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Mussel Soup with Rouille Toasts
Serving Size : 10

1 pound baguette, halved crosswise
5 jarred piquillo peppers (about 1/2 cup, see Note)
4 small garlic cloves, thickly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt
Cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 cup dry white wine
2 large pinches saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 2 tablespoons water
1 medium onion, minced
1 celery rib, minced
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups bottled clam juice mixed with 2 cups water
2 cups light cream

Preheat the oven to 350. Cut 1 of the baguette halves crosswise
into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Spread the slices on a rimmed baking
sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden. Remove the crust
from the remaining baguette half. Cut the crust into 1-inch pieces
and reserve 1 cup. Cut the crustless baguette into 1-inch dice;
spread the bread cubes on another baking sheet and bake for 10
minutes, or until crisp; reserve.

In a mini food processor, combine the 1 cup of reserved crust pieces
with 1/4 cup of water and let soak until moistened. Add the piquillo
peppers and half of the garlic and process until smooth. With the
machine on, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream and puree
until thick and creamy: the rouille should be the consistency of
mayonnaise. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and cayenne.
Thin the rouille with 2 tablespoons of hot water if it seems too
thick.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan. Add the
remaining half of the garlic and cook over moderately high heat
until golden. Add the mussels, wine and saffron, cover and cook
until the mussels begin to open, about 6 minutes; transfer to a
bowl as they open and let cool slightly. Remove the mussels from
their shells and place in a small bowl; discard the shells and any
mussels that do not open. Strain the cooking liquid into a heatproof
measuring cup; discard the solids. Add water, if needed, to make
2 cups of liquid.

Wipe out the saucepan and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter
in it. Add the onion and celery and cook over moderate heat until
softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until
just glossy. Add the diluted clam juice and the reserved cooking
liquid, leaving behind any grit. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20
minutes.

Add the cream and the reserved toasted bread cubes to the broth
and simmer until the bread is softened, about 5 minutes. In a
blender, puree the soup in batches until very smooth. Return the
soup to the saucepan, season with salt and cayenne and simmer until
reduced to 8 cups, about 10 minutes.

Stir the mussels into the soup and bring to a simmer. Ladle into
shallow bowls. Spread the toasts with the rouille and serve.

NOTES : Jarred piquillo peppers, from the Navarre region of Spain,
are available at specialty food shops. Piquillos are richer in
flavor than roasted red bell peppers and have a bit of heat. The
best substitute is jarred roasted red peppers plus 1/4 teaspoon of
hot paprika.

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