Our Super Bowl Food - MUSSELS!

We certainly didn’t have traditional game day food for Sunday’s Super Bowl, but I’ll take mussels steamed in white wine over chicken wings (yuck!) or potato skins in a heart beat. Mussels are one of my favorite foods from childhood. They were only eaten in a restaurant, Diablo-style, where their unique taste was often lost in the spicy tomato sauce. Fast forward 30 years to my own kitchen, a refined palate, and an appreciation for the light, sweet, meatiness of good mussels. These black beauties are not fishy in the least, but they do have an ocean essence and are ever-so-slightly chewy but nothing like clams. If you haven’t prepared mussels before or think you don’t care for them, give this recipe for Mediterranean Mussels with Farro and White Wine a try. It’s easy enough to make for a weeknight supper, but pretty and sophisticated to serve to company. Farro is an ancient grain, popular in Europe, particularly Italy, and is now becoming more fashionable in the U.S. Being a whole grain, it has a nutty, earthy flavor that is a nutritional powerhouse and works well with mussels. Loaded with vegetables, the dish is exceptionally healthy.
It seems I’ve been posting a lot recently from cookbooks and about cookbooks. Admittedly, I am a cookbook cook. While I rarely prepare a recipe as written in a cookbook, I seldom just throw something together without a recipe as a guide. With that introduction, this recipe is from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More, a 2011 NY Times Notable Cookbook, by Maria Speck. It has recipes highlighting grains for all courses, breakfast through dessert. The photos are lovely, recipes clearly written, easy to follow, and none are complicated. I’m trying to cook more Mediterranean so it’s a nice addition to my collection. Be sure I’ll post more recipes from this five-star cookbook. The recipe below reflects the changes I made, namely the addition of fennel, which I think is a natural in a Mediterranean stews, and I used chicken broth in lieu of water. As Anne Cori from the Kitchen Conservatory wisely teaches, water has no flavor. Why cook with it in something like this?

A note:  if you have Wholes Foods near you, buy mussels there. Their mussels are farmed raised and ready to cook, with those nasty beards removed and cleaned of sand and residue. Best of all, no waste. I have never had a mussel from Whole Foods not open, which just doesn’t happen if purchased elsewhere.

Mediterranean Mussels with Farro and White Wine
Original recipe from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More
Serves 3 to 4 as a main course or 4 to 6 as a starter

For the Farro
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup farro
1 small bay leaf
2 whole peppercorns
Pinch of fine sea salt

For the Stew
2 pounds fresh mussels in their shells
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 small)
1 cup thinly sliced carrots (about 2 small)
1 cup thinly sliced celery stalks (1 to 2 pieces)
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
2 tsp. minced dried rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. red chili flakes, or to taste
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh or diced canned tomatoes with their juices, (one 14-ounce can)
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. sugar 
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare the farro, bring the water, farro, bay leaf, peppercorns, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the grain is tender but still slightly chewy, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, drain any remaining liquid, and set aside.

While the farro simmers, rinse the mussels under cold running water, brushing to remove sand and residue on the shells. Remove the beards (hairy clumps around the shell) with tweezers or a sharp knife. Discard chipped mussels. Tap any open mussels and discard if they don’t close. Set the cleaned mussels aside.

To make the stew, heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic, 1 teaspoon of the rosemary, the bay leaves, chili flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add 1/4 cup of the white wine, and cook until syrupy and the liquid is almost gone, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the stock, the remaining 11/4 cups white wine, the pepper, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, at a lively simmer until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar.

Add the mussels and the farro together with the remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and steam over medium to medium-high heat, shaking the pot once or twice in between, until the mussels open, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and discard any unopened mussels.

3 comments:

  1. I love mussels! But I haven't cooked them for a couple of years - why is that? Thanks for reminding me how easy (and tasty!) they are. I really like the farro in your recipe - terrific idea. And chicken wings? Nice concept, but in reality for me it's a once a decade (at best) food.

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  2. Kitchen Riffs, thank you. We made a mussel stew as a starter over the weekend that was also extremely easy and delicious. Now sure why I'm on the mussel kick. Only complaint Craig had was, "What, no bread to sop up this amazing broth?". Next time. Stay tuned, post to come.

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  3. thanks for sharing.

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