Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Simplicity (Mussels and Linguine)

So, every month (or so), L and I like to do a big dinner. We initially tried to schedule these on a weekend, but could never get everyone's calendars to work. So we came up with the two night plan: we shop and prep the first night, finish, serve and eat the second. It's been a very successful plan so far.

We're having the dinner tomorrow and normally that would mean a plan made over the weekend. But, that didn't quite happen. And then my day was a bit out of control today. And so L just picked the dinner (details tomorrow, when we finish and eat it) - and offered to do the bulk of the shopping (and, really, that's not why we're friends). I bought some of the rarer items, as well as dessert items (L sometimes doesn't properly prioritize dessert - but I know J is coming, so I know that I have to).

We started these meals after we took a knife skills class. It was supposed to be a way to practice. And we do try to watch our form (L did a very good job on it tonight!). Lately, we've settled into a routine where she does the bulk of the prep, I help, but I also mix up something easy for the first night dinner. The only problem with L is that she's not as big of a meat eater as I am. So I was standing in the store facing the fish counter, trying not to notice the beautiful lamb just off to my right, when I saw them. $2.99 a pound. Beautiful. Black. Shiny. Mussels.

How hard (I asked myself) could it be to make mussels with a wine sauce. I had wine. I had onions. I had garlic. I had just gotten parsley (for tomorrow's dinner - not really a rare item, but they were out of it at the other grocery). How many other things could really be in a basic recipe. (I've never before shopped for a 'specific' recipe without having ever looked at it before). And best of all, I'd seen L order it in a restaurant, so I figured she had to like it. It was decided. I was the decider.

I arrived home to find L already elbow deep in chicken (again, for tomorrow). I explained what I planned. She didn't believe it. I pulled out my Anthony Bourdain cookbook (Les Halles - I love it, because, really, what other cookbook has "Just to show them who's their daddy" as part of a recipe -- that and the fact that everything I've ever made from it has been good) and figured he had to have the recipe. I flipped past Moules Normandes and Moules a la Portugaise and stopped on Moules Marinieres

Moules Marinieres
Adapted from Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles Cookbook
Serves 2 (his recipe is for 4 and is double everything, except the parsley)

2 ounces butter
1 small onion (he uses shallots, which I didn’t have)
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
3 lbs of mussels
4 sprigs of flat parsley (he uses 4 also, but we like parsley and so went a bit heavy)
Lemon (this is our addition, we happened to have it, and it was a nice addition - squeeze on at the table)
1 pack of linguine
  1. Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once melted, add onions. Put the pasta water on to boil.
  2. Cook til soft and beginning to brown (he says 2 minutes, I did it for significantly longer – but, again, mine were onions)
  3. Add wine and bring to a boil (“cranking up the heat all the way)
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Dump the mussels into the pot and slap on the lid. Add the pasta to the boiling water (should be boiling just about now)
  6. Cook just until all the mussels are open all the way (he says 10 minutes, no more – I did it for 8)
  7. Shake the pot, keeping the lid firmly pressed on the top. Add the parsley. Shake again.
  8. You can toss in an additional knob of softened butter (and, of course, I did)
  9. Pour into warmed serving bowl
  10. Enjoy!

This was it. The recipe I had wanted. I had known it would be simple, but this was ridiculous. L expressed disbelief that I was making it. I headed for the fridge for a quality white. I chose the 2004 Navarro Sauvignon Blanc (with the rule that you have to cook with a wine you would drink, I had to go for that over the Chardonnays, because I would never really willingly drink a California Chardonnay). To start the recipe, I poured myself a glass. I decided then and there that I liked this recipe. It was short. It was sweet. And it started with a nice glass of wine.

While L continued to slave away at dinner for tomorrow, I managed to look busy, enjoy my wine and put together the single easiest dinner I have ever served a guest (never served a guest an Egg in the Hole, which is the only thing I can think of that would be in the running). In very short order (probably 25 minutes, including time for me to enjoy my wine), the dinner was ready. And it looked beautiful!

And it tasted even better. I have found a new standard recipe. I will be making this more often, because: 1. It is fantastic, 2. It is easy, and 3. It is impressive. The nice man at the market had insisted that while 1.6lbs of mussels looked like a lot, it wasn't. And so I had ended up with something very close to 3lbs (he threw in a couple on top of the final weight, which is just a great feeling). While L and I could potentially have been satisfied with the 1.6lbs. We felt compelled to not waste any of the 3 (I don't always insist on cleaning my plate, but with these, it really felt like a horrible crime). And so, I've enclosed a picture of my third helping. It's not as dramatic as the first, but it tasted just as good!


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