ast week, whilst our garden was merrily growing away I was tootling around on a bicycle in Puglia, in the heel of Italy. There’s plenty of growing going on down there, fields of tomatoes, courgettes, chickpeas, artichokes, beans and peas and lots of green things – salads and chicories. The roadsides are a profusion of wild flowers and where there are no vegetables growing there are olive trees. Puglia is home to an amazing twelve million olive trees. They are everywhere. As far as the eye can see, growing all the way down to the sea.
All the cycling gave me quite an appetite and this month’s recipe is a chickpea, courgette and mussel soup that I enjoyed. It perhaps sounds fancier and more appealing in Italian – Zuppa di ceci con zucchini e cozze, either way it’s a recipe that sits nicely in the ‘recipes to live to be one hundred file’ and something else to do with all the courgettes when they arrive.
The ingredient list is short and all available locally so it’s well worth a try.
If you have time to cook the chickpeas from scratch you will be rewarded with the beginnings of a tasty broth but if you don’t have time, cans of chickpeas and a little vegetable stock will do the trick.
To cook the chickpeas from dry, soak overnight in cold water then drain and put into a saucepan, cover with plenty of water. Add a sprig of rosemary, if you have any, and an unpeeled clove of garlic then bring to the boil. When boiling lower the heat to simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for about 50 minutes. It may take longer. Check the chickpeas and if they are tender they are ready, if not cook for a further ten minutes and try again. Don’t add salt, as this will inhibit the softening of the chickpeas.
Be generous with the olive oil in the recipe, it gives a creamy texture to the soup and try to seek out small courgettes, they will have a better flavour.
For a vegetarian version leave out the mussels and stir in some fresh basil,
Zuppa di Ceci con Zucchini e Cozze
Chickpea, Courgette and Mussel Soup
• 100mls olive oil
• 2 onions,
• 1-2 stems celery
• 1 carrot
• 2-3 cloves garlic
• 2-3 big ripe tomatoes
• 600g cooked chickpeas or 2 cans, drained and rinsed
• 2 courgettes
• approx 700mls drained chickpea broth or vegetable stock
• a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
• 1kg mussels
• salt and pepper
Put the mussels into a big bowl of water and leave them while you prepare the soup.
Peel and chop the onion, put the saucepan on the heat and add the olive oil followed by the onions. When the onions begin to sizzle lower the heat to medium. Chop the celery into a small dice and stir in to the onions. Peel the carrot and dice into small pieces, add to the onions and celery and season with a little salt. Let the vegetables gently bubble away until they soften. Don’t let them brown. Peel and chop the garlic then stir into the vegetables. Cook for a couple of minutes then dice the tomato and add to the pot. Wash the courgettes, cut into quarters lengthwise then chop into 1cm pieces add to the pot and let all the vegetables cook gently until the tomato breaks down. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquor if you have cooked them your self or discard and rinse the chickpeas if they are from a can. Pour about 700mls chickpea broth or vegetable stock onto the vegetables, add the chickpeas and bring to the boil. The stock should just cover the vegetables and chickpeas, If it’s a bit short add a little more of either or a drop of water. Leave to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the mussels. Remove any beards – the hairy bit that pokes out of the flat side of the mussel and discard any mussels that are damaged or that do not close. To check any mussels that are open give them a tap on the counter and leave for a minute or two. If they haven’t closed throw them out. Throw out the soaking water.
To cook the mussels put a large pot on the heat, add the mussels and a splash of white wine (if you have any handy) or a splash of water. Cover with a lid. Cook on a high heat and give the pan a shake every 30 seconds. After a few minutes the mussels should be opening. Take off the heat as soon as they open otherwise they will shrink. Leave aside to cool. To finish the soup, drain the mussels through a sieve reserving the cooking liquor. Remove the mussels from the shell, and add to the soup along with the mussel juice. Do not add salt until you have tasted the soup as the mussel juices are salty and you may not need any more. Adjust the seasoning with a little ground black pepper and salt if you think it’s necessary. Serve immediately. If you are not ready to eat hold the mussels back then stir in when reheating.