At first it seemed surprising that the national dish of Monaco – a nation known for its wealth and flashiness – was barbagiuan, which is little more than street food. However, as we painstakingly formed each tiny half-moon of pastry, stuffed with a spinach and ricotta mixture, it started to make more sense. In the way that an artisanal, hand-crafted item always costs more than a mass-produced one – much like the couture fashions of Monaco’s residents, no doubt – the time spent making these little nibbles surely makes them rare and desirable.
We say this partly tongue-in-cheek, of course. The barbagiuan in Monaco are probably often produced by machine, and even if not, we do have to admit that they got easier and quicker once we started to figure out the knack. Be assured, though, that this is not a quick-to-make recipe. That said, there isn’t much that’s difficult about it, and once you get in the zone, hand-crafting can be both relaxing and satisfying.
Our recipe was inspired by a combination of Hello Monaco and instinct where the website was vague!
For the pastry:
200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
50ml olive oil
1 egg, beaten
Oil for deep frying
For the filling:
15ml olive oil
30g onion, finely chopped
30g leek (white part only), finely chopped
2 Swiss chard leaves (or, if you can’t find Swiss chard, spring greens), stems removed, leaves shredded and chopped
50g fresh spinach, chopped
Pinch dried oregano
30g freshly-grated Parmesan
Milk or egg wash, for brushing
1. First, prepare the pastry. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and stir in the olive oil and half the egg (reserve the other half for the filling). Add just enough water to bring the pastry together to a firm dough.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
3. For the filling, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and fry the onion and leek until golden.
4. Add the chard, spinach and oregano and fry until the chard is tender.
5. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and add the cheeses and reserved egg. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool while you roll the pastry.
6. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to approximately 2mm thick.
7. Use a floured 6cm pastry cutter and cut out as many rounds as you can – likely to be 20-24.
8. Brush each pastry round with milk/egg wash, then place a scant teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each round. Fold the dough over to form a semi-circle and press the edges with the ends of a fork to seal.
9. Fry in a deep fryer or, if you don’t have one (like us), in a pan where the oil stays around the 180C mark, until brown and crisp. They should take 5-6 minutes to fry.
If we’re honest, we weren’t particularly excited about making this. We rarely deep fry anything (perhaps best illustrated by our attempts to make this in a saucepan rather than a deep fryer), and the fact that it wasn’t really a main course or a side dish left us wondering how and when we were actually going to eat it. We’re happy to report, though, that once again we were pleasantly surprised. Despite being deep fried, the barbagiuan weren’t at all greasy, and the small amount of filling inside each one packed a surprising punch of flavour. As for how we ate them, we opted to use them as a starter preceding a Nicoise salad: not strictly Monacan, but from the same region, and the perfect foil for the somewhat less healthy barbagiuan. The leftovers reheated well the following day, so we’d certainly consider making them again as a canape of some sort.