Mussel Soup with Sausage and Kale

OK, OK. I know you’ve never heard of this recipe, neither did I until I did a literal translation of the ingredients into Italian. I’ve always thought of this soup as an Italian soup because the inspiration for creating it came from Italian wedding soup. They share some common characteristics: both are made with greens like kale (or escarole or spinach), and they both contain ground pork – meatballs in the IWS case and sausage (as the name suggests) in this case. No aspect of assembling this soup requires a level of culinary aptitude beyond being able to use a knife and the stove, but do allocate an appropriate amount of time, about 2 hours (with probably 15 minutes of hands-on time) to make it.

Here is what you will need to make this soup: (recipe makes 4-5 appetizer servings)

1 5lb bag of mussels
2 hot Italian sausages
1 head kale
2 Roma tomatoes
6 cups chicken (or vegetable)stock
Parmigiano Reggianno or Pecorino rinds
1 cup white wine
Parmigiano Reggianno to garnish (optional)
Mussels are sold in a standard bag of 5lbs at my grocer. The closer you are to New England, the more likely you’ll be to find still-alive-and-not-rancid mussels. When you buy your bag make sure you inspect them immediately. Look for cracked or open shells and/or a “fishy” smell. If the mussels exhibit any of these characteristics ask for another bag or go to another store – I have had more than one planned meal end in disaster because I did not heed this advice. Trust me, you don’t want to eat bad mussels.

This is a picture of the most important (though oft overlooked) detail in bi-valve preparation. It is imperative that one take the requisite amount of time and care in properly cleaning one’s mussels (claims, oysters, etc.). First, empty the mussels into a bowl and rinse with cool water, dumping out the bowl several times. After most of the outside grime is removed soak the mussels in heavily salted water for a minimum of 1 hour, replacing the water as needed. You will notice that some of the mussels may “open” slightly, this is good, they are circulating the clean water and salt through their bodies and filtering out the otherwise “gritty” nasties that are undesired in the final product. Remember these little guys are still alive right now.

Here is my mis en place. Note: In the tupperware is about 2 cups of homemade chicken stock. I did not have enough on hand to make this soup so I had to use the box of vegetable stock. Also, there are 4 sausages, 2 of which were used here and 2 reserved for another purpose.

Here I break the casing with the tip of my paring knife and then slice the sausage horizontally to remove. As a general rule, unless I’m serving them whole, I almost always remove the casing.

Roughly chop up the now out of the casing sausages and warm in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise and remove the seeds and pulp (the bottom is cleaned, the top is not). Chop the tomatoes into thick dice. Note: I usually peel the tomatoes so the skins don’t end up in my soup, this time I was lazy and did not. It is possible to remove them either by blanching them for a minute in boiling water and then peeling or directly if one has a VERY sharp vegetable peeler.

After the fat starts rendering out of the sausages add the tomatoes to the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes until just soft.

Put the now mostly cooked sausages and tomatoes into the bottom of a stock pot. Add the stock(s) and warm over medium heat. It is possible at this juncture to strain the fat off, I think it provides a noticeable amount of richness to the soup so I leave most of it in (and skim only what rises to the top of the pot during cooking).

In a large frying pan (or skillet, I’m using the same one I used above for the sausages), heat the white wine over high heat to a simmer. Add the cleaned mussels to the pan and cook over high heat just until they open. Try to remove smaller mussels from the pan as quickly as possible to prevent over cooking, as the larger ones will take a bit longer to open. Allow them to cool, remove from the shells, pull off the beards, and reserve. After the mussels are removed put the pan back on the stove over high heat to reduce.

In the meantime, add your cheese rinds to the (now simmering) soup.

Here the mussel liquor/wine is reduced.

Strain the mixture through a cheese cloth and add to the soup.

Rinse and clean the kale, remove any large stems. Chop roughly then add to the soup. The kale adds a wonderful hint of bitterness to the soup. It is preferable that the kale be cooked minimally to allow it to maintain some structure and act as a contrast to the other ingredients.

To serve, add the reserved mussels to prepared bowls, ladle soup (leaving behind what’s left of the cheese rinds) over mussels and top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if desired. Serve immediately.

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