It’s spring break time along Florida’s long coastline. Time to head for the beach, and the rest of the country won’t be far behind. So I’m happily packing beach towels and sunblock along with a couple of the Maltese tuna sandwiches I just learned to make.
I’ve never visited Malta, a tiny group of islands off the southern coast of Sicily. But a private demo in the kitchen of Mary Perry, a long-time Tampa Bay resident who came from Malta, was the next best thing.
“Everyone in Malta knows this beach sandwich,” she said, while spreading bread slices with tomato paste. She pressed them into a pool of olive oil and red wine vinegar, dotted with capers. Then came layers of onion, hard-cooked egg, fresh basil, tuna and cucumber.
Biting into the sandwich, I could taste the same Mediterranean flavors as in Sicily’s beach sandwiches (sometimes made with sardines or eggplant, but often tuna) or southern France’s pan bagnat. But put together in a whole different way.
Later Mary emailed the name of the sandwich: hobz biz-zejt u tadam. Okay, THAT’S a mouthful. If you want to try to say it, know that the z’s have a dot hovering over them (which my blog platform refuses to honor), altering the pronunciation in a way that Mary explained but I completely failed to comprehend. Clearly I won’t be taking up the study of the Maltese language, based on an Arab dialect that developed in Sicily and Malta between the 9th and 12th centuries A.D.
The sandwich name (hobz and so on) refers to crusty bread with olive oil and tomato. So everything else, including the tuna, is sort of optional. But I’d rather load it all on. You can eat the sandwich right away but I’m thinking it will taste better mixed with salt breezes and a little sand.
Maltese Tuna Sandwich
Makes 2 sandwiches
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon capers, rinsed
Mrs. Dash seasoning
2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 large slices white or wholewheat bread
Several slices sweet red or white onion
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
Leaves from 2 basil sprigs
1 can (7 ounces) tuna, drained
1/2 small cucumber, thinly sliced
1. Pour the olive oil on a dinner plate. Sprinkle with the vinegar and scatter the capers over the surface. Sprinkle with Mrs. Dash seasoning. Spread the tomato paste over one side of the bread slices.
2. Press the tomato paste side of bread slices into the olive oil mixture. If any capers fail to stick, distribute them manually over the surfaces.
3. On the dressed side of two bread slices, layer the onion slices, eggs, basil leaves, tuna and cucumber. Top with the remaining bread slices.