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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Zuppa di Cozze (mussel soup)

2 peeled and seeded tomatoes, diced
1 onion chopped fine
2 cloves of crushed and chopped garlic
1 16 oz can of Italian tomatoes
1 cup of white wine
2 bay leaves
¼ cup olive oil
salt to taste

I learned this recipe from an Italian cookbook years and years ago and I haven't changed a thing, so why change the name? If I remember correctly, the book was The Food of Italy by Waverly Root, a famous food writer. I have used mussels from the Mediterranean, Maine, and Penne Cove in Washington state. Penne Cove mussels are la puta madre (a good thing, in this case) of mussels but this dish is splendid with any sort of mussel. I made this at some friends' house the other night as we were having a dinner party and this dish doesn't travel well, even though we only live two blocks from each other. This isn't so much a soup as just a bit of broth to accompany the mussels. I will sometimes put a big baked croûton in each serving dish as an added touch. Nothing could be simpler than Zuppa di Cozze and few dishes are better when you are preparing mussels, wherever they were fished.

The first step is to clean the mussels. You need to de-beard each mussel which just means ripping the fibers from the shell. After this I like to use a piece of steel wool to thoroughly scrub each shell. Let the mussels sit in a pan of fresh water after they have been cleaned.

In a large soup dish, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil. When this has cooked thoroughly, add the chopped tomato. Let this cook until most of the moisture has evaporated. When the mixture is beginning to stick to the pan, add the cup of wine to de-glaze the pan. Add the can of whole tomatoes (I crush them by hand in a bowl before I put them in), throw in the bay leaves, and season with salt to taste. Allow this to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Next, add the mussels and cover the pot. They only need a few minutes to cook and as they do the shells open. Discard any which do not open.

You can serve it at this point. I have also made another version in which I pull all of the mussels from the shells and discard the shells. Then I add some sort of cooked pasta to the pot to make a noodle soup. Here in Valencia I use fideos which are very fine, small noodles that they use to make a form of noodle paella called fideua.

I have been making this dish most of my life and it has always been a treat. My Spanish friends enjoyed it especially since I gave it an Italian name.

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