Kusksu? Wait, what?
Unless you’re Maltese, chances are you’ve never heard of Kusksu; and I won’t lie, it’s a shame you haven’t tried it.
Kusksu is a traditional Maltese soup typically made in Spring when Fava beans (or broad beans) are in season. It has three main components: a broth made from tomato paste, Fava beans, and Kusksu which is a thick bead of wheat pasta. Some, such as myself, also add a fresh Cheeselet into the finished soup for a nice hit of freshness.
You’re unlikely to find Kusksu out of Malta, but it does have a number of close alternatives. Namely, Ptitim from Israel, Israeli Couscous, Pearl Couscous, or Barilla Tempesta.
If you can’t find any of those, use any small yet thick pasta shape which could stand up to being put in a soup.
How’s Kusksu made?
The great part about this Maltese soup is that it requires little prep work.
Traditionally the base of the soup is made by frying onions in butter, throwing in some tomato paste, and adding water. Then you chuck in everything apart from the Kusksu. Wait 20 minutes, chuck in the Kusksu, wait 15 minutes.
Taking it a step further
A meal is as good as its weakest link. If you want to take a recipe you love and elevate it, find its weak spot and fix it. Let’s disassemble the soup into its separate elements:
- Kusksu – dense, beady bits of pasta with a great texture. Alright, that’s good.
- Fava Beans – Starchy exterior, grassy taste which captures the flavors of Spring. Yep, also good.
- Tomato Paste broth – Double cooked tomatoes, factory strained and reduced into a thick concentrate which is then mixed with water. Yeah, no… here’s the weakest link.
Nothing personal, tomato paste, but we can do better than stirring you in with some water.
Let’s take the soup a bit further by adding in one of the French mother sauces: Sauce Tomat, less pretentiously known as tomato sauce. If you’re not familiar with the French mother sauces I do recommend you read this guide by The Kitchn. I tend to enhance whatever I can with these sauces. Check out this Mac’n’Cheese recipe and its usage of bechamel.
Now yes, a sauce is not a soup; but the difference between tomato sauce and tomato soup is in the water content.
There are a hundred and one different variations of Sauce Tomat, and when in doubt about French cuisine I refer to Ginette Mathiot, the great aunt of modern French cuisine. I’m not the only one who does this either. Her book, Je Sais Cuisiner, taught generations of French home cooks and is often given as a wedding present in Paris.
In her Sauce Tomat, the tomatoes are quartered and then cooked for 5 minutes without any oil. Afterwards, instead of using a sieve to pass the tomatoes through – as Ginette suggests – I grab my immersion blender and go to town on those tomatoes. I’m certain the only reason Ginette does not advocate this method is because the book was published in 1932 and immersion blenders were not a thing until the 1950s. If you don’t have an immersion blender, a processor will do just fine.
The rest of the instructions are further below. The key takeaway here is that any recipe can be made better by improving its worst element.
750gr / 1.6lb fresh tomatoes, quartered
1kg / 2.2lbs broad beans, deshelled (no need to double peel, the jacket’s starch and bitterness works well here)
1 large carrot, peeled and chop into medium sized chunks
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 sprigs of Thyme
2 bay leaves
300gr / 11oz Kusksu pasta. Replace with Israeli Couscous or any pasta shape which works in soups.
30gr / 1oz flour
60gr / 2oz unsalted butter
8 fresh Gozitan Cheeselets (Gbejna).
Replace with 400gr /14oz ricotta or fresh, mild, goat cheese
1 liter / 4.2 cups of chicken stock
Salt & Pepper to taste
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, throw in the tomatoes and leave for 5 minutes.
- Take the tomatoes out, and, using an immersion blender or a food processor, blend them into a fine liquid.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Make a blond roux by melting half of the butter (30gr/1oz) in the pot. Gradually stir in the flour to form a paste. Cook for 4 minutes while stirring. Do not let it scorch.
- Add the tomato puree, chicken broth, onion, carrot, thyme, broad beans, and bay leaves.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Leave for 30-35 minutes.
- Stir in the Kusksu or pasta alternative. Cook according to packet instructions, usually 15-20 minutes. If the liquid has reduced too much, don’t fret. Add some more chicken stock until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Stir in the remaining 30gr/1oz of butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve in a deep plate and throw in a cheeselet (or other cheese) in the centre of the soup.