“I grew up mostly eating Maltese food. It was very ingrained in our family gatherings, especially for special occasions. My dad is from a very big family so we’d go to my cousins’ house and my aunty would be cooking in the kitchen. We’d go to the Maltese club and eat there every week,” recalls Julia Busuttil Nishimura.
“I didn’t know anything else until I went to primary school and started seeing other kids eating. I realised there was that whole other type of food,” she adds, laughing.
The cook and author of lauded cookbook Ostro spent her childhood south of Adelaide, never too far from a kitchen. “One of my earliest memory of making food, or my parents making food, is going to the sea to collect seawater and come back and make ricotta,” she says.
“We ate lots of broad beans. I remember podding kilos and kilos of broad beans at my grandparents’ on the back step. We’d dry them and make this thing called bigilla, a dried broad bean and garlic dip with lots of parsley.”
But the ultimate comfort food for her family, ravjul, was not made at home, but bought from the Maltese club. These thick Maltese-style ravioli are filled with ricotta and parsley.
“We’d have dozens and dozens in the freezer and it would be our comfort food, our go-to weeknight meal. Our parents would ask how many we wanted and we’d give them a number and they’d boil how many we wanted. We’d have them with this really simple tomato sauce,” she says.
Because ravjul are hard to find in Melbourne, Busuttil Nishimura has learned to make them herself, using her aunt’s recipe: “I love making them now because it reminds me of home. They’re kind of half-moon-shaped, really rustic and chewy, not really delicate, which I quite like.”
She usually makes a big batch on the weekend, with the help of her son Haruki. “Even if he doesn’t always help me, I always give him a bit of dough and he plays with it. I think it’s important to be around people making food. Hopefully, he’ll grow up loving to cook,” she says.
“We’d have dozens and dozens in the freezer and it would be our comfort food, our go-to weeknight meal. Our parents would ask how many we wanted.”
Some of the ravjul are eaten right away, and the rest are frozen or sent to her mum.
Over the years, Busutill Nishimura has gained a loyal following for this exact type of recipe; simple and focused on a few quality ingredients. “My approach is quite flexible and open. People can take my recipes and change them. It’s really simple, kind of rustic home cooking, it’s not fussy,” she explains.
It usually resonates with people, and even more right now. In the last few weeks social media has been flooded with photos of people cooking cakes, pies, and pasta from Ostro, which she says she finds very humbling: “The current situation has re-emphasised how important food and cooking is in my life. A lot of people are rediscovering how much joy you can get from cooking a meal. It can bring so much joy, lift you and comfort you.”
While Ostro was mainly inspired by her time living in the south of Tuscany, her upcoming book is anchored in her present life. A Year of Simple Family Food will feature seasonal Italian and Maltese dishes, but also Japanese and Middle Eastern influences. Think cavatelli with sausage and cavolo nero, but also miso roast chicken, congee and a raspberry butter cake.
Everyone has that family favourite - you know that recipe that tugs at heartstrings and tastebuds? This is one of those recipes and it begins with a buttery, flaky pastry. #RecipeForLife
Shane's dad Ted drops in to demonstrate how to make bruschetta, Maltese style, showcasing the richness of the island nation's cuisine. #RecipeForLife
A Maltese favourite and full of flavour, this is a beautiful slow-cooked stew that sees your meat falling off the bone. #RecipeForLife
These marzipan-filled biscuits have been made for centuries in Malta, traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday. The bunny shape is a popular modern touch, but you can use any shape of biscuit cutter.