Zuppa Estiva di Cozze. Summery Mussel Soup.

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.

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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.

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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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.

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Urban Myth.

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:

Local Mussels.
Local Mussels.

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29 thoughts on “Zuppa Estiva di Cozze. Summery Mussel Soup.”

  1. Gorgeous photos Francesca! Looks delicious. I only lived near the sea once in my life and that was in Florida and in those days I was too busy working to cook much. It must be such a pleasure to be able to get such beautifully fresh seafood.

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      1. I told a terrible unintentional lie just then… I lived in Darwin too! Seafood was not plentiful to the locals there in those days, unless you caught your own. I did eat a few Barramundi caught by my husband, but the taste varied from muddy to okay, so am not a huge fan. Mud crab okay, but we didn’t have them often… so maybe I’m just not a seafood person???

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    1. I just read your post. Italian migrants in Melbourne would have been much happier in the 50s as mussels have always been on the menu in Victoria. They don’t grow so well in Sydney, preferring cooler waters I suspect.

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  2. Yum! I’m pleased with the efforts being made by Matthew Evans et al to promote sustainable/labelled/quality seafood. Recipes and gorgeous photos like this, just go to show it’s possible 🙂

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    1. Yes, it is slow to filter through to the shops though. Haven’t seen any good labelling yet, though small fishmongers will answer questions and usually know the source of their products.

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  3. I confess to not being a huge mussel fan, but I adore tomatoes. Perhaps I need to try them together! Have you noticed how the price of mackerel has sky rocketed since being recommended as sustainable?

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    1. I haven’t noticed the price rise in mackerel as I don’t like it so rarely notice it. There are lots of other fish that are sustainable which haven’t hit the spotlight yet.
      Ah, if you don’t like mussels, you won’t enjoy those smoked mussels from Coromandel, but there are other smoked fishy things there.

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      1. I look at fish these days and balk at the prices. It’s heading into luxury territory. My comsumption has slowed down so I guess that’s helping the fish stocks too. Fresh sardines are looking good..

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        1. yes, and lets hope that the prices stay down for sardines ( of which there are plenty). Prices for leatherjackets are cheap too- nice with an Indian or Chinese sauce. There’s a good little fishmonger in a daggy old market at Brunswick- prices are still reasonable, happy to fillet, shuck oysters to order and so on. Remember the good old days flathead were cheap?

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  4. I am off to the Vic Market tomorrow, and guess what I am going to buy?! This soup looks delicious. I made a marinate mussel salad a couple of month ago, and that was delicious.
    Mussels in France are pretty yummy too.

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