MENU: Mussels Mariniere, Crusty French bread with pate, Belgian endive, apples and pine nuts in fruity vinaigrette, Fresh berries or fruits in season
An impromptu dinner meeting with friends inspired this menu: a meal made of first courses.
Mussels make a fast-cooking course. I chose green mussels from New Zealand, which are available year round. Should you find some of the shells open when you get home from the market, there is an easy remedy. Run the mussels under fresh running water (don't immerse them, they'll drown) and lightly tap each on the shell with the back of a knife. If the mussel doesn't close it should be discarded.
The shells may be scrubbed in advance, then placed in a container with drainage holes, covered with a towel, then ice. Do not, however, remove the beard (byssus) until the mussels are ready to be used, or they'll die. If you're curious about the color difference, here's the answer: The deep-apricot mussels are female, the soft cream ones male.
Steamed in wine, thyme, garlic and ginger, mussels produce a rich stock that makes a delicious sauce with reduced cream. Throw some fennel into the pot; this will leave a hint of licorice that may be emphasized with a dash of Pernod added to the final sauce.
The other courses in this menu are relatively easy. Simply warm some crusty French bread and serve with a good pate or caviar. Another option, which complements the mussels, is a small serving of pasta.
The crisp, sweet salad takes little time. Chop some Belgian endive (it should be cream-yellow, not green) and some apples. Prevent browning by immediately tossing with a fruity or nutty vinaigrette. If you like, sprinkle some toasted pine nuts on the top.
Serve with chilled white wine, and you'll have a substantial meal that requires nothing more than a few fresh berries at the end.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 to 2 1/2 dozen mussels
1 small piece ginger root or fennel
3 sprigs thyme
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup whipping cream or creme fraiche
Optional Side-Dish Shopping 1 loaf French bread
1 package pate
2 heads Belgian endives
1. Scrub and debeard 2 to 2 1/2 dozen mussels. Rinse and drain.
2. Crush 4 cloves garlic. Cut 1 (1-inch piece) ginger root or fennel.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in stockpot. Add garlic, ginger, 3 sprigs thyme and 3/4 cup dry white wine. Simmer 5 minutes.
4. Add mussels. Cover and steam 5 minutes or until shells open. Remove mussels to large bowl and keep warm.
5. Strain mussel stock into wide skillet and bring to boil. Stir in 1 cup whipping cream. Heat, uncovered, until reduced to nice thick consistency, about 10 minutes, stirring. Season to taste with salt, pepper and few drops lemon juice.
6. Arrange mussels in half shells and spoon cream sauce over. Garnish with chopped thyme and chive sprigs, if desired.
Makes 4 to 5 servings.