Mussels are perfect for soups because of the wonderful juices that run from them. Being quite rich and substantial, this soup can be served on its own with hot crusty bread as a light meal for four people.
Scrape any barnacles off the mussels with a knife and wash them very thoroughly. Put them into a large saucepan with the red wine, cover the pan and put them over a high heat. Shake the pan for about 2-3 minutes, just until the mussels have opened, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Put the tomatoes in a bowl, pour boiling water over them and leave for 2 minutes, then drain and peel. Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds and stem. Put the tomatoes and pepper into a food processor and whizz until smooth.
Peel the garlic and chop finely. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat, stir in the garlic and paprika, then remove from the heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Gradually stir in the stock, followed by the puréed tomatoes and red pepper. Using a fine sieve, strain in the liquid from the mussel pan. Put back over a high heat and bring to the boil, stirring, until you can see that the soup has thickened. Then cover the saucepan and simmer very gently for at least half an hour.
Meanwhile, take half the shell off each mussel, emptying the trapped juices back into the pan, pulling off any beards and leaving the mussels in the half shell; if some of the mussels fall out of the shell simply discard the shell. Stir the extra juices into the saucepan of soup. Before serving, stir in the cream and pesto sauce and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add the mussels in their half shells and reheat gently. Then either serve from the pan or transfer to a large soup tureen.
© 1997 Josceline Dimbleby. All rights reserved.