Tuesday, October 04, 2005
I think I probably picked the last of the basil this weekend. Somehow basil means summer to me: red ripe tomatoes from the farmers' market and basil, or grilled seafood or chicken brushed with basil pesto and grilled, or with the spicy leaves torn into a salad. And picking the last of the basil signals the end of summer.
Another thing that means summer to me is mussels, probably because the first time I had them was in the summer on the Mediterranean coast. The family I was visiting built a great huge fire of grape vine trimmings, put a sort of fine meshed grate over them and poured mussels that had been coated with olive oil and herbs right on top. As they opened, we raked them off and, blowing on them and on our fingers, ate as many as we could hold, licking the charred herbs from the shells. I was hooked!
Well, we're not likely to do that in our back yards, are we? But mussels, one of the few shellfish I really like, are very easily available here and we can use the last of our fresh basil to make a great end-of-summer dish.
The mussels, which you have kept refrigerated, covered with a damp towel, need to be cooked at the last minute, but it will only take about 15 minutes, so you can have a nice glass of wine and nibble on a few olives with your friends first. Just be sure to have plenty of crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices!
ZUPETTE DI MITILI
(Italian inspired mussels)
2 pounds of fresh mussels
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large sprigs basil, chopped, stems and all
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup almond meal
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
Salt and pepper
More basil for garnish
Give the mussels a good rinse in cold running water. Pick over them, discarding any that are open and won't close when you give them a little tap on the counter on their pointy end.
Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a Dutch oven, add the garlic and stir a time or two. Add the basil, white wine and mussels. Cover and cook over medium heat until they are all opened, which could be anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the mussels to a bowl and reserve.
Meanwhile, mix the almond meal with the vegetable stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. In a small skillet, heat the remaining olive oil and cook the onion and celery until transparent.
Strain the mussel cooking liquid into the almond stock and add the onion mixture. Taste and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Return the mussels to the pan and just heat barely through. Ladle into flat soup bowls, garnish with a sprig and basil and enjoy!