Mussels Three Ways

I’m a shellfish fan from way back. I grew up in Brooklyn and the south shore of Long Island so we were always around seafood. And, as an Italian-American family (with Southern Italian heritage), we had lots of seafood-y recipes we LOVED. They was always the top of the list: seafood/shellfish.

When we can score a few dozen mussels or clams we’re happy as …well, clams. Recently we got a large bagful of some wonderfully fresh mussels. So exciting! But what should we do with them? I insisted we cook them 3 different ways.

NOTE: Cleaning mussels is easy. I rinse then well under cool water and remove any “beards”– those are traces of seaweed that might be clinging to the edges (just pull it off).

NOTE: Mussels cook fast! Once they’ve opened they’re pretty much done.

I’ll list the recipes here so you don’t have to wade through text to get to the recipes! Enjoy! Let me know how it goes (or if you have any questions).

First: Stuffed Mussels on the Half Shell

20 fresh mussels

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

2-3 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, leaves minced, stems discarded

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

olive oil for drizzling

3-4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

salt to taste

In a large sauce pan, heat about 1 cup of water to a simmer, seasoning with salt. Place mussels in water and cover. Let cook for about 2 minutes or so, until mussels pop open. Drain and remove top shells (the empty half) from each mussel, twisting off the shell half.

Line a sheet pan with foil. Line up opened mussels on half shells facing up. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together breadcrumb, garlic, parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a little olive oil to moisten like wet sand. Spoon some breadcrumb mixture on top of each mussel. Add a small piece of butter on top of each mussel.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until the breadcrumbs get nice and golden. Serve.

Second: Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce with Pasta

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1-2 teaspoons dried oregano

3-4 sprigs fresh Italian parlsey, leaves minced, stems discarded

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

salt to taste

2-3 dozen fresh mussels

1/2 pound favorite pasta

Add the garlic, oregano, parsley, and olive oil to a large saucepan. Heat until sizzling. Add the crushed pepper flakes. Cook for no more than a minute. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the mussels and cover. Cook at medium heat until the mussels pop open, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a pasta pot of water. When boiling, add salt. Add pasta and cook to desired doneness. When pasta is done, drain and add to the pot of mussels. Stir to combine. Turn off heat. Serve.

Third: Mussels in Saffron Cream Sauce

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, peeled and minced

1/3 cup chopped pancetta

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper to taste

healthy pinch saffron, crumbled

2-3 dozen fresh mussels

3-4 tablespoons heavy cream or half & half

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the shallot and pancetta. Cook until shallot is softened and pancetta has rendered, about 3-4 minutes. Add the wine. Season with salt & pepper. Add the saffron. Bring to a lively simmer. Add the cream and stir in, add the mussels and cover. Cook on medium heat until the mussels have popped open. Serve.

Classic Three-Cheese Lasagna

I’ve sampled LOTS of lasagna. In the States, in Italy, all kinds, with a variety of fillings, meat, besciamel, butternut squash, spinach, mushrooms, and more more more.

But my favorite is the one I grew up with, The one that my mom made. The one I first learned to make. It’s simple. Three cheeses. Ricotta, Mozzarella, Parmigiano. And some tomato sauce. That’s it!

Of course, the pasta, too. In the “old days” it was lasagna sheets from a Ronzoni box…those sheets with the curly edges. Then I made my own homemade pasta sheets. I love how tender they can be…melt-in-your-mouth. And THEN, my almost every time fallback now: no-boil, oven ready lasgna sheets. In the finished dish, these have the taste and texture of homemade. And so easy! (Just be sure to coat each sheet with sauce to the edges and corners — doesn’t have to be sopped with sauce, just nicely coated.)

To keep the dish light and delicate, go light with your sauce in each layer, and light with your sprinkling of mozzarella, ricotta, and grated cheese. All these ingredients are wonderful, but they don’t have to be piled on thickly. Results are more elegant when you go easy. Tastier and easier to gobble up, too.

Try it! Recipe below. Also a short video where I show you each step of the recipe.

