As is traditional in this house, and as surely as night follows day, we have been declared to be “on a diet” following our holidays. This recipe is the first step towards the weekend when we will undermine all of our good work by going out for chips and wine.
The recipe is based on the one I remember from the first River Cafe Cookbook, or the Blue One, as I more easily remember it. It’s an Italian dish bit one from the south, where they are a little more liberal with the use of chillies.
I’ve managed to acquire a large pile of dried chillies from Bangladesh and they have a good warming burn to them rather than the painful, searing burn that some chillies offer. A dried chilli or two will work wonders for many Southern Italian dishes, adding a depth of flavour to sauces and soups.
Anyway, the recipe. The ingredients are given in satisfyingly vague quantities but don’t let that put you off. The recipe is for two people.
Soak and clean 1kg of mussels, removing the beards and throwing away any that are open.
Heat a good splash of olive oil in a large pan and then, over a high heat, chuck in the mussels and add a half glass of white wine [serving yourself enthusiastically as you go] and glass of water. When the mussels are open, drain them, retaining the cooking liquor.
In the same pan [you’re supposed to use a frying pan but I prefer to save on the washing up and I don’t have an army of sous-chefs and dish-washers clearing up after me], add some more olive oil and gently fry some finely chopped garlic and three or four anchovy fillets and mash the anchovy with the garlic.
Don’t use a garlic press, it just makes a sticky mush. You don’t have to go to the extremes of Goodfellas where they slice the garlic with a razor blade but chopped garlic is good.
When the garlic starts to take a little colour, add a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, two chopped, dried chillies [or however many you see fit, but you need some] and the cooking liquor from the mussels and gently simmer for twenty or thirty minutes.
Meanwhile, remove half of the cooked mussels from their shells and remove half of the shell from the other half.
Once your tomato sauce has reduced to the thickness you like, add back the mussels and a handful of chopped parsley and check the seasoning. If it’s not spicy enough then rather than use more chopped dried chillies I would add a couple of drops of chilli olive oil [make it yourself by adding a load of birds eye chillies to a bottle of half decent olive oil and letting it mature – grand stuff. The Italians call it Olio Santi or “sainted oil”]
The original recipe says to use flat leafed parsley but I only had curly parsley and anyway, the curly stuff has a much gutsier flavour to match the soup.
If you are feeling fancy or authentic, make some bruschetta by lightly toasting some good Italian bread, rubbing it with some garlic and adding a couple of drops of decent olive oil.
Serve in dishes with some more drops of olive oil on the soup, if you’re feeling degenerate or you’re simply not on a diet, and some more parsley.