As the season reaches its peak, the tomato glut becomes a mixed blessing. I have grown tired of the early yellow varieties, enjoying this months flush of Rouge de Marmande and Roma. With a little home grown chilli, a bunch of basil, some garlic and a bag of black local mussels, a soup is born and la vita è bella, as we lunch in the garden on a still, hot day.
Black Mussels are a sustainable and cheap seafood in Victoria, retailing for around $6.00 a kilo, and are grown in the cool clean waters of Port Arlington and Mount Martha in Victoria. They are sweet and briny, unlike their large, green lipped New Zealand cousins which tend to be fibrous and tough. Tasmanian black mussels are lovely too.
I found this summer soup in The River Cafe Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, but have made some adaptations along the way.
Zuppa Estiva di Cozze – Summer Mussel Soup.
- 2 kilo of mussels, cleaned
- 100 ml olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, 1 chopped, 2 sliced finely.
- 1 large bunch basil, stalks removed
- 1 small chilli, seeded and finely chopped
- 1.5 kilo ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped, all juices and seeds retained
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan, add the garlic slivers, and cook gently until golden. Add half the basil leaves and the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring over a fierce heat, until the tomatoes break up and reduce a little. This should take around 15 minutes.
- In another large, heavy saucepan, fry the chopped garlic in the remaining olive oil until golden, then add the mussels and a few basil leaves and the remaining, reserved tomato juice. Cover, and cook on a high heat, shaking as you go, until they are open. Remove them as soon as they open and leave to cool. Remove most of the mussels from their shells, retaining a few for serving.
- Reduce the mussel/tomato stock for five minutes, then strain it through muslin into a bowl. Add some or all ( to taste) into the tomato sauce. Reheat the sauce and reduce a little.
- Add all the mussels to the sauce, add the rest of the basil and season well.
Serve in big bowls accompanied by a simple Bruschetta.
An unexpected surprise! The stock in step 3 is not retained in the original River Cafe recipe. It is just too good to waste. From now on, when opening mussels for any dish, I intend to use this combination of tomato juice and garlic, instead of wine, and retain a batch of stock in the freezer for another dish.
Don’t discard those unopened mussels. The advice to “throw away mussels that refuse to open”, began in the 1970s when there were concerns over some European mussels being dredged from polluted mussel beds. This advice has been repeated without question by chefs and in many ‘how to cook fish’ cook books since then. See the following: