Les Moules Provencale
Let’s just start by prefacing that I love mussels. Absolultely L-O-V-E them. One of my favorite ways to waste away an afternoon is to order a huge steaming bowl of mussels from one of the neighborhood bistros, with a glass of crisp rose and baguette in hand. The baguette part is key because half (maybe most) of the fun is to soak up all the yummy sauce long after the mussels are gone. As the work weekend came to a close, we were deciding what to have for dinner. Cold weather/100 mph winds meant I was staying in. I was in the mood for shellfish so I’d pick up some Mussels on the way home for experimentation. Can’t be that hard right? I’d already learned how to steam clams. Most important issue though was the sauce I wanted to make. Arriving at the Time Warner Center, I ran up to Borders and started flipping through cookbooks (Balthazar, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, How to Cook Everything…the list and the time spent goes on and on). Not a single book had a recipe on Mussels Provencale. Was I dreaming this up? I know it’s on menus and I know I’ve ordered it. I definitely wanted a tomato/bouillabaisse type of sauce and the Moules a La Mariniere (which all the cookbooks DID have and I think may be more Provencal than the aforementioned) would not suffice. Oh Well. Improvise. I knew that any Provencal Tomato sauce needs lots of garlic, olive oil and herbs so I’d make do on my own. Recipe be damned. (To note, my hour spent in the bookstore did give me one valuable piece of knowledge: Fennel pairs with mussels nicely.) So off to Whole Foods I went. The whole debearding issue was a little intimidating, but when I got to the fish counter, I realized they had already taken care of that part for me. Awesome. I grabbed 2 lbs of mussels, a couple ingredients I knew I was out of and a freshly baked baguette. Home I went…
I started off by sorting through the mussels to make sure they were edible (they should still have spring in their hinge and should close when tapped). I scrubbed and cleaned them to discard any beards left and to remove the sand and left them in the sink to drain.
Next, Le Sauce! In the newly acquired Le Creuset Dutch Oven (Thanks Mom!) I heated the olive oil and began to brown the garlic and onions. I added the fennel and let simmer for a few minutes. Then, a few freshly chopped plum tomatoes and one large can of crushed tomatoes (I happened to only have ones with basil). I dropped in the Bouquet Garni (thyme, sage, rosemary) and covered and continued simmering so the flavors could develop.
Then, I added some white wine, a little water to thin it all out, removed the Bouquet Garni and added the Mussels. I covered them and let steam until the mussels were open and cooked.
When the mussels were done cooking, I toasted some sliced bread with olive oil and freshly ground pepper, a side salad with a simple viniagrette and Dinner Was Served.
Les Moules Provencale
Serves 2 as Main Course
2 lbs mussels (debearded and cleaned)
2 tbsp olive oil
5-8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (we like a lot of garlic so adjust to your taste)
1 chopped medium red onion
1/2 fennel bulb coarsely chopped
2 plum tomatoes
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp Herbs du Provence
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large dutch over over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook until tender and beginning to brown. Add fennel and let simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped tomatoes, the can of crushed tomatoes, herbs and mix. Cook for several minutes until the mixture begins to bubble and reduce heat. Cover and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bouquet garni, add white wine and water (you may have to add more or less water to depending on how thick you want the sauce). Add mussels and cover. When mussels have opened, serve dish in a large bowl with bread.