Maltese Widow Soup
Soups & Stews
A traditional Maltese soup recipe that has been passed down through my family. There are many variations of the recipe, but the basis is simply a glut of hearty vegetables with beans, tomato paste or whole tomatoes, a pasta or grain, eggs and cheese. It can be treated as a perpetual soup, with more stock, vegetables and pasta added to extend the leftovers for extra lunches and dinners. The name Widow's Soup, loosely translated from the Maltese name 'soppa tal-armla', is a nod to the humble ingredients that can be substituted for virtually anything you have in the fridge or pantry. We've listed our go-to veggies below, but you can also use celery, kohlrabi, celeriac, cabbage, spinach, broad beans, kale, chickory, or really anything you have to hand. We've used pastina, a tiny pearl shaped pasta, but you could use quinoa, barley, risoni, fregola or any grain you favour as a base.
My version is perhaps a little richer than is traditional; to make it less so you could use tomato paste only, or a tin of tomatoes only, and not both.
1 brown onion, finely diced
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 zucchini, roughly chopped
1 potato, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 handful of green beans, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of kunserva or tomato paste
half head of cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 tin of good quality tinned tomatoes, ideally San Marzano
1 litre of vegetable stock
½ cup of tiny pasta, barley, quinoa or fregola
1 tin of borlotti beans
quality salt and pepper
free range eggs (optional)
gbejniet cheese (see notes)
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy based soup pot. Add onion and cook for a couple of minutes until translucent. Add the minced garlic and stir until the aroma releases.
Add the chopped zucchini, carrot, potato and green beans in small batches, adding a little salt and olive oil as you go. Stir regularly as the vegetables start to brown (colour equals flavour!).
Once the veggies are in, well coated with oil and salt, and slightly brown on the edges, add the tomato paste and continue to stir to coat. Add the tin of tomatoes and stock, then slowly bring to the boil.
Once boiling, add the pasta or grain. Stir well and reduce the heat. Allow the soup to cook slowly over a low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring often.
*If you are using parmesan rinds instead of the Gbejniet, add them in at this stage and remove before adding the eggs. See notes.
After 30 minutes, add the cauliflower and borlotti beans. The soup will be ready when the texture has become thick, the pasta/grain is soft to the tooth and the vegetables are fully cooked.
Season with salt and pepper, taste and adjust accordingly.
To finish, drop in one free range egg per person, and allow to gently poach in heat of the soup. Don’t stir at this stage, as you want each egg to remain whole. If you are using the Gbejniet cheese, add it at the same time as the eggs so that it heats through and becomes molten and delicious.
Serve immediately once the eggs are cooked, with a side of bread or pastizzi. You can continue to add more vegetables and stock to the stew, which will continue to thicken, for a few days to extend the leftovers to extra lunches and dinners.
A note on Gbejniet:
Gbejniet is a traditional Maltese cheese, which can be enjoyed fresh or matured until firm and dry. In Malta, it would traditionally be made with ewe's milk, but most Australian examples are made with cows milk. It is becoming increasingly hard to find but our local friends at Gowrie Farm make it fresh with milk from their own cows, and sell it at the Camden Produce Markets.
If you can't get Gbejniet, you can still make the soup without it. You can add parmesan rinds into the soup as it cooks to impart a rich and earthy flavour and cheesy quality, just make sure they don't have any paper labels on them and remove them before serving.
A note on eggs:
The eggs are an optional addition to add extra protein and balance to the soup. You can leave them out without any material change to the flavour and texture. You could also use chorizo or sausage for extra protein, I would just cook it separately on drain any excess fat on a paper towel.
A note on substitutions:
I personally don't peel any of the vegetables for this soup. My cooking style is quick and rustic, so I just wash all of the veg in the sink with a few drops of Koala Fruit & Veg Wash then roughly chop. You can peel the potatoes and carrots if you prefer.
This type of soup is perfect for clearing out a glut of vegetables in the fridge or garden. Use what you have and don't feel obliged to follow my specifications. We've listed our go-to veggies, but you can also use celery, kohlrabi, celeriac, cabbage, spinach, broad beans, kale, chickory, or really anything you have to hand. I often use pastina, a tiny pearl shaped pasta, but you could use quinoa, barley, risoni, fregola or any grain you favour as a base. If you don't have borlotti beans, try butter beans or cannellini beans.
A note on stock:
Homemade stock is best, but a decent quality store-bought stock will absolutely do the job here. Use the best quality you can justify paying for as it will make a difference. Powdered stocks are extremely high in sodium so reduce the amount of salt you add if using those.
A note on salt:
The type of salt you are using is a make or break factor in home cooking. My go-to is Murray River Pink Salt for it's ultra fine texture and delicate, mineral flavour.
A note on tomatoes:
Not all tinned tomatoes were created equally, so make sure you use the quality your home cooking deserves. Try to find BPA free tins and choose organic where you can.