SERVES 6 to 8
A personal favorite for Christmas Eve is this mussel and pasta soup, thickened with two kinds of dried beans and potatoes. The original recipe comes from my friend Maria Castaldo Esposito's mother, who lives in Scisciano, near Mount Vesuvius.
1/2 cup dried Great Northern or cannellini beans
1/2 cup dried red kidney or borlotti beans
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fennel leaves or flat-leaf parsley
2 cups diced peeled tomatoes or 2 cups Tomato and Basil Sauce
2 medium all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups cooked Ditalini or Elbow Macaroni
Place the beans in a pot, cover with 5 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the beans are al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. Add half the garlic and sauté until it softens. Add the parsley, mussels, wine, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer until the mussels open, about 6 to 8 minutes. Scoop the mussels out of the pan with a slotted spoon and let them cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl.
When cool enough to handle, shell the mussels, discarding any that are cracked or did not open. Add the mussels to the reserved cooking liquid, cover, and refrigerate.
Return the skillet to the stove and heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic, the onion, basil, and fennel leaves. Sauté until the onion is wilted. Add the diced tomatoes or tomato sauce, stir well, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the beans, the reserved bean cooking liquid, and the potatoes and mix well. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.
Add the mussels and their reserved liquid and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the ditalini or elbow macaroni and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until heated through. Serve immediately.
Note: If you prefer a thinner soup, add additional bean water.
This recipe is from CELEBRATIONS ITALIAN STYLE by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc., in 1995.
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