Summer flew by once again, and with it I've come full circle with the seasons here in Provence. It seems like only yesterday, I was lugging my suitcases from the bus stop to the Cours Mirabeau, passing the naked, spindly branches of the plane trees in winter. Those trees and the market have been my calendar this year. From the trees' leaves and the produce for sale on the market tables, I know exactly which season it is here in Provence.
I watched the fresh breeze of Spring blow through as quickly as asparagus came and went at the market. I wrote about cherries and summer vacation, then spent the rest of the short, not-so-hot summer in the kitchen and at the market amidst the bright bold colors of peppers, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Right now the arbor of plane trees along the Cours Mirabeau are turning golden and beginning to fall. Just as the colors in the leaves are turning, so are the colors at the market. Now bright orange and yellow of pumpkins and squash and browns and golds of mushrooms are the colors of the market. Yes, things have come full circle and my first year in Aix and Provence is almost at an end.
Summer was very busy and I met so many of you here. Thank you, thank you, to all of you who dropped by this Summer and early Fall to cook with me! It was truly a blast and I loved meeting so many of you at the market and in my kitchen.
My cooking classes here in Provence were so much fun and such a success that I'll be offering them and even more for next year. Look for all the details on classes and vacations for 2014 in a post next week. Along with the daily cooking classes and pastry-making workshops, I'll have more: a morning food tour & tasting, and a week-long "Markets and Villages of Provence" culinary vacation. The pastry-making vacation will be back next year, too. Look out, too, for a giveway that will go along with next week's announcement!
Today though, let's talk mussels and Pastis. This dish was one of the most popular from this year's classes, and it includes an essential ingredient to any visit to Provence, Pastis. Created in Marseille, Pastis is an anise-flavored alchohol drank mostly as an aperitif. Although it is popular throughout France, it is THE before-dinner (and before-lunch) drink of Provence.
As an aperitif it's served in a tall glass, usually with 2 cubes of ice. Water is aded to your "shot" of Pastis. At 45% alcohol, I need that long top off of water, and then some more. It has a rich licorice flavor, even with the water added, and the scent is as heady and full of that lusty licorice aroma. It's a strong drink and I'm sure to cause me at least as many mishaps and folly as limoncino has. (I've only sampled Pastis a few times, so no Pastis-drinking tales.....yet.) If you cook it, though, the alcohol burns off and you're still left with the flavor infused into your food, not to mention your safe from hangovers.
With this Moules au Pastis or Mussels with Pastis, you get a delicious sauce to flavor your mussels and extra to plunge a few toasted baguette slices into. The sauce is a blend of the mussels juices, a little wine, a little cream and Pastis, along with shallots, garlic and tomatoes. Be prepared to have many slices of butter-toasted baguettes on hand to sop up what's left at the bottom of your bowl. Trust me; you won't want to let it go to waste.
Mussels with Pastis (Moules au Pastis)
(Serves 4-6 people, 4 as a main dish and 6 as an entree/first course)
About 4 pounds mussels, cleaned with beards removed
1/3 cup dry white wine
6 cloves garlic, finely diced and divided in half
4 bay leaves
4 shallots, finely diced and divided in half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
About 1/2 cup mussel fumet (made from mussel juice and wine – instructions below)
3-4 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup Pastis
1/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
20 slices of baguette bread, brushed with melted butter and toasted
In a large pot place the mussels, wine, half the diced garlic, half the diced shallots, and bay leaves. Cook on medium high heat until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. Remove the mussels with a skimmer, leaving the liquid, and most of the shallots and garlic in the pot. This is the mussel fumet. Continue cooking the fumet on medium heat for about 4-5 minutes more until it is reduced by about a third. Strain the fumet and set aside.
In a sauté pan (use two pans if one is not large enough), melt the butter on medium low heat. Add the other half of the shallots and cook 1 minute, just until they are translucent. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook another minute to dry out the tomatoes (do not let the garlic or the shallots burn). Add the fumet and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the mussels to the pan and then the Pastis. Turn the heat on high and cook until the alcohol has cooked out from the Pastis, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and freshly ground black pepper and cook just until it is combined and heated through. Remove from the heat. Top with the parsley and stir in. Serve with the toasted bread slices. Enjoy!
NOTE: If you’d like your mussels to be a little spicier, you can add the freshly ground black pepper to the pan at the beginning of the cooking process, at the same time you add the second half of the shallots.
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