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Posts Tagged ‘white wine’

tastes as beautiful as it looks

tastes as beautiful as it looks

If you want to sing because you have just eaten something delectable – if you want to feel like you are dining in the manner of aristocrats – if you want an absolute slurpy flavor explosion with each little bite of food, then you need to prepare and eat the mussels that I just had for lunch.  Seriously.  I’m getting really passionate again about my lunch but it’s completely valid. 

Mussels are so good and easy to make.  The strangest thing is trying to guard their little lives so much from store to home, then confirm that they’re all healthy and thriving, only to quickly extinguish those little lives in a steaming pot.  I would be kind of sad about it if they weren’t so extravagantly delicious. 

I have been craving mussels and a  smattering of left over ingredients from the week came together very quickly to make an absolutely glorious broth that obviously gets me very excited.  A pinch of saffron and the addition of a tiny anchovy filet (both pantry staples in my house) added an extra layer of flavor to ingredients that are already outstanding.   Imagine this bite: one tender little mussel swimming in a fragrant broth that tastes of wine and lemon and garlic and fresh parsley and summer with a hint of thyme and saffron.  I realize that I sound a bit over dramatic sometimes when I talk about some of these things, but when food tastes this good it makes me want write poetry.  And love letters.  Food love letters, if you will. 

We ate these mussels with some toasted slices of french baguette, rubbed with a clove of raw garlic and drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper.  If you haven’t eaten bread this way, you are missing out on one of life’s great and simple pleasures.   

The recipe below serves two and the entire meal took about twenty minutes to prepare; there really isn’t any excuse for you to not share in this experience with me.  I want everyone to experience these little tastes of the good life – together.  Let’s start with these mussels. 

tender mussels in fragrant wine broth

  • a pound and a half of mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary
  • a cup and a half of white wine
  • three cloves of garlic, chopped
  • a quarter of an onion or a couple of shallots, chopped
  • a generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • four or five sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
  • half of a lemon (meyer is best)
  • one little anchovy fillet
  • a pinch of saffron (maybe five or six small threads)
  • one tbsp of butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • about one tsp of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. add the saffron to the wine and let soak while you begin cooking
  2. heat the butter and olive oil in an appropriately sized sauce pan over medium heat, and add the chopped onions, salt and pepper and stir frequently for about two minutes
  3. add the garlic, anchovy and thyme and cook for a minute or two more, stirring frequently
  4. add the wine (with saffron) and about two thirds of the fresh parsley and bring to a boil
  5. gently add the mussels, cover and reduce to medium, cooking for six to seven minutes (all mussels should be open – discard any that do not open)
  6. ladle the mussels and plenty of the broth into wide bowls and garnish with the rest of the fresh parsley; serve with crusty garlic bread

All mussels should be scrubbed and inspected before cooking; discard any mussels that have cracked or broken shells.  If a mussel is open, gently tap it on the shell; if it doesn’t close it should also be discarded. 

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So I realize that brussel sprouts are at the very tail end of their season (and I may be really stretching it), but I still see them bright and peppy on their stalks at the market so I feel justified in this post. 

my favorite cafe in the namesake city of the brussel sprout

my favorite cafe in the namesake city of the brussel sprout

Like the city of their namesake, brussel sprouts are terribly underrated; they have such an unfortunate reputation of being stinky and plain.  In fact, these little runts of the cabbage family may be the mascot for the rejected vegetable team, elevated by veggie haters as the chief offender and reason to shun vegetables.  Maybe this is true if you boil all of the flavor out of them and dump them on a plate with a little table salt (a tragedy); however, a properly cooked brussel sprout paired with some punchy ingredients and a little bit of love can yield something very, very tasty. 

Brussel sprouts are sweet, earthy, maybe even a little floral – pancetta and garlic beautifully complement these aspects of their flavor.  They are great vehicles of flavor – crispy edges with soft centers – pungent sauce or olive oil hidden in the leaves – their own essence assertive enough to not be lost in the mix.  These tiny crucifers are not only too delicious to be avoided, but they are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients that provide all sorts of lovely benefits to your body (cancer prevention, clear skin, boosted immune function, etc.). 

My husband and I most often enjoy them prepared in the fashion I’ll outline below; you could serve them alongside a simple chicken or pork, or you can eat them as the main with some crusty bread, as we often do.  I have

brussel sprouts with pancetta

brussel sprouts with pancetta

experimented with this classic pairing multiple times with many variations; I like them best in the way that I’m sharing.  The pancetta is very toothsome; crispy but also pleasantly chewy.  The saltiness of the pancetta combined with the garlic and caramelization of the brussel sprouts, the small amount of wine or broth that deglazes the pan, a tiny squeeze of lemon – all of this combines in glorious goodness.  You could also cut some sprouts in half and roast them in the oven.  Toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper and they will brown very nicely.  A simple, warm sauce of mustard, white wine or white wine vinegar, thyme and a generous sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese makes an elegant and versatile side. 

Perhaps you have written off the brussel sprout; if so, I ask you to give the humble veggie another chance.  If I haven’t done enough to convince you, maybe my husband’s unabashed passion will: “They’re my absolute favorite vegetable,” he says, “and they’re named after my favorite city.”  That’s a one-two punch for the brussel sprout.

brussel sprouts with pancetta

serves 2 generously

  • 20 or so small brussel sprouts, trimmed of bottom “stem” and outer leaves plucked
  • quarter inch slab of pancetta, diced into small cubes
  • a few cloves of garlic, very coarsely chopped
  • generous splash of chicken broth, white wine or vermouth
  • little squeeze of lemon (optional and a little something extra)
  • little bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. trim the brussel sprouts and blanch them for about three minutes in boiling water, draining and transferring to an ice bath
  2. cut the blanched brussel sprouts in half – meanwhile, crisp the pancetta in a skillet over medium high heat
  3. when pancetta begins to crisp, add the brussel sprouts cut side down and cook for 3 to 4 minutes (turn the heat down if they are browning too much or too fast)
  4. check to make sure that brussel sprouts are browning nicely, then turn over to brown on the other side, maybe 2 minutes more
  5. deglaze the pan with a little white wine, vermouth or chicken broth, then add the garlic to the pan
  6. toss and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring gently to combine flavors and prevent garlic from burning
  7. squeeze with a bit of lemon, serve, and repent of your aversion to brussel sprouts

Look for brussel sprouts of a similar size, with crisp compact heads and intact leaves.  Some of the leaves will come off during cooking; don’t worry – these will crisp up and become delicious.

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