In which the world of culinary hedonism is explored with a cup and a half of curiosity, a heaping tablespoon of passion and a dash of clumsiness.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Post #103 ~ Mussels with Tomatoes, Fennel and Caramelized Shallots

As you might have noticed, it's been a while since my last post.  Actually, it was a while since the post before that one, too.  In truth, this final semester has been a really busy one for me (as well it should be, seeing as it's my last!).  In the past four months, I've conducted a study, assisted in a study, compiled date from my own study, analyzed said data and written a dissertation.  I'm defending May 2 and walking May 11.  I can't believe how quickly it's all gone!

So, in sum, I've still been cooking, but not blogging about it quite as much.  Tonight I really felt like returning to basics and cooking a favorite meal (but with a twist) and writing a post.  For those of you who know my blog, you realize that this means a post about insalate caprese, ratatouille or mussels, and hopefully by now you know the theme of tonight's dinner.

I was researching some different ways to make mussels, and happened upon an ingredient I had never before considered: Fennel.  I don't have a ton of familiarity with fennel, outside of the rogue seed that appears on a slice of pepperoni pizza, or the anise-flavored cookies I binge on at least once every other Christmas.

But I had seen and heard great things from my favorite chefs on my favorite cooking shows, so I decided it was high time I dallied with this flavorful bulb.  So here's what you'll need for tonight's meal:

~ Mussels (between 15 mussels - about 2/3 pound - and one pound, depending on your appetite)
~ 1 shallot (sweeter than onion, IMO)
~ 2 cloves garlic, crushed
~ 3 roma tomatoes
~ 1 bulb fennel (although I only used about 1/3 of it)
~ Fresh parsley (although many other herbs would have worked well)
~ Dry white wine
~ Coarse-ground sea salt
~ Baguette

I started some EVOO smoking in a pan, and tossed in the sliced shallot to caramelize, tossing it once as I sliced everything else.  Next, I sliced the fennel.  Once knife slice told me I was making a good decision, as a spicy, familiar-yet-new aroma filled the air.  Into the pan it went, and the aromas only got better as it joined the sweet, savory scent of the caramelized shallot.  Things were heating up rather quickly, so I added some white wine.  There was lots of steam, so I stepped back and added more gradually, eventually equalling about a cup.  Next went the romas, coarsely chopped.  I added some parsley at this point, as well as some salt.  I turned up the heat and let them really cook.  I crushed in two cloves of garlic and added more parsley, and savored the aromas.  After rinsing the mussels, I slid them into the pan and covered the whole deal.  I let it simmer for 4 minutes, my usual time for cooking mussels.

In the mean time, I did useful things like put dishes in the sink, ingredients back in the fridge, sliced the bread and poured and sampled the wine.  All was well in the world.  After 4 minutes, I put the mussels into a bowl and grabbed the plate with the bread.  I was halfway into the livingroom when I swear I could hear Mireille Guiliano (see #17) yelling at me all the way from France.  So I set myself down at my kitchen table and really enjoyed the meal.  I mean, as I've said before, this is a meal for which you should eschew napkins in favor of a towel.  Hands and bread are the utensils here, with a fork at the ready as a last resort (or to avoid burned fingers).  The resulting broth was tremendously flavorful, and there was plenty of it and the other ingredients to compliment the mussels.

The fennel was amazing.  It kept a crunchiness to it, but was cooked to a satisfying done-ness.  It added an intensely spicy (as in aromatic, rather than "hot") dimension to the meal and complemented the bright, biteyness of the parsley and the acidic flavor of the romas beautifully.  The wine I chose for cooking and drinking was a Romanian Pinot Grigio by Dreambird.  It was citrussy with a nice balance of mineral.  It complemented this seafood dish like a fresh squeeze of lemon compliments a fillet of haddock.

All in all, an immensely satisfying meal.

Yours in the love of good food and wine,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.