The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

Ready for winter

Tuesday, 30 October 2018, 09:36 Last update: about 11 months ago

What’s in season? How do you cook it? And what are the benefits of eating seasonal fare? Here, Iggy Fenech chats to KEITH ABELA, one of the culinary instructors at the Mediterranean Culinary Academy in Valletta, to answer these questions and more.

For thousands of years, humans worked hand-in-hand with nature when it came to their meals, and the ingredients for a dish were dictated by the seasons, the harvests and the region... Thankfully, today, we have mastered the cultivation of most foodstuffs, but there are still benefits to eating in-season fare. In fact, we should all be eating more local and in-season produce.

"It's important for multiple reasons," Keith explains. "Health-wise, eating seasonal and local foods means that they will arrive fresh on your table and will contain more vitamins and nutrients. Moreover, growing seasonal ingredients means proper crop rotation in fields [each plant requires different nutrients in the soil to grow, so rotating vegetables and fruit will lead to better soil-quality]."

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Our carbon footprint is also something we should keep in mind when eating imported foods. Peaches, for example, don't grow in the winter and are normally flown over from South America, where our winter months are their summer days. Moreover, for the fruit to be shipped, it is cut early and left to ripen naturally or force-ripened with gas; both of which mean that the fruit will have lost all its vitamins.

Seasonality, however, means different things for different foodstuffs. When it comes to fish, seasonality is linked with their migration patterns. These movements are determined by various factors including temperatures (cold-blooded fish prefer warmer waters), and fishing laws are based around this with specific dates of when fishermen can catch different species of fish to protect them during the mating season.

"Right now, we are at a seasonal turning point for fruit and vegetables," Keith continues. "The temperatures are changing and, with them, the crops. At the moment, we can still find some summer produce, like peppers, zucchini and tomatoes, but we also start seeing winter vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli and beets. The same applies to fruit, with some varieties of damsons, pomegranates and quince available. Plus, it's now a great time to make olive oil if you wish to do so!"

This idea of seasonality permeates everything the Mediterranean Culinary Academy does, as it prides itself on being a product-driven academy. After all, the best possible ingredients are the result of good produce that's in season.

Asked about the best ways to cook the most popular, currently-in-season ingredients, Keith says, "If cooking lampuki, keep it simple: Just season well with salt and grill skin side down for a few minutes. It is also great served raw as a carpaccio or tartare seasoned with basil, capers and lemon.

"Damsons (Settembrina), meanwhile, make excellent jams and chutneys; or you can roast them with a little salt to make a garnish for roast pork or duck. Dehydrating them turns them into prunes, which last longer; but you could also make a tart out of them, which is one of my absolute favourites!" he concludes.

 

Whether you're interested in learning more about seasonal fare or about the MCA and its courses in general, please visit www.mcamalta.com


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