Spicy Marseilles Clams and Mussels
I love this seafood stew for being both simple and complicated at once. Few of us can achieve that dichotomy without substantial artifice, but this dish stumbles into it without effort. As my Marseilles cousin said to me when I described the recipe, “These are not the mussels of Marseilles.” Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but I’ve taken the essences of Marseilles that inspire me—the seafood, the pastis, the saffron, the garlic—and bubbled them into a light, spicy dish that is both warming and weightless.
The dish takes, from beginning to end, perhaps twenty minutes. The subterranean perfume of anise wafts up from the subtle, but present, pastis and fennel. The floral saffron and hot chilies add further depth of flavor to what is otherwise a simple pot of seafood. The clams leach their signature briny liquor, and add a sweet emphasis and contrast of texture to the quotidian mussels. It’s a pot of mussels taken to new Provençal heights. And if you want to make this moules frites, I suggest you try it with sweet potato fries and some good crusty bread. Use the shells to spoon the hot broth into your mouth like a suppertime elixir—it’s bright, fresh, and life-giving.
Marseilles-Style Spicy Clams and Mussels
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 shallots, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1/4 fennel, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup Pastis
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron
- 1 pound mussels
- 1 pound little neck clams
- 1 tablespoon butter, very cold
- 2 tablespoon fennel fronds, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chervil, chopped
- In a wide risotto pan, heat the olive oil over medium to medium-low heat and add the shallots, garlic, fennel, and chili flakes. Sauté until translucent, fragrant, and tender—about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, and sauté another 3 minutes.
Add the pastis, and reduce.
Add the wine, and reduce.
- Add the saffron, the mussels, and the clams, and raise the heat to high. Cover, and steam the seafood until it opens—about 5 minutes. Shake in the cold butter to make the sauce creamy.
Toss in the fennel fronds and chervil and serve immediately.
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Pastis and Persillade Stuffed Mussels
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Traditional moules-frites are so popular that we often forget their equally delicious cousins: moules-farcies, or stuffed mussels, broiled in the oven and served something like clams casino.
Persillade is a traditional mix of parsley and often garlic, and it is the way I have most frequently encountered stuffed mussels. Sometimes they come with a broiled crust of Parmesan latticed over the top, but in this rendition, I lighten up the flavors with a splash of anise-d Pastis. The butter and the Pastis, under the hot sun of the broiler, collapse down into the half-shell mussels, as the garlic softens and sweetens and the crumbs crust into molehills of flavor.
Roquefort Roasted Broccoli
I have always felt that vegetables are the neglected children of dinnertime. Underloved, underattended, and, unlike children, underwhelming—in most cases.
Having grown up as a vegetarian for twelve years, I learned to appreciate the gilded vegetable. At a restaurant in Monaco, I still remember the ratatouille that was cut up into perfect travel-sized dice, each cooked separately and appropriately, and amalgamated into Provençal perfection. And “isn’t it romantic” when the pariah steals the show—like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, or My Fair Lady, or Funny Face, or any movie she ever made? Vegetables may appear scrawny and from the wrong side of the supermarket aisle, but with a bit of finesse, they become the belle of the ball.
Watermelon and Toasted Goat Cheese Salad
I am not at all opposed to themed food. Last year’s Valentine’s column was a traditional Coeur à la Crème, a heart of sweet cream surrounded in a sweet strawberry sauce. This year, my Cupid’s arrow is watermelon salad with baby arugula, honey-balsamic syrup, and torched goat cheese—something pink, which may lead down the road to something blue if you play this Sunday night right.
The key to romance is to share a meal, but to not eat anything too filling—or too smelly (hence a salad, with no onions, no garlic). This salad is composed of planks of sweet pink watermelon, with baby arugula tucked gently in between the Napoleon layers, drizzled with a balsamic reduction sweetened with honey, and then topped with olive oil, fleur de sel, black pepper, and goat cheese, which you then set aflame with a kitchen torch until it boils and bubbles and turns soft and charred. It’s magnificent—plus I just used the words “pink,” “baby,” “honey,” and “aflame” all in one sentence to describe it. How much more romantic can you get?
Pastis-Glazed Fish with Fennel Slaw
Pastis, an anise-flavored liqueur, is two-faced. It smells positively noxious out of the bottle, and yet tastes so absolutely subtle in cooking that if it were a person, it would have a split personality. Who knew that anything so bold out of a bottle could by so shy in a pan?
I first discovered Pastis on the jovial breath of my adoring grandmother, Mémé, and have been trying to force myself to like it ever since. To no avail. But it has absolutely always been around in my house, my mother having been born in Marseilles, in the heart of Pastis-drinking country. Thus, when I was at her house for the holidays, and our family descended upon us from France once again bearing bottles of duty-free Pastis, I had no choice but to give it a shot.
Honey Dijon Chicken Drummettes
I admit it. I’m not a football fan. But I am an eater, and so that makes Super Bowl Sunday one of the best days of the year. Did you know that today is the number one avocado consumption day of the year? Instead of guacamole, or last year’s avocado chevre dip (which I still make regularly), this year I am frying avocado and zucchini in a seltzer batter and serving it with tarragon-laden green goddess dressing. And to go with my garden of fries, traditional old chicken wings–except they’ve gone French. I fry chicken drummettes (you could bake as well) and toss them with a sticky glaze of honey and Dijon and old-fashioned grain mustards. They are sweet and spicy and sticky but a bit more soigne than regular buffalo wings. And I hope your team wins. Because, as usual, I’m bringing the food. But I don’t know who’s playing!
Bon app! Et bonne chance!
Zucchini Fries with Green Goddess Dipping Sauce
Honey Dijon Chicken Drummettes
- 1 1/3 pounds chicken drummettes (about 10)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- Vegetable oil
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- Heat a cast iron pot half full with vegetable oil to 325°F and preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and fry it in the hot oil for about 7 minutes, turning the drummettes over once. Remove to a paper towel to drain, and season with sea salt.
- While the chicken is frying, making the sauce by melting the butter in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Then add the honey and two mustards, and heat through, so the honey is thoroughly runny and melted.
- Place the sauce in a large bowl, and add the drummettes. Toss to thoroughly coat.
- Arrange the chicken on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon any extra sauce over the top, and bake for 10 minutes. You can easily double or triple this recipe to feed a crowd.
Lentil Salad with Shrimp
The inspiration for this dish came from a very unusual place: the menu on the wall in Meryl Streep’s café in It’s Complicated. I always find myself salivating and longing for long picnics on the Pont des Arts whenever I see a Nancy Meyers movie, and this one full of cloudy chocolate croissant reveries was no exception. So when I saw “lentil and shrimp salad” scrawled out across the screen, I thought, “That would make a good column!”
I don’t know how Meryl Streep makes her lentil and shrimp salad, but I make mine with Puy lentils, Dijon vinaigrette,and jumbo shrimp roasted with lemon zest and olive oil in a Riviera-hot oven, ticker-taped with bits of sweet grape tomato peeking. I love the French use of lentils—filling as mashed potatoes but far more virtuous, and while I did recently hear my favorite celebrity chef insist that you could substitute any lentil for the dainty, green du Puy, I will have to ask you not to. Brown lentils that turn to mush were created for soup, and green lentils that stay pert after a hard boil were made for salads. Puy lentils are more and more readily available, but truly any gourmet or health food store should carry them, and like the road less traveled, they make all the difference.