MUSSELS WITH CHICKPEAS

I love mussels: they are just so quick to cook, sustainable, economical and so flavourful. By using different herbs and adding a variety of ingredients you can vary the looks and taste of mussels and have a new dish every time. Mussels are called cozze in Italian.

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Mussels or vongole (pipis or cockles) cooked with pulses (usually chickpeas or cannellini or lima beans) feature in many cuisines – Italian, Moroccan, French, Spanish and Greek and there are likely to be more examples. Each cuisine may have a few variations: as an Italian I use parsley, the French recipes may suggest using thyme, Moroccans may add harissa and the Spaniards may add chorizo. Fennel is in season and its aniseed, liquorice -like flavour compliments the taste of any seafood.

I also like to accentuate the taste of the fennel by adding 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds or instead of the wine, using one of the anise flavoured alcoholic drinks, like Ricard, Pastis or Pernod (French) or Raki (Turkey). Ouzo (Greek) and Sambuca (Italian) are sweeter in taste (contain sugar) so unless you particularly like sweetness do not use too much. I have mentioned the most popular of the alcoholic beverages, but there are more in other countries.

I use a lot of wine or alcohol in my cooking but this is not compulsory. I do not use salt when I cook mussels as they release their own liquid and this is usually sufficiently salty.

1 k mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup white wine or ½ cup of anise flavoured alcohol and ½ cup of water or if you have cooked the chickpeas yourself, use the liquid
1 bulb fennel or 3 stalks of young celery
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups of cooked chickpeas (home cooked or canned)
pepper or chilli flakes
 
Prepare the fennel: remove the tough outer leaves, slice the fennel and chop finely any of the fronds. Because I prefer to have some crunch in the fennel I slice it into medium -thin slices, but if you prefer it to be soft, slice it very thinly. Substitute the fennel with celery if you prefer.
Use a heavy bottomed large saucepan with a tight fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and sauté the garlic, sliced fennel and fennel fronds.
Add chickpeas, parsley, pepper or chilli flakes to taste and 1 cup of liquid – either wine or anise flavoured alcohol and water – and bring to the boil.
Add mussels, cover and cook until they open.
Serve with the broth. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top. Use bread to mop up the juices.

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