My roommates, Jon (who has been my best friend since we were teenagers) and Melissa (who I’ve gotten to know since the two of them began dating six years ago) are away on vacation, and while, in theory, having a whole week to myself is great (and I am enjoying it), it gets sort of lonely. Not that I spend every waking moment with them or anything like that. They both work day shifts, and I usually don’t leave the newsroom until 9 p.m. then make the 45-minute drive back to New London from Middletown. So, a lot of times, when I get home at night, they are already holed up in their room, and leave for work before I’m out of bed in the morning. So I see them mostly on weekends, when I am not spending time with my sister, niece, mom, etc. Despite all of that, Jon and Melissa are family to me, so just knowing that they are not in the next room when I get home leaves me feeling, well, alone.
Added to that was that my sister was working night shifts all weekend at the hospital, and I wouldn’t even get to enjoy my weekly dinner with her. I was kinda bummed, but I spent Saturday afternoon with her at the beach, where I flipped through the most recent Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine (I know, I know, I have to start getting recipes from other places, too.) I came across a recipe for Sausage and Mussel Spaghetti, which I thought looked really good. Angie agreed, though she’s never eaten a mussel in her life- and I’ve only had them once or twice, nevermind cooked with them (those food stylists really know what they’re doing, I guess!) So then and there, sitting on the beach, I decided I’d be cooking a romantic dinner of spaghetti with mussels for myself for dinner that night.
Angie brightly suggested I jump in the water and look for mussels to take home (growing up, we used to come home from a day at the beach with TONS of mussel shells that we found lying around in the sand).Laughing (and kinda grossed out by the idea), I said,”…..Um…. I think I’ll get them at Stop and Shop. Thanks for the suggestion though.” I could just imagine a fridge full of freshly harvested mussels, straight out of the Thames River, glowing neon with all the wonderful stuff leached into the water from nearby Electric Boat and Millstone Nuclear Power Plant. Ok, well, maybe that doesn’t and wouldn’t happen, but still… I prefer to get my seafood from the grocery store. Let’s just leave it at that.
So the recipe called for scrubbed and debearded mussels. DE-WHAT-ED??? Like I said I’ve only eaten mussels once or twice before, and certainly never cooked them, so this was a huge puzzle to me. Having to know right then and there, I Googled it on my phone, and found step by step instructions, with pictures, here. Basically, you have to soak them in fresh water to get rid of sand from inside them, pull the threadlike strands that come out of the mussel’s shell off before you cook them, and scrub the outside to get rid of any “oceanic” attachments?! It seemed like quite a process but I figured why not? It would be one more thing I knew how to cook. Later that day, I bought the mussels and went at it. It wasn’t too bad, since I was only cooking a half recipe, and only needed 12 mussels. But still, it took me about 15 minutes to get rid of those gross little strands and scrub them down…
The original recipe called for sausage… which you all know I don’t eat, so I used chicken sausage instead. I swapped out whole-wheat pasta for regular spaghetti. Also, it requires one bay leaf, which I thought I had at home but couldn’t find in the spice cabinet, so I subbed in about 10 fresh basil leaves, which is a whole different flavor… but I figured, basil makes just about anything better! Here is my altered, half-size recipe:
CHICKEN SAUSAGE AND MUSSEL SPAGHETTI
- Salt and Pepper
- 1/2 pound whole-wheat thin spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 pound chicken sausage
- 1 rib of celery, including the leafy top, finely chopped
- 1/2 of a small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 10 fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 pint of grape tomatoes
- 1/6 cup white wine
- 12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
Boil and salt a large pot of water to cook the pasta in- about 7 minutes, then drain. While the spaghetti is cooking, coat a large pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Crumble in the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, onion, garlic, and fennel seeds, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, turning the heat up to high and cook covered for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes burst. Lower the heat to medium-high and add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the parsley and basil, season with pepper and stir together. Add the mussels and cover the pan, cooking for 3-5 minutes, until the mussels open (throw away any that remain closed). Add the cooked pasta and toss together. Let the pasta sit for a couple minutes, then serve.
I ate my dinner alone, with a glass of the Riesling I used to cook it with, enjoying the relative silence, and… it was pretty good. Only thing is, I accidentally threw the basil and parsley in with the celery, onion, garlic, and fennel… so I didn’t have that fresh herb taste that you would get from adding them at the end of cooking. Also, you might have to help some of the tomatoes “burst” by squishing them a little, but be careful! I had exploded tomato juice all over the stovetop to clean up when I was done! It was pretty easy to prepare, aside from cleaning the mussels, and cooked very quickly. It is definitely something I will make again.
I saved half of the pasta for Angie, and brought it to my mom’s house for her to pickup before she went to work for the night the following day. But… she ate it a little sooner than that. Sunday morning, I arrived at my mom’s house before heading to work, to find Angie noshing on her dinner! I watched her as she tried her first mussel- ever- and laughed at the face of apprehension she had before eating it. She liked it though, and ate every last one.