Classic Three-Cheese Lasagna

For the Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, small dice

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 – 28 oz & 1 -15 oz can crushed tomatoes

salt & pepper to taste

For Lasagna:

1 box (9 oz) Lasagna pasta, regular or no-boil

1 lb. or less mozzarella, grated on shredder side of a box grater

2-3 cups ricotta, seasoned with salt & pepper

1/4 cup cream or milk

1 cup grated cheese, parmigiano, pecorino or mixture

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Make the Sauce: Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and cook until it softens. Add the wine and let evaporate. Add the tomatoes and season with salt & pepper. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Boil Pasta (if not using no-boil): Bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Season well with salt. Add lasagna pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and run cool water over pieces.

No-Boil Pasta: If using no-boil pasta, no need to cook first— just layer into the lasagna and make sure each sheet has a light coating of sauce.

Make the Lasagna: Spoon a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of a pan about 9” X 13” and at least 3-inches deep. Place 3-4 pasta strips  in one layer on top. Coat with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle some mozzarella. Stir milk into ricotta, season with slat & pepper. Spoon dollops of ricotta. Sprinkle some grated cheese. Repeat 3-4 more times until all the pasta sheets and ingredients have been used. On top layer, just spoon sauce to coat and sprinkle with some grated cheese.

Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and the lasagna is bubbling. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving. 

Focaccia with a Whisk

Or with a twist. In any case, this is an easy, authentic focaccia. The kind I first tasted years ago in Liguria, in the tiny hilltop town of San Pietro di Rovereto, where the one tiny store that sold focaccia for your morning coffee, sent me away with a paper bag of focaccia that oiled up by the time I walked the two blocks to the pink villa where I was a guest. (How’s that for a run-on sentence?)

This focaccia tastes like that. And we’re real lucky to be able to make it in our own kitchens without even breaking a sweat. Choose your toppings. Usually I go with sliced kalamata olives and rosemary. Sometimes, I slice up an onion and first simmer it in a little water with a few drops of oil. Then use it as a topping. I almost always sprinkle some nice finishing salt on top.

Try this. It’s in my cookbook, the one that’s titled the EASY Italian Cookbook. Because this recipe is easy. 🙂

Once you slice it up, you can store it wrapped well in foil. You can leave it at room temp, but by the second day, refrigerate. Or even wrap well and freeze.

Let me know how it goes. YUM.

Riviera Focaccia with Rosemary and Olives

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 cup warm water

2 tablespoons plus scant 1/4 cup olive oil, divided

2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed, stems discarded

1/2 cup of pitted kalamata olives, or favorite pitted olives

1/4 teaspoon finishing salt, or regular salt

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the yeast and sugar to a small mixing bowl, add 1 cup warm water. Stir once. When yeast puffs up (blooms), add 2 tablespoons olive.

Make a well/hole in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the wet ingredients. Whisk together gently until flour is all absorbed and the mixture looks smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Cover dough in bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a draft-free spot and let dough to rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.

Pour a scant 1/4 cup of olive oil in a quarter-sheet pan, or rimmed jelly roll pan (approximately 9 x 13-inches). Pour out the dough into the pan without folding it, using a spatula to help. Poke your fingers into some of the oil, so the dough won’t stick as you poke down the dough to fill pan. Push it into the corners and try to even out the thickness all around. Poking the dough gives it the characteristic pocked surface of focaccia. Cover the dough with piece of parchment, and then kitchen towel. Let rise about 30 minutes more. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

When the dough has risen a second time, discard parchment. Poke your fingers to make impressions again, scatter rosemary, olives, and finishing salt on top. Bake focaccia in the hot oven for about 20 minutes until golden. Allow to cool a few minutes before loosening from pan with a spatula. Cut into squares or strips.

Join my Zoom Cooking Classes

Some are sold out. First available one coming up September 23, 5pm CDT:

Old-Fashioned Lasagna and Cinnamon Buns

Classes are only $35 and take about 2 hours or less. I send you the recipe needs about a week before and the Zoom link a couple of days before.

