Memento mussel soup
The joys of spring, as seen last week:
Buying asparagus from a farmstand covered in blue tarpaulin, by the side of a field. Is there anything a city slicker loves more than some residue of mud on their vegetables?
Podding peas and eating the tiny ones straight away. Sweet.
Marinading strawberries in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, a la Nigella. The only way to make silly huge fresones edible, really.
Splashing home under an umbrella, and stepping in puddles.Lovely lovely.
If you live in a desert and there´s a drought, you won´t complain about rain, but it might pose a bit of a catering problem. You can´t give dinner guests a trim dinner of steamed asparagus with poached eggs and strawberry cake; they´ll freeze. But you can´t really trot out lentils and apple pie.
The answer? Memento mussel soup. Memento being a restaurant where they serve a beautiful starter of mussels with chistorra (a light cooking chorizo from Navarra). It always has us clamouring for more bread to dip in the rust-red strong sauce, and seemed like a perfect springboard for a good soup.
My version is soupier (duh) and lighter, and has gone straight away into the folder of "things I´ll be making again and again".
It´s good, and it´s easy, and it´s quick, provided you buy cleaned mussels or enlist help.
I served it with a home made focaccia, which was pretty amazing, but any crusty bread for making boats will be great. Provide plenty of napkins and maybe finger bowls.
Memento mussel soup
2kgs mussels, cleaned and debearded
100 gr. or so of chistorra, or any other cooking chorizo
a bunch of spring onions, or three shallots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 smallish tomatoes, grated (or a 1/2 kg. tin, which will give you more liquid, and lucky you)
salt, pepper, dried oregano to taste
1 tablespoonful flour
300 ml or so of liquid (white wine, beer or both)
Creme fraiche, or any thick cream
Begin by sauteeing the chistorra in olive oil in a big pan that will hold all the mussels later, until it´s released its fat and it´s beginning to crisp up. Add the spring onions. After a couple of minutes, add the tomatoes and garlic. None of this has to cook down a lot, but give it a couple of minutes, too. Now add the flour and stir til it dissappears, and stir it around for a bit more so it won´t taste raw.
Pour in the liquid and stir until it´s thickened and the alcohol has evaporated. Throw in the mussels, cover, and, taking the pan in your mittened hands that are also clamping down the lid, give it a good shake.
Do this again a couple of times (males of the species are good for this job. recruit one). Check after three minutes. If there are a lot of unopened shells, leave it another minute.
Now serve in big deep bowls, as many mussels as you can, plenty of the soup and a blob of sour cream (with chopped parsley or chives if you have them, for prettiness). Put a big salad bowl for the shells on the table, alongside some hot sauce. As people eat, their bowls will be ready for more, so top them up.
Serves 4 as dinner, with fresh bread, or 8 more timid souls as a starter.