MUSSELS WITH FRENCH FLAVOURS (Provencale)

I usually cook mussels in white wine with herbs, garlic and orange peel, but it is so easy to achieve a totally different taste by using different herbs and adding a few different vegetables.

These mussels that were cooked for me by my friend who lives in Queensland. She added a leek, a fennel bulb and julienne zucchini; the result is a thick soup and we ate it with crusty bread.

She used oregano as the herb but thyme or tarragon would also work –these are the herbs of Provence. Because fennel was used in her recipe I have suggested using Pernod or Ricard (anise-flavoured alcohol) rather than wine or adding some crushed fennel seeds to enhance the anise taste. This is optional.

On the day that we cooked the mussels we had gone to a market and we had purchased some very good red carrots and small Brussels sprouts. Although I would not usually accompany a soup with side dishes of cooked vegetables, on this occasion we did – we wanted to eat them while they were so fresh.

I do not just cook Sicilian, and on this occasion I cooked the Brussels sprouts with garlic and apple and the red carrots with spring onions, caraway seeds, orange peel, some Puy lentils (left over from the night before) and some pomegranate molasses. We ended up eating these as a starter.

INGREDIENTS
black mussels, scrubbed, bearded (these were vacuum packed,1.2k)
600g ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 zucchini, cut julienne (thin, long strips)
3 spring onions or shallots, cut finely
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 orange, juice and peel
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons dry white wine or 2  of Pernod or Ricard
fresh oregano leaves, tarragon or thyme (to taste)
pinch of saffron threads (soaked in a little hot water for 2 mins)
½ cup olive oil
500m (2 cups) fish or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley to decorate.

PROCESSES
Sauté garlic, leek, fennel and spring onions over low heat until the vegetables have softened.
Add wine (or Pernod), fennel seeds, herbs, saffron and tomatoes. Simmer for a few minutes.
Add stock, cover and cook on low heat (as you would cook a soup) for about 30 mins.
Blend the soup – it should be quite thick. Reheat and bring to the boil.
Add the orange peel and orange juice and zucchini and cook for a few minutes.
Add the mussels, cover and cook until the mussels open.
Sprinkle some parsley on top.
Place into soup bowls and serve with some crusty bread.

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