Pastizzis

The Pastizzis crafted by “Malta” Joe Gauci are available online and at a variety of grocers across town.

Local pastry pundit Joe Gauci has much to say about the savory side of his craft, and his story began when he randomly stumbled across his Maltese mother’s secret recipe for pastizzi. 

Gauci, or “Malta Joe” as the signage on his starched white shirt prominently identifies him, recently introduced me to these pastizzi from the Mediterranean island of Malta. Similar in appearance to mini croissants, these pastries are made with paper-thin layers of filo dough wrapped around a savory stuffing and baked until golden brown and crispy.  

He’s always been a fan of these Maltese munchies, but it was the discovery of his mother’s own recipe for pastizzi that ended up changing the course of his career.

“I spent most of my life in New York as a production engineer, and ended up coming to Tucson to enjoy the good life and I needed to find something to do,” Gauci said.

And then one Christmas, he turned the page of a book he was reading and there it was, his mother’s old recipe for pastizzi.

This was no less than striking gold for Gauci, and he spent the next nine months doing little more than making these pastries by hand, tweaking the technique and playing with the recipe until he got exactly what he wanted. 

But even that wasn’t enough to earn the Malta Joe moniker, so he traveled to Malta last summer to study at the side of “pastizzi masters” who he said showed him the real secrets.

Note to self. Hang out with pastizzi masters on the island of Malta and cross another item off the bucket list.

“They were so gracious and generous to let me work with them, and it turns out that they even knew who my family was,” he said.

“These are the street foods of Malta; there aren’t pizzerias there, they’re all pastizzerias,” he said. “You’re not going to find hot dogs or hamburgers on Malta, but you will see pastizzerias on every corner.”

After his immersion in the fine art of pastizzi, Gauci returned to the United States, refined the recipe even more, and ultimately opened Malta Joe’s Baked Goods in Tucson. 

He currently sells two varieties of pastizzi for retail and wholesale purchase. His split pea and curry version brings a little Mediterranean flair to the party, while his ricotta and parmesan cheese version makes for a rich and savory snack.

He’s quick to point out that these pastries, with no added sugar, aren’t sweet like conventional pastries tend to be. They’re also “vegetarian friendly” and assembled entirely by hand.    

Gauci sells the products by the dozen, and delivers them frozen at no additional charge for convenient baking at home. They’re also available fresh and delivered hot for private parties and special events.

In addition to the direct sales business, Gauci’s pastizzi are available at Noble Hops in Oro Valley, Velvet Elvis Pizza Company in Patagonia and the four Savaya Coffee Markets across town.   

“Every bite brings me right back to Malta where I used to go with my family,” Gauci said. “When I meet my Maltese family here, they can’t believe how close these are to the way it is on Malta.”      

To learn more about Malta Joe, his story, and his pastizzi, visit MaltaJoe.com.

Tucson is no longer a pastizzi-free zone. And we all have Malta Joe’s mom to thank.

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.