I find I go through phases when I cook. Sometimes, it is a certain cookbook that I want to work my way through (I have more than 400 cookbooks). Occasionally, I want to learn more about an ethnic cuisine so I try different variations on certain dishes. My family is Italian-American, and when I really need some comfort food, or can’t pinpoint what I feel like eating, I naturally turn to pasta. So I think the best way to begin my food blog is with a favorite pasta recipe.
This recipe is not one handed down from my grandparents; rather, it is something that evolved from travel. In 2006 our family vacationed in Ireland. One evening, while we were driving the Ring of Kerry, we stayed in the town of Kilorglan. We ate dinner at a restaurant called The Bianconi. A neighboring table ordered mussels that came in small Le Creuset crocks. I have always loved mussels, so that’s what we ordered, too. They were some of the finest mussels I have ever eaten, served in a light, flavorful creamy broth. We begged our kids to try them and they loved them as well. We went back a second night, this time armed with a note pad, and I tried to figure out the ingredients with the help of our waitress. When we returned to the U.S. I came up with this version of mussels in shallot cream sauce.
For Christmas Eve that year, along with the usual Italian Christmas Eve fish dishes, I made a large pot of these mussels. My mother made her marinara sauce for mussels as well. We put the spaghettini on our plates, and my husband and brother put a ladleful of mussels in shallot cream sauce on one side of the pasta and a ladleful of mussels marinara on the other. The sauces ran together and a great dish was born. It is a lengthy recipe, but the most difficult and time-consuming task is cleaning the mussels. The rest comes together quite easily.
Shallot Cream Sauce
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbps. unsalted butter
4 small leeks, cleaned and finely chopped
2 large shallots, peeled and finely minced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 c. white wine ( I used Pinot Grigio)
salt and pepper to taste
1 3/4-2 c. chicken stock
juice of 1 lemon
2 1/2 c. heavy cream or more to desired consistency
2 Tbsp. Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 c. mussel liquid
Heat 5 quart stockpot with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and 2 Tbsp. butter. Add leeks and sauté 5 minutes until soft but not brown. Add shallots and garlic. Cook 5 minutes on medium heat until soft but not brown. Add wine and cook 1 minute. Add stock and lemon juice. Stir. Add cream, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley. Simmer 10 minutes to heat through and allow flavors to meld. Do not boil. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. butter and mussel liquid. Add 3 lbs. steamed mussels. (Save remaining 1 lb. mussels for marinara sauce.) Stir to coat with sauce. Simmer 5 minutes. Pour into serving bowl.
Follow recipe below to make the mussels marinara.
Mom’s Marinara Sauce for Mussels
1 (32 oz.) jar Bertolli’s Marinara Sauce with Burgundy Wine
a little Italian seasoning to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
a few splashes of Tabasco sauce
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Add 1 lb. mussels and stir to coat.
When ready to serve place cooked spaghettini or angel hair on individual plates and pour a ladleful of each sauce with some mussels over the pasta. Eat with crispy baguettes, preferably a good artisanal loaf. Mopping up the sauce with bread is essential. Serves 8-10.