They are 3 of my favorites so get cooking!!
I live in Bologna, and as most people know this really is the food capital of Italy. I eat very well and have no grounds for complaint but even so there are certain Maltese dishes I miss badly. For some I can find the ingredients and I make them here and for some not, and I cannot get anything that comes close to our marvellous Maltese bread. So I am always very pleased when I have a reason for going back for a visit, as happened recently.
I was in Malta for a family wedding just after Easter and had a lovely week there with family and friends. The island was at its best, full of wild flowers after the winter rains and before the hot sun starts to take its toll. My much missed parents passed away some years back so I no longer have the luxury of requesting my favourite Maltese dishes from my mother, as I used to do when she was alive. But I stay with a long standing friend, who lives just above her mother. Both are fabulous cooks and both spoil me rotten, feeding me all my favourite things. Between the two of them, they fulfill all my cravings for Maltese food.
My friend made Malta's totally delicious Spring time soup for me for the first night of my arrival: Kusksu bil-Ful w il-Pizelli. It was exquisite with the fresh favas and fresh peas and the luxury of both a poached egg and a fresh cheese-let - usually it is either/or or neither|And the kusksu pasta has a fabulous texture that is like no other, chewy but slippery, velvety and so nice to roll the little beads round in your mouth. I am still cursing myself for not having thought to bring some back with me, with Italy's fresh fava and pea season in full swing.
Kusksu pasta is marketed as "Israeli couscous" in the US. Sometimes it described as "toasted" but our Maltese kusksu is not toasted as far as I know .
Sardinian Fregola, which is very similar to Maltese kusksu in shape is toasted and it shows because the pasta beads are not all the same colour. Fregola Sarda would make a good substitute all the same.
Or you may find something that comes quite close in Middle Eastern shops under the name of Mhammsa or Moghrabieh (Giant) Couscous, thought it is more round than the square-with-rounded-off-ends of the Maltese pasta.
Failing all of the these, you can use small pasta like "Acini di Pepe" ( mainly produced outside Italy) or " Tempestina" "Ppastina" or the larger "Ditalini"..
Kusksu bil-Ful w il-Pizelli
Spring Soup with pasta beads, fresh favas and fresh peas
For 6 people, you will need:
Four tablespoonfuls of olive oil, a large onion - peeled and finely chopped, two tablespoonss thick tomato paste, 300g kusksu pasta, 300g peas - shelled weight, 400g fava beans/broad beans - shelled weight, two litres of vegetable stock made with onion, carrot and celery leaves and a bay leaf or use plain water, Parmigiano-Reggiano or similar to grate at table if you wish
* Optional but highly recommended: either a fresh egg to poach or a fresh small cheese-let to melt into the hot soup, one per person - you can use a piece of fresh firm ricotta instead of the cheese *
Gently soften the onion and until softened and lightly golden.
Add the tomato paste and fry for about a minute then add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
Tip in the fava/ broad beans first and cook 5 minutes then add the peas and simmer gently for 5 more minutes. Use your judgment to decide if they need more cooking before the further 10 minutes when they will cook with the pasta. They need to become properly tender to be true to the traditional recipe .
Tip in the kusksu and cook to "al dente" which should take about 10 minutes. Stir often as the soup kusksu tends to stick to the bottom. Be prepared to add more stock of water if you find the pasta is absorbing all the liquid.
Just before serving, if you are using the eggs, poach them in the soup - this should take just a few minutes.
If using the cheese or the cheese, add these ingredients to the individual soup bowls and ladle the hot soup on top.
Serve hot, with cheese to grate and black pepper to grind over at table .
A crisp outside soft inside Angel Hair Pasta Omelette from Malta
Every Maltese I know adores Froga tat-Tarja but few seem to remember to make it from time to time, judging by the reactions when i suggest making it for lunch or supper. It is so easy to make, needs very few ingredients and everyone seems to love it. With salad alongside it makes a lovely lunch or supper and it is great picnic and beach food too.
Though we Maltese think of it as simple home food, as nursery food childhood food even, it can make an elegant first course when you have friends over for dinner. I was in Malta staying with a friend a few weeks ago and when she asked me to suggest something Maltese for a dinner with old friends vising Malta from Germany. They had studied in Malta years ago and we were friends from back then but had not met each other for many years.
