The unlikely pairing of fresh mussels and butternut squash in a broth with pasta makes a savory yet surprisingly sweet rustic Italian seafood dish.
Whether from the Mediterranean or from Canada as are most blue mussels (Mytilus spp.) sold in the non-coastal U.S., this simple bivalve is chewy and has a slightly sweet, briny taste. Its worth comes in the form of its liquor, that native freshwater reserve trapped within its shell while still alive. This liquor is released when the mollusk is steamed open and serves as the base of a flavorful seafood broth.
Paired with this is a simple butternut squash, a common fleshy winter vegetable found all over the world. Its flesh ripens into a deep orange with a sweet, nutty flavor that pairs beautifully with the steamed mussels and their subsequent broth. Instead of a purée, mash some cooked squash against the sides of the vessel using a wide spoon for a rougher consistency. With little more than simple aromatics of onion and garlic, the overall soup flavors come together surprisingly well with no added sugar.
A small pasta—ditalini used here—adds bulk and texture to the dish but any similar small shape such as macaroni, penne or even broken pieces of long pasta will also suffice. (Try to match the size of the pasta to the cut of the squash.) True to the Italian fashion, a splash of wine and a handful of cheese finish the dish with an authentic richness and style.
This soup makes an elegant, light supper by itself and needs no more accompaniment than a sprinkle of parsley and a glass of wine.
Zuppa e Councesze
2 lb fresh mussels
1 butternut squash
1 yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 c white wine
1 c ditalini
½ c Parmesan
red chili flakes
1 Clean and de-beard the mussels. Discard any that do not close when handled.
2 Mince the garlic and briefly sauté in a stock pot with oil, careful not to burn.
3 Add the mussels, wine, chili flakes, salt and black pepper and stir to coat. Cover and steam over low heat until the mussels are fully opened, about 10 min.
4 Dice the onion and squash and cook in oil until tender, about 10 min. Remove about 1 c and purée with a little water until smooth.
5 Add the pasta along with 2 c water and simmer, covered, for 15 min.
6 Strain the broth from the mussels. When cool, shell the mussels and add the meat back to the broth.
7 Add the mussels and broth to the squash and pasta along with the cheese and reserved purée, and stir to combine. Season to taste.