This seafood-filled main-dish soup is an elegant combination of herbs, vegetables, and vermicelli.
Scrub the clams and mussels in cold running water. Remove beards from mussels. In a large kettle, combine 4 quarts of the water and 1/3 cup of the salt. Add clams and mussels and soak for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly; drain. Repeat two more times, draining shellfish in a colander the third time. Rinse kettle and shellfish thoroughly.
Place a rack for steaming in a kettle or Dutch oven; place clams and mussels on the rack. Pour wine over the shellfish. Bring to boiling. Cover and steam for 3 to 5 minutes or until shells open, and clams and mussels are cooked. Remove shellfish and rack from cooking liquid, reserving liquid. Discard any shellfish with unopened shells. Remove shellfish from shells. Set aside.
In a Dutch oven, combine fish stock or bottled clam juice, onions, fennel, and Bouquet Garni. Strain the reserved shellfish cooking liquid into the pan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add zucchini, tomatoes, red pepper, and green beans; cook for 5 minutes more or until the vegetables are just tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the Pistou.
Add vermicelli to vegetable-stock mixture. Cover and simmer for about 7 to 8 minutes or until vermicelli is tender, but still firm. Remove Bouquet Garni.
Stir in scallops. Bring to simmering; reduce heat and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until scallops are opaque and firm. Stir in the steamed clams and mussels and the Pistou; heat through. Season with salt and black pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with fresh basil, if you like. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Can't locate fresh mussels at the supermarket? Substitute extra clams.
In a blender container or food processor bowl, combine lightly packed fresh basil leaves; butter, softened; and garlic, halved. Cover and blend or process until mixture is nearly smooth, stopping as necessary and pushing mixture down sides of container.
Cut a 10-inch square of double-layered 100 percent cotton cheesecloth. Place bay leaves, parsley, lightly crushed whole black peppercorns, thyme and marjoram on center of cheesecloth. Draw up four corners of square to create a bag and secure with clean kitchen string.