Ross Fil-Forn - Baked Rice

3 onions, chopped;
3 cloves of crushed garlic;
3 rashers bacon, chopped;
3 finely chopped carrots
3 tbsp olive oil;
50g butter;
300 g minced pork;
200g minced beef;
2 ½ cups long-grain rice;
3 400g tins chopped tomatoes;
Salt and pepper;
1 large pinch nutmeg;
4 cups chicken or beef stock (which may include a little wine);
5 eggs (beaten);
3 spoons grated parmesan cheese

150g chicken livers;
Beef, pigs’ or calves brains;
1 large pinch nutmeg;
2 tsps genuine saffron filaments or of good quality powder;

Method: This is one of the best-loved and most rewarding Maltese dishes, each family has its own recipe however few restaurants present a really good version of it. The method of cooking is, in essence that the raw rice and liquid sauce go into the oven together. Perfection is not easily achieved and we suggest that if you use Basmati (rather than ordinary long-grain rice) you should ensure that the liquid is slightly more generous as Basmati takes longer to cook. Do not use short grain rice on any account. One reader discovered that preparing the dish in advance and keeping it in the fridge overnight before baking reduces the cooking time.
  1. Cook the onion, bacon, carrots and garlic in a mixture of butter and olive oil until the onion is soft. After five minutes add the minced pork and, a little later the minced beef and cook until the meat begins to brown. Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer for at least half an hour until the sauce thickens.
  2. If using chicken livers, clean, chop and blanche them for just one minute in boiling water, drain and add to the sauce. Add some freshly grated nutmeg. Infuse the saffron threads in a little hot chicken stock for five minutes then add to the sauce. If you are using saffron power just mix it in.
  3. Mix the rice, the sauce and the stock together. Add the beaten eggs and parmesan and transfer to a well-greased oven dish.
  4. If you add pigs, beef or calves’ brains, soak them in salt water for 1 hour, peel off the membranes, then blanch in water with 1 tbs vinegar for about 10 minutes. Remove any remaining membrane. Cut into fairly large pieces and push them into the rice so that they do not get burned on top. If you live in a country where brains are no longer available, or you would rather not try them, they can be omitted.
  5. Cover the dish with foil and cook at 180C; 350F or Gas Mark 4. Test and stir after half an hour and return to the oven uncovered, for a further half hour until the liquid is all absorbed and the rice dish has started to brown on top, turning the heat up if necessary.
This dish can be adapted for vegetarians by using pieces of fried aubergines, mushrooms or artichoke hearts, instead of the meat. Our family tends to be liberal with saffron – we use two to three teaspoons for three cups of rice. Paradoxically, since saffron is costly it seems wasteful to use too little since no one will know it’s there! The Phoenicians so loved their saffron it accompanied them wherever they went. The Knights also seem to have had a special fondness for it – an indication of the affluent lifestyle they enjoyed while ruling our islands.