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Recipe: Mussels with White Wine, Fennel, and Tomato

Photo: Eliza Mills

Moules frites is a dish for all seasons. In the summer, mussels cooked in wine with garlic and shallots taste light and fresh; in the winter, a steaming bowl of mussels in broth will warm you right up. Unfortunately, the ocean isn't so cooperative with the "for all seasons" mentality, and even though you can get mussels in restaurants all year long, they're really best during fall, winter, and early spring, when the water is colder. Instead of fries, use crusty rustic bread warmed in the oven -- it will soak up all the delicious broth left in the bowl. These mussels are best served with the wine you cooked them in, or if you're splurging, a nicer version of the wine you cooked them in. If you're feeling a bit more Belgian than French, they're also great with a cold wheat beer. Bon appetit!

Mussels with White Wine, Fennel, and Tomato
Two pounds P.E.I. mussels, or whatever's fresh at the store (any blue mussels are great)
One bottle of white wine, preferably dry and not too sweet
One large shallot, finely chopped
Four cloves of garlic, finely chopped
One or two springs of fresh thyme
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (or shaved, if you have a mandolin)
One large tomato (I used a huge heirloom), cut into bite sized pieces
Three tablespoons unsalted butter
Olive oil
Parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt the butter and add a splash of olive oil, so that the entire pot is coated.

Add the shallot, garlic, and thyme; sauté on medium heat until the shallot is soft and translucent.

Turn the heat down to low and pour two glasses of wine into the pot. Put in the fennel and tomato and let the broth simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the broth cooks, prepare the mussels and make sure they're still alive. Rinse them in cold water, and scrub to remove any stringy residue. Tap any mussels that have started to open -- if they don't close in a minute or so, throw them out, they're dead. To de-beard any mussels that need it, pinch the beard (the fuzzy, stringy thing in the seam of the mussel) and pull. (Yes, it's a bit gross, but delicious food sometimes starts out weird!)

When the mussels are clean and the broth has been simmering for half an hour, taste the broth and add however much salt and pepper you'd like.

Turn the heat back up and put the mussels into the pot for 5-6 minutes. Cover with a lid and shake occasionally to make sure the mussels don't burn on the bottom. They're done when they've all opened.

Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon and put them into a soup bowl. Pour in the broth and serve with warm bread.