Take some mussels, tomatoes and basil, and you have the perfect Sunday-night dinner. The trick is to use fresh basil and to be very fussy about your mussels. They should be fresh and sourced from somewhere reliable: for us, that’s mussels from pollution-free waters on the south coast of New South Wales.
When you buy mussels, buy loose ones and handpick them. You want only mussels with shells that haven’t opened; you don’t want any with cracked shells either. Sure, you’ll get cold, wet hands, and the fishmonger might not be too happy, but it’s the only way to make sure you get mussels that you’ll want to eat.
Mussel, tomato and basil soup
- 2 onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- a large tin (800g) of tomatoes, or 6-8 ripe tasty tomatoes
- 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
- 500 grams of mussels
- ½ cup of white wine
- ½ cup of fresh basil
- some water
- olive oil
Before you start: clean the mussels
Before you start, scrub the mussels and remove any shaggy bits—they’re called ‘beards’. You need to give them a bit of a tug to pull them off, but it has to be done. While you’re at it, discard any mussels that have already opened.
Directions (making the soup)
- Finely dice the onions and garlic, then saute them with a little olive oil in a large pot.
- Add the tomatoes, ground tomatoes and fish sauce and simmer for 5 or 10 minutes.
- Then stir in the wine and some of the basil. Stir in the mussels and simmer the whole thing until all the shells open. If some of them refuse to open, you’ll have to toss them: they might not be so good to eat (see notes).
- Add as much water as you need to bring the mix to your preferred soup-like consistency.
- Serve immediately with fresh basil.
Cooking mussels: We can cook the mussels directly in the soup base because we always buy mussels from the same source. Some mussels can be very salty, and you’ll get a much better soup if you steam them separately in a little water until all their shells have opened (again, discard any that stay shut). Then add them to the soup, and you can even take them out of their shells at this stage if you want to. Save the steaming water: it’s useful for flavouring the soup.
Fish sauce: You could use as much as a litre of fish stock instead. We never bother. Some water, a little olive oil, fish sauce and cooking the mussels in the soup does a good enough job for us.
Tomato paste: We actually use a spoonful of home-made ground, dried tomato instead of paste, or as well, depending on how tomato-ish the tomatoes are. It’s the rich tomato flavours that make this dish stand out above other other mussel dishes.
Source: Adapted from Our Greek Table (2009) by Pam Talimanididis. Hardie Grant Books: Prahan, Australia.