The Understudy

Do you follow that voice in your head?  The one that tells you to do - or not do - something.  When I actually pay attention and listen, that little voice has never failed me.  On the day I was preparing this, I had also steamed a two pound bag of mussels.  Beautiful indigo mollusks from the neighborhood fishmonger.  "Take photos" said the little voice, "take photos in case you need them".  Typically I haven't taken photographs unless I'm planning to use them in a post.  No doubt, that's the novice blogger in me, but this time - I snapped away.

A mere week later, with mussels patiently waiting in my camera, I had a "mishap".  I fell.  Really hard.  I wish I could tell you that I had been on some great, exciting adventure.  Cave diving - or maybe bull riding.  Alas, no.  I was in my Sunday finery carrying a tray of strawberries.  Three hours later, I left the ER with crutches, a leg splint and a PCL avulsion fracture.  I hope the strawberries were somehow saved.

Needless to say, my performance at the stove has been temporarily curtailed.  But waiting in the wings is my understudy.  This recipe takes just minutes and is a wonderful meal on its own or over pasta.  Gather everyone around the table, ladle into big warm soup bowls, and have plenty of crusty bread for mopping up juices.

- Doreen 

Steamed Mussels Trieste Style
from Lidia's Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for finishing
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 or 2 onions, cut into 1/4-inch slices (2 cups sliced)
4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup white wine
3 pounds mussels, scrubbed, rinsed and drained
1/4 to 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs, or as needed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Pour the olive oil into the saucepan, drop in the crushed garlic, and set over medium heat.  When the garlic is fragrant and sizzling, stir in the onion slices, bay leaves, salt, and peperoncino.

Cook for a couple of minutes, tossing and stirring, just until the onions begin to wilt but still have some crunch.  Pour in the wine and bring to a boil.  Immediately dump all the mussels into the pan, tumble them over quickly, cover tightly, and turn the heat up to high.  Steam the mussels for 3 minutes, frequently shaking the covered pan, then tossing them over.  If the mussel shells have already opened (or almost all are open), leave the pan uncovered - otherwise, replace the cover and steam a bit longer.

As soon as the mussels have steamed open, sprinkle 1/4 cup bread crumbs all over the pan.  Quickly tumble the mussels over and over, still on high heat, so their liquor and the crumbs fall into the bubbling pan juices and create a sauce.  (If the pan sauce is still thin after a minute of bubbling, sprinkle in more bread crumbs.)

Finally, drizzle 2 more tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle the chopped parsley on top, and toss briefly to distribute the seasonings.  Turn off the heat, set the pan in the center of the table, and let people scoop mussels and sauce into their own warm soup bowls (and remember extra bowls for shells).

Yield:  Serves 6.


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