Pastizzi are small oval- or diamond-shaped versions of cheesecakes or peacakes that originate from the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. These pastries are typically filled with either fresh ricotta cheese or a mixture of somewhat spicy mashed peas known as pizelli. The singular word for pastizzi is actually pastizz in the Maltese language. Pastizzi are favorite snacks both in Malta and in Maltese enclaves throughout other countries. Traditional pastizzi can be bought from street sellers throughout Malta, particularly on Sundays and sometimes on late Friday and Saturday nights — convenient for nightclub revelers.
Some Maltese bakers specialize in another pastizzi recipe that typically consists of puff pastry instead of some heavier types of baking dough. This pastizzi variant can usually be sampled in Maltese sidewalk cafes or in bakeries known as pastizzerias. The typical Maltese pastizzeria is often run by generations of the same family with its own unique recipes for these popular cheese or legume dishes. While most of these pastries can still be bought only in storefronts, some bakers also sell them online.
First-time visitors to Malta who try a pastizz are often surprised that it is a savory rather than a sweet pastry; the confusion usually comes from the reference to a pastizz as a “cheesecake.” Maltese recipes for this kind of pastry generally refer to the unsweetened ricotta filling rather than to dessert cheesecake ingredients. A frequent breakfast on the go for some busy Maltese workers is one of these freshly baked ricotta pastries topped with sugar and paired with a glass of hot tea or coffee.
This traditional pastry has also gained some popularity in other countries that have prominent Maltese communities; examples include Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Some local bakers in these communities have adapted their pastizzi recipes to include a wider range of savory fillings to appeal to more diverse tastes. It is not unusual to find one of these pastries filled with other vegetables such as spinach or with meats such as beef or pork.
The process of making pastizzi in the typical Maltese bakery typically involves rolling out fresh puff pastry dough, slicing it into the appropriate sizes, and folding each over the added filling to form the traditional pastizz shape. Groups of about 30 pastries may be baked at one time in a wood-burning oven. Most Malta residents tend to agree that any flavor of pastizz is best eaten fresh and hot from the oven.