Photo By David T. Mayernik
I developed this Provençal inspired recipe as an antidote to the winter blues. Its cheerful color and bright, aromatic flavors are evocative of both summer and the sea. As shellfish are considered to be an aphrodisiac, this dish would make a lovely and romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. Serve with a simple green salad, warm crusty French bread and a cool fruity rosé.
2 to 2 1/2 lbs of mussels cleaned and de-bearded 1 medium fennel bulb sliced paper-thin 2 medium leeks (white parts only) cut into thin half-moon slices 2 garlic cloves cut into paper-thin slices 1 cup of fruity white wine (such as sauvignon blanc) 2 tablespoons of Pernod (or 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds) 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for mounting into the sauce at the end) 3 whole canned San Marzano tomatoes chopped 1 large pinch of saffron threads (about a half teaspoon) 1 bay leaf Chopped Italian parsley and fennel fronds for garnish Sea salt & fresh black pepper to taste Place a large Dutch-oven over a low flame and add the two tablespoons of extra-virgin oil. Add the fennel, leeks and garlic slices; cover and sweat until translucent. Add the bay leaf and saffron and cook until fragrant (about 2 minutes or so). Increase the heat and add the Pernod (or fennel seeds) and the wine and boil until reduced by half. Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes; cover and cook for about ten minutes. Increase the heat again and add the cleaned and de-bearded mussels and cover. When most of the mussels have opened, add freshly ground pepper and stir gently; lower the flame to medium and cook, covered, for about three minutes (never overcook mussels as they become tough and rubbery). Turn off the heat and with a slotted spoon scoop out the mussels and add them to a warm, deep bowl (see note). Taste the sauce and add salt, if needed, and fresh pepper to taste; stir the remaining extra-virgin olive oil into sauce and pour over the mussels. Garnish with the chopped parsley and fennel fronds. Bon appetit!
Note: If the mussels have given off a lot of liquid and the sauce appears to be too thin, cover the mussels loosely with aluminum foil to keep them warm. Return the sauce to a high flame and reduce to desired thickness. Turn off the flame and add salt, if needed, and fresh pepper to taste; stir in the extra-virgin olive oil and pour over the mussels. Garnish with the chopped parsley and fennel fronds.