February is the time when winter starts to become spring. These recipes feature in-season ingre­dients and some carnival treats.

Nettle leaves are young and tender this month, and as we approach the summer the leaves toughen up, so now is the time to make use of them. Use gloves and scissors to cut and prepare the leaves. If you shop around carefully, you can buy basic vegetables cheaply right now. Very often we take onions and garlic for granted. Spring onions can be slowly braised together with a mix of white and purple onions and fresh green garlic and you will certainly be rewarded with the flavour.

My recipe for prinjolata comes from Renato Briffa, whose father owned a well-known confectionary in Old Mint Street, Valletta, in the 1950s.

Although xkunvat is a sweet that is made for most celebrations, I like to make it during Carnival and sprinkle colourful confetti for the occasion.

Nettle Soup with Spirulina and Burrata

You will need:
6 cups nettle leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 large potato
1 natural stock cube
1 tbsp spirulina
Salt and pepper to season
To garnish: 
1 burrata, sliced sautéed mushrooms,  
2 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds,
olive oil to drizzle

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add some salt and the nettle leaves. Cook for a minute until they soften and drain. Keep aside

Peel and roughly chop the onion, garlic and potato. Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook over low heat until the onion becomes transparent.

Then add the potato, garlic and the stock cube. Cook for 20 minutes until they soften up. Drop in the cooked nettle leaves and cook for five to seven minutes.

Remove from heat and puree the soup using a hand held blender. Season with salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of spirulina and blend again. Serve and garnish with burrata, sautéed mushrooms, toasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of olive oil.

This is a gluten-free, diabetic-friendly recipe. For a vegan recipe leave out the burrata.

Xkunvat (Pastry Knots)

You will need:
200g flour30g margarine 30g sugar
A pinch of salt3 drops vanilla extract1 egg2 tbsp anisette
Honey for drizzling
Colourful sprinkles,
Sugar confetti of your choice
Vegetable oil for frying

How to make the pastry dough:

Sieve the flour twice. Cut up the margarine into small pieces and rub it into the flour using your fingertips. Add the vanilla and anisette. Add the egg and bind together. If necessary add another egg. Wrap in cling film. Leave in the fridge for half an hour to rest.

Roll out pastry on a floured surface. Cut into strips. Then tie knots in varying sizes. You can play around and make bows and twirls of different sizes. Prepare them on a tray for frying.

Fill a large pan with oil or use a deep fat fryer. Deep fry the ribbons and drain on lots of kitchen towel to absorb the access oil.

Arrange on platter and drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with colourful sugar confetti.

Hot Chocolate Zoats

½ cup oats
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup cashew milk
1 ripe banana
1 tbsp agave or stevia
150g dark sugar-free chocolate
150g mixed fresh berries

Place the oats, cashew milk and grated zucchini in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil and reduce the heat.

Simmer and continue to cook and stir until the liquid is absorbed and the zoats thicken. Grate the dark chocolate and mash the bananas and keep aside.

Remove from heat and add the mashed banana and grated dark chocolate. Serve in individual bowls and top with mixed fresh berries of your choice.

This is a gluten-free, vegan and diabetic-friendly recipe.

Renato’s Prinjolata

You will need:
625g flour
200g butter
2 tsp baking powder
a few drops of a good vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
250g sugar
150g water

Rub in the butter into the flour and add the baking powder, vanilla and lemon zest. Mix the sugar with the water until it dissolves. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix well until it forms a dough.

Form the pastry into a long sausage shape and bake in the oven at 190℃ for 20 minutes.

Leave to cool completely and use a sharp knife to slice them diagonally into biscotti shapes.

For the butter cream you will need:

900g butter
1,200g icing sugar
6 drops vanilla

Beat all the ingredients together in an electric mixer until it becomes a smooth butter icing.

To decorate:

200g chopped dark chocolate
150g candied peel
100g roasted almonds chopped up

Mix the biscotti with the butter cream and all the rest of the ingredients. When all the ingredients are combined, form the cake into a free-standing cone or use a pudding bowl to mould into shape.

Next prepare an Italian meringue. For this you will need:

850g sugar
285g egg whites

Place the sugar in a sauce pan and just add just enough water for the sugar to soak. Mix with a wooden spoon. As soon as it comes to boil, add the egg whites and whisk with an electric beater until it reaches the hard ball stage. If you wish use a sugar thermometer which clearly marks the ‘hard ball stage’ at 125℃-130℃. Add the egg whites and mix at low speed for three minutes. Cover the cake generously with the meringue and allow to set.

You will also need:
200g dark melted chocolate
100g glacé cherries, halved
100g pinenuts

Cut the cherries in half. Decorate the prinjolata by drizzling melted dark chocolate all over and pressing the the cherries all around. Sprinkle pine nuts all over.

Lea’s new book Good Food Everyday is available in most bookshops in Malta and Gozo.You can watch her cook every day on Smash TV and find more of her recipes on www.timesofmalta.com

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