Mussels are one of those things that people don't make often enough. They are one of the most simple at-home seafood preparations, virtually foolproof since they let you know the exact second they're finished. These shiny black mollusks need nothing more than a crusty loaf of bread and maybe a bottle of wine to make a very satisfying meal, and they have the added bonus of being one of the least expensive items behind the seafood counter.
But as easy-to-prepare and economical as there are, mussels never fail to make a big splash when they hit the dinner table. One of the reasons that serving mussels to company is so appealing is that most people consider them to be something that is only eaten in restaurants, a dish that requires the culinary know-how of a skilled chef to prepare.
These Crostini with Mussels from La Cucina are a wonderful example of just how easy and impressive mussels can be, particularly when served in this recipe from the Molise region of southern Italy.
The mussels are steamed, taken out of their shells and then briefly simmered with white wine, bay leaves, parsley, and a hint of chile but the crostini are really what sets this dish apart. Stale bread is dipped in white wine vinegar, left to drain, and then toasted in olive oil. The richly flavored mussels are set upon these sour, crunchy slices of bread to make an amazing first course. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to accommodate a holiday crowd. I would recommend making a few more crostini than the recipe calls for since their will be bowls full of flavorful mussel broth just waiting to be sopped up.
Win La Cucina
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of La Cucina to give away this week.
- For the crostini:
- Olive oil
- 8 slices stale peasant-style bread
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- For the mussels:
- 2 pounds mussels
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 diavolillo (hot chili pepper such as Thai bird chili or red serrano)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat an inch of olive oil in a high-sided pan. Dampen the slices of bread in the vinegar; let dry for several minutes on a clean cloth. Fry the bread until golden brown and crunchy. Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain, and set aside on dry paper towels.
Clean the mussels, removing the beards, scraping them, and rinsing under running water. Put them in a covered pot and cook them over high heat until they open. Drain the mussels, preserving the liquid and discarding the shells.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and saute the garlic and diavolillo. Add the mussels, a cup of their liquid (add water as needed to make a cup of liquid), and bay leaves; cook 5 minutes, then add the wine. As soon as the liquid has evaporated add the parsley.
Arrange the bread on individual plates, and pour over each a ladleful of mussels with their cooking liquid and serve.