Extract taken from March's 2023 Il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
Rita Diacono nee Wirth was born in 1927 in Valletta. Her interest in cooking started, by chance when as a young teenager all her family, except for herself, were down with flu including Ċetta the family cook. Rita had to man the kitchen, with Ċetta giving her instructions from her bedroom nearby. A love for food was born.
When the family opened restaurants over the years, Rita would help with the preparation of desserts, and she would give her ideas and recipes. In the 90's, Rita was asked to appear on TV to give cooking demonstrations and this led to many appearances on various programmes over the next few years. In 2022 the family was approached by a leading publisher asking if they were interested in putting together a collection of some of Rita's recipes in a book. 'Simply Rita' is the result.
A Wirth family favourite always prepared for special gatherings and occasions. It seems to have gathered quite a following after it was featured on the Netflix show “Restaurants on the Edge.”
20ml extra virgin olive oil
400g minced pork and beef
200ml dry red wine
Couple of fresh bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
500g fine spaghettini (tarja)
125g smoked ham, cut into small cubes
5 eggs, lightly beaten
100g grated Parmesan cheese
Handful of chopped fresh parsley
Butter for greasing
Ingredients for the tomato sauce and toppings
200ml tomato passata
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp sugar
1 aubergine, cut into cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large pot then fry the minced meat until browned, stirring often. Add the red wine and the bay leaves. Season to taste and leave the wine to reduce completely on high heat. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
Boil the spaghettini in salted, boiling water for just a few seconds leaving the pasta very ‘al dente’. Drain at once and refresh in a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. When cold, drain again and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Combine the pasta with the chopped ham, beaten eggs, grated cheese and parsley. Season and mix well.
Butter a large pudding bowl (approximately 3lt) very well and fill with half the pasta mix. Press the center down with the back of a spoon to create a well for the meat. Fill the center with the cooked mince, pressing down gently and then top and seal with the rest of the pasta. Press down gently again. Cover with cling film and leave overnight in the fridge to set.
To cook the pasta mould, cover with a piece of baking paper then cover with a double layer of aluminium foil. Secure the foil with string. Place the covered pasta bowl into a large pot. Make sure the bowl fits comfortably. Fill up to ¾ of the way with cold water. Be careful that no water will enter the mould during cooking. Cover the pot and boil on a low heat for approximately 2 hours. Check the water level every so often, topping up when needed with boiling water.
Meanwhile prepare the sauce by simmering the tomato passata with a good glug of EVOO, some salt and pepper and sugar to regulate the acidity. Cook gently for at least 30 minutes.
Separately, heat some of the extra virgin olive oil in a pan, and once hot, fry the chopped aubergines until browned. Drain from the oil, sprinkle with salt and allow to rest on some absorbent paper until ready to serve.
To serve, remove the mould very carefully from the water. Remove the foil and paper and run a long palette knife around the edge a few times before turning over onto a large serving platter. Top the mould with the prepared tomato sauce, chopped hard boiled eggs, fried aubergines and some more grated cheese.