There’s an unmistakable crispness in the air this week, a crackly edge of chill under clear skies. I think we’ve arrived, folks: fall.
And I know I’ve been dragging my heels a bit, but I think I’m finally ready. Bring on the cinnamon and allspice, the warming bowls of soups and stick-to-your-ribs roasts and stews. I’m ready for you, chunky wool sweaters and roasted root vegetables.
Maybe it’s a relic of back-to-school days, or the shift of the seasons, but I tend to get a little reflective this time of year, taking stock of where I’ve been and where I’m headed. Everything feels really right this season, like I’m on the verge of something great.
And looking back, it’s been five months now since I launched this blog, a project that’s been one of the most creatively satisfying pursuits of my life. I’ve finally found a way to converge all of my interests: cooking, writing, entertaining, reading, design, recipe testing, photography, travel, spending time with friends. (If only this blog would go hiking with me, I’d have everything covered.) It gives me the space to geek out about food, and a way to put a little bit of beauty into the world (even if it’s just from my tiny little corner on the internet). I’m learning a lot and I’m really proud of what I’ve put together.
So for now and the foreseeable future, dear reader, you can find me here, Wednesdays and Saturdays, with a recipe, a story, some snapshots. If a trace of my passion for cooking and the pleasures of the table sticks with you, I’ll consider myself successful. If my posts inspire you to get into the kitchen, I’ll gladly put that notch on my belt. And if visiting here is just a bit of calm in your day and something pretty to look at for a moment or two, I’ll take that, too.
Enough about me, though, and let’s get on to the main event, shall we? Moules à la marinière, or mussels steamed in wine, which sounds fancy but isn’t.
Mussels call to mind off-season New England beaches at low tide and cozy French bistros with fogged-up windows. When steamed in wine, they’re just right for chilly, easing-into-fall evenings. It’s a classic, lusty dish that begs for a proper baguette for soaking up the broth; add some takeout frites dipped in homemade mayonnaise, and you might as well be dining in Montparnasse or Marais.
Julia Child’s recipe was the first one for mussels I ever tried at home, and I was so struck by how straightforward and simple it is. It’s the kind of unfussy preparation I always favor: fresh, uncomplicated scratch cooking that yields lots of flavor. I’ve added some garlic, salt and diced tomatoes, but all else is Julia’s.
Summer is (just barely) over, but that’s really not so bad now, is it? We have candlelight, fragrant bowls of inky-black mussels and a bottle of crisp, flinty Sancerre. Here’s to a beautiful, productive, food-happy fall. Here’s to thoughtful meals that highlight the season, savored with friends and family or enjoyed all by yourself. Cheers!
Moules Marinière (Mussels Steamed In Wine)
adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
- 2 pounds live mussels
- 1 C light, dry white wine
- 1/4 C shallots, minced
- 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley + 1/4 C roughly chopped
- 2 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 C diced tomatoes
- bay leaf
- pinch of freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 Tbsp butter, softened
Discard any cracked or open mussels. (Tap shells that are just slightly open and set aside for a few minutes; if they close, use them. If not, discard.) With a sharp paring knife, scrape off the fibrous “beard” from the side of the shell. Scrub shells under running water. Place in a bowl of cool water, enough to cover, with a 1/4 C flour. The mussels will plump up from their meal and disgorge any sand. Soak for about an hour, then rinse in cold water.
In an enameled dutch oven or large saucepan with a lid, heat the garlic, shallots and butter until they sizzle; sweat for 2 minutes. Add the wine, parsley sprigs, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring wine to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until some of the alcohol evaporates and its volume is slightly reduced.
Add the mussels. Cover and boil. With both hands, clamping your thumbs down over the lid to a avoid a spill, frequently toss the mussels with a jerky up-and-down motion so they move around and cook evenly. Toss the tomatoes in halfway through. Cook for five minutes until the mussels open.
With a ladle or skimmer, transfer the mussels to wide, shallow soup bowls. (Discard any mussels that didn’t open.) Ladle the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately with a baguette to sop up the broth.
PS: This post is my official getting-to-know-you entry and the first challenge (Ready, Set, Blog!) for Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog 2010! It looks like an absolute ton of fun: 2,000 entrants, 10 creative challenges, an impressive panel of judges, one winner. I think I have what it takes! If you like, check out my Foodbuzz profile or Scarpetta Dolcetto’s Facebook page for more details. And cross your fingers, cross your toes…I’ll know on September 24th if I’ve advanced to the next round!