Monday, January 22, 2018

Mussels with Fennel and Saffron

I love cooking and eating Italian food and was sure I already knew quite a lot about it. But, every time I read a cookbook, I find there’s always more to learn. And, who better to learn from about Italian cooking that Lidia Bastianich? Her latest book is Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party: A Cookbook, and I received a review copy. It’s full of recipes and suggestions for serving crowds big to small at any time of day and in any season. The chapters include Aperitivi, Appetizers, Salads, Soups, Vegetables and Sides, Polenta Risotto and Pasta, Fish and Seafood, Poultry and Meat, and Desserts. Lidia shares how she likes to entertain with a spread of appetizers or stuzzichini from which guests can help themselves before the main meal begins. She makes suggestions for options with and without meat to suit any budget and season as well as any guest’s preferred diet. In the Appetizers chapter, I learned about a type of frico I’d never encountered before. I previously knew frico as a crisp, little round of browned, shredded parmesan cheese that is great on top of a salad or as a snack with a cocktail. Here, Lidia gives a couple of recipes for a larger, layered frico. This Friulian version involves par-cooking potatoes and then slicing them. Then, a mixture of polenta and grated cheese is spread in a large heated skillet; that’s then topped with some of the sliced potatoes; depressions are made and an egg is cracked into each; the remaining potatoes are added on top of the eggs; it’s then topped with more polenta and cheese. This frico is cooked like a Spanish tortilla to brown both sides in the skillet until the eggs are set. It’s cut into slices to serve. There’s also a second similar frico made with ditalini pasta, prosciutto, tomato paste, and peas. I can’t wait to try this kind of frico. Some other dishes that caught my eye include the Polenta Torta with Gorgonzola and Savoy Cabbage. It’s a layered savory cake with melted, lovely cheese within the stacked polenta. In the Vegetables chapter, Lentils with Butternut Squash and Portobellos Stuffed with Quinoa and Kale are on my to-try list. It’s clear that Lidia’s party guests never leave hungry. I had some local fennel and was in the mood for something a little lighter, so the Mussels with Fennel and Saffron was the first thing I tried. 

To begin, you want to make sure your mussels are clean. This time, the mussels I bought needed some debearding, but they often come completely clean. I soaked them in salt water while prepping the other ingredients. The saffron was bloomed by adding it to warming stock. I used a vegetable stock, but chicken stock is suggested. Then, in a Dutch oven, olive oil was heated and finely chopped onion and diced fennel were added. They were left to cook for a few minutes. I had an organic Italian Trebbiano d'Abruzzo I had heard good things about and was excited to use. So, that white wine, salt, and red pepper flakes were added followed by the mussels and hot stock with saffron. The pot was covered, and the mussels were cooked for a few minutes until opened. The mussels were served with the broth with fennel and topped with chopped parsley. 

I have a thing for saffron and always love a broth or sauce perfumed with it. It was delicious with the mussels and fennel. I served the mussels with big slices of focaccia to dip into the broth. For this meal, it was just the two of us. But, I’ll be looking back to this book for ideas and recipes for entertaining bigger groups throughout the year. 

Mussels with Fennel and Saffron 

Cozze con Finocchio e Zafferano 
From the book Lidia's Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes That Make Every Meal a Party: A Cookbook by Lidia Mattichhio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali, copyright 2017 by Tutti a Tavola, LLC. Published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. 

You can serve this fun yet elegant dish in individual portions, piling the mussels high on each plate with a ladle. Make sure you distribute the sauce evenly and have plenty of grilled bread on the table, as well as some bowls to collect the shells. Even without the saffron, this is a delicious dish, but the saffron adds a luxuriousness that I love. This recipe is easily scaled up; plan on a pound of mussels per person for a first course, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds for an entree. 

Serves 4 as an appetizer 

1 cup chicken stock 
1 teaspoon saffron threads 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
1 small onion, thinly sliced 
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, cored, and thinly sliced lengthwise, 1/4 cup chopped tender fronds reserved 
1 cup dry white wine 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes 
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary 
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley 
Crusty country bread, for serving 

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a bare simmer. Add the saffron, and let steep 5 minutes. Keep hot. 

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and fennel. Cook and stir until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. 

Add the white wine, salt, and red pepper flakes. Simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the mussels and hot stock. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook about 3 to 4 minutes, until the mussels are done; discard any that haven’t opened. Stir in the parsley and reserved chopped fennel fronds, stir, and serve with bread. 

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  1. So fresh and flavourful! Have never tried mussels with fennel..and I am sure I would love it too!

  2. Mussels are wonderful, aren't they? And what a nifty combo of flavors -- truly an inspired recipe. Sounds like a terrific cookbook, too. Thanks!

  3. Mussels are one of my favorite meals! I usually do them in just a simple white wine, shallots and garlic sauce but now I mus try these!

  4. good ol' lidia! i don't like the texture of mussels but i tend to love the broth that's served with them!

  5. I love anything with saffron, too, whether it be a sweet or savory preparation. And mussels on a weeknight are a go-to because they cook in no time flat. Can't wait to try this rendition.

  6. I love mussels, Many times I don't make !
    look so good!


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