The fried garlic with salt and herbs is a traditionally rustic Italian building block to flavor. It is basically a simplified soffrito (without the onion). I learned it from reading and old Sicilian cookbook. It’s makes for a little bit of extra work, but it pays off in this Italian soup of roasted tomato with mussels and fennel. Roast Tomato Soup with Mussels & Fennel.
- 4 pound roma tomatoes, roughly torn or chopped into big chunks
- 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 clove garlic, peeled & chopped
- 1 fennel bulb with stems and fronds, separated
- .75 cup olive oil
- 1 pinch each kosher salt and black pepper
- 4 tablespoon flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 red calabrian chili, or similar, with seeds minced
- 6 cup water
- 3 pound mussels, scrubbed & debearded
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the tomato pieces with all of their juices, the chopped onion, 2 chopped garlic cloves, and the fennel stems and most of the fronds (save the bulb for the soup and a few feathery fronds for garnish) onto a parchment line rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with ½ cup olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss to get all the vegetables coated in oil. Roast the vegetables about 1 hour and 15 minutes until slightly charred, rotating the sheet halfway through cooking. Remove from oven and let cool somewhat.
Scrape the vegetables and any accumulated juices into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10 or 12 times, scraping down the sides once or twice, until a very rough puree is formed. Push the mixture through a fine meshed sieve or tami using a wooden spoon into a clean bowl. Work in batches, discarding the solids as you work. You should get about 2 ½ to 3 cups of silky smooth sauce, thick enough to coat a wooden spoon.
Quarter the fennel bulb lengthwise then remove the core from each section. Slice the fennel crosswise into thin slivers. Set aside.
Using a mortar and pestle grind the remaining chopped garlic cloves, parsley, red chili with its seeds, and a large pinch of salt into a very rough paste. Heat the remaining ¼ cup olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the paste and fry until fragrant about 3 minutes. Add the water to the pot along with the fennel slices and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook until fennel softens somewhat, about 8 minutes.
Add the clean mussels to the pot and cover it with a lid. Cook until the shells open, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let the mussels cool in the liquid until they can be handled easily. Once cool enough, discard any mussels that did not open and remove the rest from their shells. Discard the shells. Divide the mussels between 6 shallow soup bowls.
Add the tomato sauce to the broth in the soup pot, adjust seasoning. Bring to a boil, then pour some of the hot broth over the mussels in each bowl. Garnish with reserved chopped fennel fronds. Serve hot with crusty bread.