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Breton Billi Bi

(Soupe de Moules au Safran)

Don't be afraid of picking up those plastic bags full of mussels at the grocery--the mussels are clean, often debearded, and whip up into a smashing soup in no time. This Breton soup, for example, is pretty easy and quick for being such a showstopping beauty. And it's no wonder: the north coast of Brittany, from which this soup came, is so thick with these shellfish, you can just run down to beach and pick them fresh from the rocks. Why the funny name? See Faves of the Stars under William B. Leeds. Serve hot to 4 as a first course to an elegant meal.

Garnish: 2 Tablespoons chopped tarragon, minced fine

Mix the wine, bouquet garni, and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. After you've scrubbed and debearded the mussels, as needed, drop them into the saucepan, cover, and shake them over high heat until they open--just a few minutes. Drain them through a sieve lined with coffee filters, catching the broth underneath.

Ladle some of the broth into a bowl with the saffron in it--and let sit to make a strong infusion.

Shell the mussels.

Cut the leeks and carrots into fine slivers (so that they're easy to eat with a soupspoon). Melt the butter in a large saucepan, then add the slivers and cook covered on medium low heat, letting them sweat until tender. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the saffron infusion, the cream, the Tabasco sauce, and season to taste. Let bubble for some 5 minutes, then reduce heat. Mix a ladleful with the beaten egg yolks, to make a liaison, then stir back into the pot and let thicken over a low heat for several minutes.

When the soup has thickened, stir in the mussels and let warm in the simmering liquid for a few minutes. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each with finely minced tarragon.