Let me know if you want to join me in a comment or by email (see About & Contact tab). I love cooking together! And I’ll take you through step by step as we cook side by side in our own kitchens. Mmmmmmm!!

More classes on the schedule coming up!

Let’s cook together!

Cinnamon Buns

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Okay, this is crazy. My mom has been making biscuits from the 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook since I was a kid. Some mornings these fresh biscuits would fill the kitchen with that welcoming baking aroma and what’s better than slathered butter dripping off a biscuit sandwich.

So I started making these biscuits, too, from the same 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook (my mom gifted me one she found at a flea market years ago — she says her copy has some pages torn out by baby-me). The book is always on my shelf and I know to go to page 67 to find the recipe.

But turn to page 68. You’ll find a slew of variations for this dough. Cinnamon Buns is one of them. I never look at that recipe, I just make the dough and follow my memory of how cinnamon buns come about. Easy! And great. This batch I didn’t bake as long as I usually do. So they are a bit paler, but oh-so soft. Either way. Perfect.

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These are soooo good!

Betty Crocker Biscuit Dough for Cinnamon Buns

2 cups AP flour

2  1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter (cold)

3/4 cup milk

Cinnamon Bun additional ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons softened room temp butter

1 tablespoon cinnamon & 2 tablespoons sugar, combined

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Whisk the dough dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cut in 1/4 cup cold butter until it’s broken into small pieces (I use a pastry cutter). Add the milk. Use a fork to whisk dough together until you can knead it. Knead it just enough to get it to stay together in one ball.

Dust a clean work surface lightly with flour. Roll out dough until about 12 X 12-inch or 12  X 9-inch (about an 1/8-inch thick).

To make the cinnamon buns: Spread the softened butter over the surface of the dough to cover in a thin film. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly. Roll from one end (the longer end is best) into a as-tight-as-you-can-roll jelly roll.

Cut 1/2-inch or 1-inch slices from the roll. Place slices cut side up, next to each other touching, on a silpat or parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for about 12-15 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool completely.

For the Glaze:

1 tablespoon softened room temp butter

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

hot water

In a medium mixing bowl press out the butter with a spoon to make it smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix until the butter is blended into small pieces with the sugar. Add the vanilla and mix. Run the kitchen faucet until water is very hot. Add a couple of tablespoons of hot water to the mixture and stir rapidly with a spoon to combine to smooth. If frosting seems too thick, add a little more hot water until it becomes the right consistency for drizzling. Add water just a very little at a time— even just drops. (If it becomes too thin, let sit for a while — it will thicken on its own. Or add a little more powdered sugar.)

When buns are cooled, rallying them together on a serving tray, touching. Drizzle glaze on top in a zigzag motion. Eat.

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Tender-Crispy Artichoke Hearts

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Here’s a favorite recipe that appears on our table year after year (sometimes week after week). I love it so much it’s included in my recently released cookbook, The Easy Italian Cookbook. But here it is for you!

I prefer Trader Joe brand frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, and patted dry. And a lot of supermarkets carry frozen artichoke hearts. Frozen plain hearts are better for this recipe than canned. Canned has a lot of acidity and that affects the flavor.

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Season about a half-cup of AP flour with salt and pepper (tip: sometimes I use self-rising flour for this — it’s my mom’s choice — and I think it somehow seals the little package more).

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Beat 2 eggs in a bowl with some salt. Dredge arties in flour, dip in egg, sauté till golden on each side in some olive oil. Drain on paper towels, salt again. Yum!

Crispy-Tender Artichoke Hearts

12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry

1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Toss artichoke hearts in the seasoned flour. Remove one by one shaking off excess, dip in the egg to coat, then fry in oil. Cook until golden on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Lightly salt.

