Tags

, , , ,

Mussels 061

My favorite adult Christmas memories revolve around a core group of friends preparing the celebratory dinner. I believe that everyone should have a special dish they hold dear for the big meal. Mine is pasta. With a red sauce. And it’s often puttanesca. Not very Christmas like to some but, for me, it shouts big time holiday fun.

I have a special fondness for the briny jumble of anchovies, capers and kalamata olives set off by fiery dried chili flakes and pungent garlic. And, so, when I wanted to make a big batch of mussels with a red sauce, I decided to twist it up a bit by incorporating some key elements from the puttanesca.

Mussles 057

I decided there was no point in using anchovies because the mussels happily provide flavors from the sea. This red sauce comes crowded with fresh garlic, plenty of dried red chili flakes and the addition of chopped kalamata olives and pert little capers. It’s also perfumed with some dried oregano.

A bonus with mussels is that they’re low in calories, cholesterol, and saturated fats. In most areas, they’re available year round and reasonably priced. Usually, you’ll find the blue mussel, with a blackish shell. Also popular is the much larger green lipped hailing from New Zealand. These are beautiful, and the vivid shell brings to mind the green on a dragonfly.

This is an easy dish to prepare, and you easily can make the sauce ahead of time and bring it to a simmer when you’re ready for the mussels. A large pot of mussels makes an ideal dish for guests – as an appetizer with nothing more than some dense bread, or add some angel hair pasta, a simple salad and you’ve got a robust meal. Oh, and here’s what going to happen when you make this dish: Your house will smell like the best Italian restaurant in the neighborhood.

Mussles 052

My mussels marinara took a walk on the wild side and I think I like it. No, I love it.

Give these sweet, tender little bi-valves a try. They won’t disappoint.

Mussels 001

Here are some of the key components that charge these mussels with an extra layer of flavor.

Strumpet’s Mussels

1/3 cup olive oil

8 cloves garlic, crushed

2 large shallots, minced

1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano

Place the ingredients above in a heat proof measuring cup and microwave for about 50 seconds. The shallots should be translucent.

Mussles 003

You’ll notice that in a lot of my recipes, I prefer to infuse the olive oil in the microwave before it hits the pan. First, I think you end up with more flavor in the oil, and if the garlic is already halfway cooked (and the shallots, too, in this case), then there’s little risk of ending up with bitter, burned garlic.

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried chili flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

Mussels 012

For this dish, I prefer crushed tomatoes, not diced. I don’t mind little bits of tomatoes, but I’m not fond of chunks. And you end up with a thicker sauce with the crushed version.

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup roughly chopped (pitted) kalamata olives

Mussels 020

Please don’t use black olives your mother served in the holiday relish tray. You know, the type toddlers pop onto their fingers. The flavor, or lack thereof, is all wrong for this dish and borders on culinary neglect.

Mussels 021

Trader Joe’s sells whole kalamata olives that are pitted – terrific time saver.

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

Mussles 022

1 handful fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade

Nothing mysterious about this French technique. Simply stack your basil leaves.

Mussels 026

Then roll them into a cigar and thinly slice.

Mussels 027

Mussels 029

Mussels 030

You’ll end up with little ribbons of basil.

3 pounds fresh mussels, cleaned

Mussels 034

A few words about the mussels:

* Remember, they’re still alive when you bring them home

* When you get them home, make sure the bag they came in is ventilated so that they can breathe

* Store them in the fridge for a day or two, but not much more than that

* Figure About 1 pound of mussels (shell on) per serving as an entrée

* Clean them by rinsing in cold water, then if there’s a little beard on the mussel, yank it out

Mussels 037

The mussel at the top is perfectly clean, and the one on the right has a little beard that’s easy to rip out, but the one at the bottom needs much more attention, and came with a beard that was tough to yank out.

Mussels 039

Discard broken mussels or those that are opened and won’t close when you tap them. And that’s why I always buy a few extra.

Add all of the oil/shallot mixture to a medium or large heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat.

Mussels 006

Cook while stirring for about two minutes, then add the dried chili flakes. Don’t let the shallot/garlic mixture brown.

Mussels 009

Add the wine and let the mixture boil until it’s reduced by half.

Mussels 011

Lower the heat, then add the can of tomatoes. You can swish a little more wine to rinse out the can and add that to the mixture, if you like.

Mussels 016

Add the salt and pepper, cover the pan and let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Mussels 018

Add the olives and capers. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, stir to make sure the sauce isn’t sticking.

Mussels 025

Add the basil and then the mussels.

Mussels 032

Stir to coat the mussels with the sauce, cover and cook over medium heat for about 9 minutes.

Mussels 041

Don’t remove the cover for the full 9 minutes.

Mussels 045

You want to makes sure that the mussels steam and that all of them open. If for some reason, you notice several haven’t opened after 9 minutes, cover and let them cook for another minute or so.

When they’re done, discard any that haven’t opened. Serve the mussels and sauce in bowls.

Mussels 068

And don’t forget a bowl for all of those empty shells.

(Printer friendly version)

Strumpet’s Mussels

 1/3 cup olive oil

8 cloves garlic, crushed

2 large shallots, minced

1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano

Place the ingredients above in a heat proof measuring cup and microwave for about 50 seconds. The shallots should be translucent.

 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried chili flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup roughly chopped (pitted) kalamata olives

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

1 handful fresh basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade

3 pounds fresh mussels, cleaned

 Add all of the oil/shallot mixture to a medium or large heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Cook while stirring for about two minutes, then add the dried chili flakes. Don’t let the shallot/garlic mixture brown.

Add the wine and let the mixture boil until it’s reduced by half. Lower the heat, then add the can of tomatoes. You can swish a little more wine to rinse out the can and add that to the mixture, if you like.

Add the salt and pepper, cover the pan and let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Add the olives and capers. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, stir to make sure the sauce isn’t sticking.

Add the basil and then the mussels. Stir to coat the mussels with the sauce, cover and cook over medium heat for about 9 minutes. Don’t remove the cover for the full 9 minutes. You want to makes sure that the mussels steam and that all of them open. If for some reason, you notice several haven’t opened after 9 minutes, cover and let them cook for another minute or so.

When they’re done, discard any that haven’t opened. Serve the mussels and sauce in bowls.