In summer months, there’s little better than a chilled soup to kick off a meal. Roasting the red peppers adds a rewarding smoky note and smoothness to the final soup, not to forget a punchy vibrant red colour that can never quite be achieved from tomatoes alone. Use the mussels as the sea’s answer to spoons, scooping up the soup along with a mouthful of mussel – the sweetness with the soup is an outstanding combination. Do adjust the seasonings to your own taste as the sweetness and acidity of tomatoes will vary greatly.
Serves: 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course
Prep time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling
Cook time: 30 minutes
Photography: Kristin Perers
Styling: Frankie Unsworth
Season: Late Summer/Autumn
4 red peppers
300g really ripe, best-quality tomatoes
1⁄2 tbsp sherry vinegar, or to taste
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for swirling
1 garlic clove, peeled
150ml water (or more for the desired consistency)
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mussels
About 150ml white wine or water
650g mussels, debearded and scrubbed
2 tbsp capers, drained, and rinsed if salted
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1⁄4 tsp caster sugar
1⁄4 red onion, very finely chopped
A few small coriander leaves
A squeeze of lemon juice
To scrub and de-beard your mussels, start by discarding any mussels with cracked shells or that are open and don’t close when you tap them. Fill your sink with cold water and rinse the mussels. Sort through the mussels, pulling the beard (the bristly bit between the two shells) out with your fingers and discard. Use a vegetable brush or clean scourer to scrub the outside of the shells.
Preheat the grill until medium hot. Place the red peppers under it on a baking tray and grill, turning them with tongs, until the skin blackens all over. This will take 15–20 minutes in total. Transfer them to a plastic bag and tie it shut for 15 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, remove the peppers, peel off the skin and discard the seeds too. Place the flesh in a blender with all the other ingredients and blend for 5 minutes, or until extremely smooth. Transfer to a covered container and chill for at least 1 hour.
Pour a 1cm depth of water or white wine into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over a very high heat. Add the mussels, pop the lid on and give the pan a really good shake. Leave on the heat for 3 minutes, then give the mussels a stir. If they aren’t quite open, pop the lid back on and give them another minute. Drain through a colander. When cool enough to handle, pick all the mussels from the shells and place in a bowl. Discard any that haven’t opened. Save half the shells and rinse them clean.
Arrange the mussel shells on a platter or individual plates and put the mussels back into the shells. You can serve them on a bed of coarse salt to make them stand up if they are wobbling around.
Put the red wine vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt into a small cup or glass and stir to dissolve then mix in the red onion. Drizzle over the mussels then dot with the capers and coriander leaves and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Ladle the chilled soup into bowls and add a swirl of olive oil. Spoon up the soup with the mussel scoopers, getting a mouthful of everything all at once.
We all know we eat with our eyes first, and in her book The New Art of Cooking Frankie shows how a little attention to detail in cooking and plating up our food can make it all the more delicious to eat — even at home. Published by Bloomsbury. Photography © Kristin Perers.