I suggested a Froga Tat-Tarja and a way of making it a little special. We enriched it by studding it with dice cut from thick slices of the wonderful Maltese cooked ham - Perzut tal-ghadma - and it was more than worthy of an elegant table. And a big hit with our German friends.
Even when just eating with family, I like to take the Froga to the table on a round wooden board and to cut it up into portions at table in front of the diners and the guests: a little bit of show to get them salivating as they watch and wait. A little goes a long way when the Froga is part of a three course meal so I would only make half the quantity needed. Of course left overs make great breakfast or supper snacks soyou may want to make a nice big Froga and hope it does not all get eaten up, which is definitely a risk!
For six to eight people you will need:
600g thinnest angel hair pasta, 4 eggs, 25g butter, 1 tbsp olive oil, 100g Parmigiano-Reggiano or similar grating cheese, salt and pepper
Cook the pasta following the instructions on the packet for timing. Add a fistful of coarse sea salt to a large pots of already boiling water just before tipping it in and drain ital dente.
Grate the cheese very finely.
In a very large bowl mix together the eggs and cheese and season with pepper and salt to taste - the cheese is already salty but on the other hand you don't want the Frogato be bland.
Let the well drained pasta cool completely so that the starches come to the surface and it becomes sticky.
Using your clean fingers to separate the strands of pasta and to make sure the mixture penetrates, blend the egg mixture with the pasta. Your aim is to make sure each strand of pasta has some egg on it - this is what will make the froga hold well as a "cake".
Heat the half the butter or oil in a deep non stick pan - you are aiming for a 1.5 to 2 inch high Froga.
Cook the pasta Froga slowly on moderate heat so it is golden and crisp on the first side. When you think it has crisped evenly, place a wide completely flat plate or cooking pot lid on top of the pan and carefully invert the Froga onto the plate.
Place remaining fat in the pan and tip the Froga in to cook the second side till both sides are golden while the middle is firm.
Tip out as before on to your serving plate. Serve when it has cooled a little by cutting wedges as if it were a cake, garnished with fresh parsley if you like.
Though I completely take over her daughter when I am in Malta, dear Mrs M. is always more than good to me. When she knows I am in Malta, she makes sure to set aside a portion of any Maltese speciality she makes that I might have been craving. On this last occasions she outdid herself and nearly had me in tears when she presented me with a great big portion of her wonderful Torta Tal-Marmurat. This heaven-on-a-plate sweet is made with chocolate, candied citrus peel - hers is home-made and mainly tangerine - and chopped almonds. Do try it!
For the pastry you will need
200g flour, 2 tablespoons caster sugar, 100g butter, an egg yolk, 1 or 2 tablespoons of Orange Blossom Water - if you wish you can omit the Blossom water, in that case omit the sugar also
For the filling you will need
200g blanched, skinned and toasted almonds, 200g of chopped candied citrus peel - ideally home made or use 100 g shop bought and 3 tablespoons good quality Mandarin orange jam, 100g soft brown sugar, 75g of 70% cocoa chocolate (chopped or grated), one teaspoonful of allspice or substitute a mix of cinnamon and powdered cloves, three large eggs beaten
For the finish you will need
100g of 70% cocoa chocolate
optional hard white icing to pipe round the edges
To make the Pastry Shell
Preheat the oven to 200° C
Sieve the flour and add sugar. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and 1-2 tablespoons of Orange Blossom water to bind.
Mix well and knead gently until the dough is pliable. Place in a plastic bag or wrap in kitchen film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes while you make the filling.
To make the Filling
Grind the toasted almonds leaving them quite coarse in a food chopper or a small food processor.
Combine the almonds,chopped citrus peel, chopped or grated chocolate and the sugar in a bowl, then stir in the beaten eggs. Sprinkle in the spices and blend thoroughly.
Roll the dough to fit a shallow loose bottomed pie dish of 20 to 24 cm diameter, allowing a good overhang of pastry to fold back over the filling later.
Spoon the mixture into the pastry case and when done fold over your pastry overhang to make a border
Bake for 15 minutes then turn oven down to 160° C and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Melt the chocolate in a water bath then spoon on to the still warm filling, using the back of the spoon to make decorative swirls.