I had some saganaki recently at a friend’s place. She did the usual thing of cutting it into large cubes, dipping it in a little flour and pan frying it in hot oil until golden, but she then added a drizzle of Ouzo over the hot cheese, and lit it – (Flambé). Finally she added a squeeze of lemon juice. We ate this with some tomatoes that had been slowly baked on a low temperature.
It was the Ouzo that interested me. I particularly like the taste of aniseed and us a lot of fennel in my cooking. I also use wine quite often in my cooking and sometimes if I wish to accentuate the taste of the fennel I use Ricard or Pernod – both are anise flavoured liqueurs. I have also used Ouzo at times (based on a Greek way of cooking them) and recently I cooked some mussels with Sambuca; they make a great antipasto.
When travelling in Italy to places on the coast in summer, you will often see piattoni (large platters) of mussels presented as a stater to a meal in restaurants; these are a great favourite. With the warmer weather, I have enjoyed placing a large platter of mussels in the centre of the table and having guests help themselves. The mussels I cooked with Sambuca were greatly appreciated.
Whilst I was in Adelaide recently I also ate at a restaurant and enjoyed an Anisetta Meletti, another aniseed flavoured drink from Ascoli Piceno and sold at Mercato (Campbelttown in South Australia). This too would work.
The following recipe is in my second book, Small Fishy Bites. The food stylist and photographer are in the photo above.
2 kl mussels, scrubbed and cleaned of beards
extra virgin olive oil ½ cup
cloves of garlic, 7-8 chopped finely
Italian flat-leaf parsley, 1 small bunch, finely chopped
black pepper, finely ground
Sambuca, ½- ¾ cup (or Ouzu)
lemon juice, 1-2 lemons (grated peel optional)
Sauté the garlic lightly in hot extra virgin olive oil. Use a saucepan that will fit the mussels.
Add the mussels and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the Sambuca, a dash of water, pepper and the parsley. Cover with a lid and cook till the mussels open.
Remove the mussels and place into another warm saucepan with a lid to keep them hot. If you do not mind presenting the mussels warm, place the opened mussels on a platter. (Italians do not seem to bother about keeping food hot). Evaporate the juices until you only have about 1 cup of concentrated liquid. Add lemon juice and pour the juice over the mussels and serve.