Mussels Sarande

photo 1-297

It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

I for one, am so excited that it is once again mussel season here in Belgium. I never realized that mussels have a “season” since I had always found them year around in American grocery stores. Here in Belgium, however, they are virtually impossible to find during the summer months. They may still appear on menus but in most restaurants you will be told that they aren’t available or aren’t any good during the summer months. But once late August rolls around, they are back and readily available.

Belgians love their mussels. Just about every restaurant menu features mussels and there are entire restaurants dedicated to serving nothing but mussels (and the requisite fried potatoes a.k.a. French fries of course). Mussels may be steamed in wine or beer–with vegetables or without and smothered in tomato, cheese, cream sauce or none at all. These are all nice of course but by far, my favorite version is one I first ate while traveling in southern Albania. Steamed in a mixture of white wine, fennel, onions and chopped tomatoes, the mussels always appeared on the menu as “mussels Sarande”, named after the largest port city in southern Albania. They are so good that I ordered them whenever they appeared on the menu. And now, living in a country that is renowned for their mussels, I find myself craving this Albanian version. So I now cook up pots of these tasty mussels myself. My version is a bit spicier than the traditional Albanian one but each time I sit down to eat them I am reminded of those hot and lazy summer evenings sitting on the shores of the Ionian Sea.

MUSSELS w/ FENNEL & SAUSAGE

2 pounds fresh wild mussels

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin, fronds reserved

1 large onion, sliced thin

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups dry white wine

1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered

  • Rinse and clean mussels, discarding any that will not close.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat.
  • When the oil shimmers, add the fennel, onion and garlic and saute until soft, 4-5 minutes.
  • Raise the temperature to high, add the white wine and bring to a simmer.
  • When the wine simmers stir in the tomatoes and cook for an additional minute.
  • Reduce the temperature to medium high then add the rinsed mussels to the pot, cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking occasionally, until the mussels open.
  • Discard any mussels that don’t open, sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds and serve immediately.
Serves 2-4
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