditional culinary heritage and gradually the idea of baking the dough ftira-style sparked imaginations and various toppings are now commonplace.

Ftira Varieties

FTIRA TALP-BAKKALJAW
herrings, chopped onions, garlic, cod, oil, and parsley.

FTIRA TAL-GBEJNIET
thinly sliced potatoes with small rounds of curd cheese.

FTIRA TAL-INCOVA
anchovy, tomatoes, onions and basil, topped with sliced potatoes.

FTIRA TAL-MAKKU
whitebait rolled in flour, sweet marjoram, sliced onions, and spearmint.

FTIRA TAL-TOQLIJA
lightly fried onions, garlic and ripe tomatoes / tomato paste (kunserva).


Ftira Tal-incova

Pre-Ferment

  • 100 g white wheat flour, types 450 and 550
  • 100 ml mineral water, warmed to 38ºC
  • 30 g yeast

Dissolve yeast in the warm water, add the flour, mix until smooth, leave to risecovered for 16 hours, desired temperature 21°C.

Dough

  • 600 g white wheat flour, t550
  • 600 g strong white wheat flour
  • 500 ml water / whey
  • 230 g sourdough
  • 200 ml warm water mixed with 10 g sugar
  • 75 ml olive oil
  • 25 g yeast
  • 10 g sea salt

Combine the yeast, sugared water and a tablespoon of strong white flour. Leave to froth.

In a large bowl mix flour, salt, sourdough, oil, water or whey and yeast mixture. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 20 minutes until the dough is soft and spongy.

Leave to rise for an hour, then degas. Repeat twice to complete a four hour rising. Dough temperature should be 25°C.

On a floured work surface roll the dough out to a thickness of 2 cm to fit a large rectangular baking tray, lightly greased. Leave to rise for an hour.

Topping

  • 400 g potatoes, baked in skins, skinned, sliced thick
  • 300 g onions, chopped
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, small, halved
  • 100 g anchovy fillets in oil / fresh anchovies, chopped
  • 50 ml anchovy oil / olive oil + 15 ml olive oil for dressing dough
  • 1 tbsp basil, chopped
  • Seasonings

Fry onions in the oil until browned, add the tomatoes and cook over residual heat for five minutes, set aside. Dress the dough with a drizzle of oil. Arrange the anchovy pieces evenly across the dough, followed by the basil leaves, fried onion and tomato mixture, finish with the potatoes, season.

Bake at 230ºC top and bottom heat for 25 minutes, with steam in the bottom of the oven.

Ħobż Malti – the crusty bread of Malta