By Ron Rossi
Welcome to May 2020. It is similar to another day and time after the last two months we have had this year with Covid-19. It seems that nothing in life seems to be changing. We get up and do life at home all day long. We eat here all day…breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we cook all meals for either ourselves or our family who is home with us also.
With this, the way we live right now, my son and I decided we wanted to cook a special dinner for my wife’s birthday dinner this year. Nothing would change what we could do to make the dinner different. My wife made the decision. My son and I had to carry it out. The great thing was that my wife made it easy this time around. It was going to be stuffed mussels! Not really tough if you could find a fresh collection of muscles you could catch in a store, bring home, wash fresh, and then store in the refrigerator until it was time to cook for dinner. It was not too hard to go to the store last May 2019 to buy the mussels. But this year, in 2020, it was different. Mussels were not in every store all the time. You had to look all around. In fact by this time we find that first.
Shopping for Birthday Dinner at Home
So, for her birthday on May 5th, we had to go out and shop. My son and I were prepared to go shopping early in the morning before 9:30 am. And that is what we decided to do.
Together we went out to the stores early in the morning with now traffic on the road that day. The roads were empty as very few people in our neighborhoods were headed outside. My son and I went out to a store 3 miles from our home. Within 10 minutes we made our time. It was fast.
Once we arrived at the store we parked. We stepped out of the car and put on our face scarf and gloves. Next we grabbed a food basket and went inside to run off to the fish counter. The crowd was small, and the two fish counter men were handling the consumers. By the time the men came to us we gave them the order. “We shall take two pounds of the mussels, please,” we said. The counterman said “Yes, we can give you that,” as they took two packages and put it all together for us.
That was it. We then stopped to pick up some pasta, salad, and a few items for the birthday cake we needed to make for after dinner tonight. No one was in a rush or out of breath. Everyone was glad to help you through the process. That was it. We paid the bill and went back to our car to go home within 10 to 15 minutes.
Preparing the Ingredients
Once we were home my son took the mussels out of the bag and was ready to wash them. In about 30 minutes he had the mussels cleaned and ready to go into the refrigerator for tonight. The only problem was the weight of the items he was working with. Instead of the 2 pounds, we expected we had a collection of mussels weighing a total of 4 pounds. That was twice the order we placed with the store. What happened was that the salesman had picked up two bags of items believing that he had picked up a total of 2 pounds, when the reality was that he picked up 4 pounds but changed us for only 2 pounds. This was amazing. It also provided us with a good portion of mussels to use tonight. Best was we did not need to take them out of the refrigerator until one hour before we started dinner.
That was ideal. The day was quiet. But once it became 4:30 pm things started to change. It was time to get ready. I was going to decorate the dining room with formal old-fashioned family dishes, crystal, silverware, and more. This was a special birthday we were holding inside. So, while I did decorate for some time, my son started getting dinner together. He took the mussels out of the refrigerator and put it on the counter. He brought out the tomatoes and items to make the red sauce for the mussels. He also took out fresh pasta to make as well. Once it was all out on the counter, he let it rest for 30 minutes until 5:30 pm. When it reached that time, he was ready to begin the meal.
A Cooking Process that is Family History
Within our family history this is an old styled process to make. It has not really changed for us. This meal requires a few simple ingredients and a little bit of preparation. It will then result in a hearty and beautiful meal that can cover as both a first or second course. The mussels are steamed open, and the liquid is reserved for a richer tomato sauce. The opened mussels are then stuffed with a breadcrumb and cheese mixture and cooked in the tomato sauce. The mussels, sandwiched in their shells with the breadcrumb mixture, are cooked with the tomato sauce in the same pot. Within 30 minutes it is all done.
To get everything started with first make the tomato sauce. We will sauté garlic, chili pepper, and parsley in the oil over medium heat. We will not let garlic brown. Then we add the crushed peeled tomatoes, herbs and a few smaller items to add flavor. Just stir and then add the mussel juice you’ve kept aside. Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes.
When this is ready, we will gently place mussels into pan, cover, and let mussels stew for about 15 minutes or until the stuffing has cooked almost all the way through. As it finally gets to that level, we take everything and place it on top of the sauce to finish cooking until done. That is only 10 to 15 minutes more. That is all.
Of course, we also remember to make the pasta. For tonight we decided on Fettuccine. It had more style and weight to it. We let it cook for about 12 minutes and this was finished.
That was all we had to do. We placed the pasta in an old family bowl and left the mussels in the pot with the sauce. Nothing more was needed except for an Italian salad and a glass of white wine. It was a perfect meal for us to have.
It moved to the table and we toasted my wife for her birthday this year. She said it was a great event. Especially when we had the taste of close to 4 pounds of mussels, tomato sauce, and pasta. You could not do better this day.
Naturally, after dinner we did bring out the special birthday cake we make. It was a white Angle food cake topped with a whipped cream topping and served with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries on the side. Truly tasty after the meals of the day. Almost worthy of a look outside our home one day.
Here are the recipes to try at home:
Mussels with Tomato Sauce
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes
- 1/2 c. dry white wine
- 2 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
- kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- Grilled bread, for serving
- In a pot over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add onion and cook until fragrant and soft, 5 minutes, then add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more.
- Add diced tomatoes, wine, and parsley and stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add mussels and simmer until all shells are open. (Discard any shells that aren’t open.)
- Garnish with more parsley and serve with grilled bread.
- kosher salt
- 1 lb. fettuccine
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water then drain.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, add cream and butter. Cook until the butter is melted, and the cream is heated through. Whisk in Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
- Add cooked pasta and toss until coated in sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
“The Jaded Traveler”. Ron Rossi was born and raised in New York. A globalist at heart, Ron is a marketing director by trade, and has lived and worked around the world including Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. Food is one of the best ways to learn about a country, a people and a culture. So, Ron is always looking for the best in mid-range to budget and street food. He is always on the hunt for a good meal anyone can afford. It is the food of the average citizen that excites him. And with having visited close to 100 countries on 6 continents so far, there have been some pretty good meals.