Squash and Mussels Soup

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Basic techniques needed: How to steam mussels

INGREDIENTS
800 g Pumpkin or squash
600g Mussels
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
4 Anchovy fillets
3 Garlic cloves, minced
White wine (optional)
1 tbsp Tomato paste

Chives, finely chopped, to sprinkle

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I got inspiration for this recipe from a TV program, that was showing a soup made with cubed pumpkin, mussels and other spices. I immediately liked the idea of combining the sweetness of pumpkin (or squash, if pumpkin is not in season), with the saltiness of mussels.
Unlike the recipe I saw, I do not add spices (just anchovy fillets and tomato paste, that are natural flavour enhancers, and the tomato will also give a more vivid colour) as I like the flavour of the main ingredients to stand out, and I blend the cooked pumpkin to have a smoother texture (otherwise you can mash it with a potato masher if you like it more chunky).

  1. Trim and de-seed the squash, and cut it in cubes (about 1/2 inch side)
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  2. Steam the mussel as in How to steam mussels , preserving their liquid
  3. Sweat the onion in 2 tbsp. olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and anchovy fillets, and cook on low heat until the anchovy has dissolved into the oil
  4. Add the cubed squash and cover with cold water (or a light fish stock if using it)
  5. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a gentle simmer, and the liquid from the mussels and the tomato paste
  6. When the squash is soft and cooked through, blend it with a hand blender (or mash it with a potato masher).
  7. Taste it and season with salt if needed
  8. Add the mussels: when you do it, I suggest that you shell about 3/4 of them and leave only the remaining 1/4 in the shell; by doing that, it will be easier to eat the soup without getting too many shells in your plate but you will still keep some whole mussels for colour and presentation purposes.
  9. Serve in bowls or deep plates, sprinkling with finely chopped chives

How to steam mussels

Mussels are one of my favs. if they are fresh and prepared in the right way, they will give you the real taste of the sea.  However, they are very delicate and need to be treated with care because,  as it happens very often with fish and seafood, overcooking is a very common mistake and will spoil the result.

If you want to have an excellent result in terms of both flavour and texture, follow these simple steps.

First of all, you need to clean them: usually you will find a bit of seaweed coming out of the shell: pull it off (this is probably the most tedious part of the process).

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Discard all the broken shells; once done, put them in a colander and rinse.

Put them in a pan large enough to allow some extra room as the shells will open up and the overall volume will increase and add a splash of water (or white wine if you prefer). You can add some crushed garlic if you like it.

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With the lid on, cook on medium heat and, when they start opening up, stir them with a wooden spoon to allow even cooking (put the lid back on afterwards).

Do not cook for more than 3-4 minutes after they start opening up, and discard all the shells that didn’t open. If not using immediately, keep the lid on (if too much steam escapes, it will make the mussels dry, you want them soft and moist!)

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The mussels will release a lot of liquid which is packed with flavour: you just need to strain it before using it. Use a colander (or even better a conical strainer if you have one) lined with muslin (kitchen paper will do if you don’t have it but it’s a bit more hard work and it gets ripped quite easily). By doing that you will make sure that no sand or other impurities will find their way into your plate.