For this Mercury Cook Your Catch installment, veteran outdoorsman Blaine Garrett shares two of his all-time favorite things in one delicious recipe – zuppa Toscana and steamed mussels.
Loaded with spicy Italian sausage, bacon and kale, zuppa Toscana builds on that richness with chicken stock and cream base that’s finished with parmesan cheese. For this particular recipe, Blaine adds another culinary dimension – pairing the soup with steamed mussels and a rustic loaf of Italian bread.
- 1 pound mussels
- ½ pound bacon
- 1 pound ground spicy Italian sausage
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 white onion diced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ bunch of kale (a couple of handfuls, de-stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1-2 cups Parmesan cheese
- 1 loaf Italian bread
Before you do anything else, you need to clean and debeard your mussels. Get started by placing the mussels in a colander and rinsing them with water. Use a small brush to brush off any debris – from seaweed to sand. While you’re cleaning your mussels, you should also make sure you don’t have any dead mussels. To do this, tap any mussels you find open on the side of your sink. If they close back up, they are alive and safe to eat. If they don’t close, you’ll want to discard them.
The beard of a mussel is the clump of hair-like fibers found on the outside of the shell. You can either remove the beard with a knife or you can pull it with your thumb and forefinger toward the hinge of the mussel.
Once you have your mussels cleaned, place a cast iron skillet over medium heat and cook the bacon until it’s nice and crispy. The bacon itself will be used as a garnish, so you can set it aside for the time being. Consider placing it on some paper towels to drain some of the excess fat.
Next, remove about half of the bacon grease, leaving the other half in the pan. Then, add the sausage to the pan, and break it up into smaller pieces. Just don’t make the pieces too fine. Heat on medium-high until it is cooked all the way through.
At this point, your bacon has cooled. So, while your sausage is cooking in the bacon grease, now is a good time to cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a bowl.
Once the sausage has cooked all the way through, remove it from the pan, set aside, and add the chopped onions to the pan, cooking over medium-high heat.
Next, get your grill or oven started – you’ll want to heat it up to somewhere between 400 and 425 degrees.
With your grill or oven heating up, add the garlic to the pan and – using a wooden spoon – mix thoroughly with the onions. Add the chicken broth and the water and continue to heat over medium-high heat until the soup reaches a boil. With your wooden spoon, slowly scrape the pan to prevent the onion and garlic from sticking to the bottom
Next, slice the loaf of bread lengthwise, giving you two even halves.
Once your soup comes to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer. Butter both sides of the bread and place face-down on your grill. While your bread is toasting, add the cream and butter to your pan.
You’ll probably want to check the bread at this point. Once it is toasted nicely, remove it from the grill or oven. Note: It will get a second toasting closer to serving time.
Back to your soup. Add the sausage and kale to the pan and mix them evenly into the soup. Once the kale softens up a bit, remove some of the sausage and vegetable mixture using a slotted spoon and place into a colander. Then, spoon some of the soup broth from the pan and place it into a second cast iron pan. When you have about ¾ inch of broth in the second pan, cover it and continue to cook over medium-high heat.
Once this reaches a slow rolling boil, add the mussels. Now, adding the mussels will bring the temperature of the broth down, so give the mussels a nice stir, turn the heat up, put the lid back on and let those mussels steam for about 5 minutes.
With your mussels cooking, top both pieces of your bread with your strained sausage and veggie mixture, top with parmesan cheese, and put them back on the grill or in the oven, allowing them to cook for 3-4 minutes.
Once your mussels have steamed in your covered pan for about 5 minutes, it’s time to remove them from the pot. Place them in a bowl and pour some of the wonderful, rich broth they were cooking in over the top.
When the bread is cooked to your liking, remove it from the grill or oven, add some salt and pepper to taste and cut it into individual slices. Dish out some of the soup into individual bowls, and there you have it. Oh, and don’t forget to add some of the bacon to the top of your soup.
Voila, zuppa Toscana, steamed mussels and bread topped with spicy sausage, vegetables and parmesan cheese. As they say in Italy, è ora di cena (it’s dinertime)! Hopefully someone brought the tiramisu.
For more great recipes by some of the world’s foremost anglers and outdoor enthusiasts, search “Cook Your Catch” in the Mercury Dockline Blog.