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Quick, Easy (& Cheater) Paella

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I love paella. I loved it before sampling in Madrid, and loved it even more after my true Spanish experience. I’m pretty sure that — officially — when you make a seafood paella it should be all seafood. But I can’t help myself. This one combines meats and fish (shrimp) and I’m enthralled with the combo! I think this version is the shortest way to get to an authentic tasting paella.

See the recipe below. You simply sauté your aromatics, and sausage or chorizo. Sauté rice. Add broth & saffron and cover. 15-20 minutes later add your chicken breast and shrimp…

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…Back in oven for about 10-15 minutes. Done! The saffron gives it the color and that unmistakeable smoky atmosphere. It’s rich, but you can’t help but inhale rapid forkfuls. Enjoy.

Saffron-Infused Paella

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2-3 chorizo sausages, sliced into bite-sized pieces

2 cups short gain rice, preferably Spanish rice

3 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon saffron, crushed

2 roasted peppers, sliced into small pieces

1 lb. shrimp, shelled, deveined

1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces

salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

On the stovetop, heat the olive oil in a large pot that has a cover and can go into the oven. Add the onion, garlic, and chorizo. Sauté on medium heat until onion is softened. Add the rice, coat it with the oil and let it get hot. Add the stock and crumble the saffron in. Stir to combine. Season with salt & pepper. Cover pot and place in the oven.

When the rice is almost cooked and the liquid is almost absorbed (about 15-20 minutes), take out the pot and slip the shrimp and chicken pieces into the rice. Add some more stock or water if all has been absorbed (just a bit, don’t drown it). Cover and put back in the oven until chicken, shrimp, and rice are cooked, about 10 minutes more. Serve hot.

Pasta with Vodka Sauce

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Where did this dish ever come from? I’m not sure. I’ve never seen it in Italy — I think it might be an Italian-American concoction. And I didn’t know how to make it until very recently. I was stumped on the idea of the vodka. Vodka doesn’t taste like anything, so in a sauce, what does it add?

Turns out it adds lusciousness, and dimension, and –oddly–silkiness. I officially love it. Here’s my take on Tomato Vodka Sauce — nice and easy. And delicious!

BTW. I’m also in love with these Mutti cherry tomatoes in the can. So good! Picture your usual plum tomatoes in a can, except these are darling sweet cherry toms.

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Pasta with Tomato Vodka Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1 garlic clove, peeled & left whole

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup vodka, divided

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes (in my dish here, I used instead: 1 14-ounce can whole cherry tomatoes in puree, and 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes)

1/3 cup heavy cream or half & half (you can a little more if like creamy)

1 lb. cut pasta, such as penne or rigatoni (I used garganelli here)

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated parmigiano

In a large sauté pan or shallow pot, heat the oil, onion, and garlic until simmering. Add the butter. Let cook on a low heat until the onion is softened but not colored. Add about half of the vodka. Bring to a lively simmer until vodka is mostly evaporated. Add the tomatoes. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt. Add pasta. Cook till al dente.

For the sauce, after ten minutes, add the cream or half and half, and the rest of the vodka. Let simmer gently for 8-10 minutes more.

When pasta is al dente, drain and add to pan with cooked sauce. On low heat, toss pasta with sauce to coat for about a minute or two. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl. Serve with grated parmigiano on the side.

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More Quick Vegetable Ideas

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The vegetable factory keeps cranking in my kitchen. So many of these dishes have been cooking in my family’s kitchens for many years. Try them out!

One: Broccoli with Garlic and Vermicelli. Basically boiled broccoli with a boost from garlic, olive oil, and the addition of a comforting handful of pasta.

Two: Crunchy Zucchini Slices with Mint. Here’s how to wake up zucchini!

Three: Stuffed Mushrooms. Turn mushroom stems into tasty mushroom stuffing.

Four: Mini Peppers with Crunchy Breadcrumbs. These are so delicate, and a savory surprise flavor pop.

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Broccoli with Garlic and Vermicelli

Vege Broccoli1 bunch broccoli

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 pound (or handful) vermicelli or capellini

salt to taste

Cut off the broccoli stems, discard. Cut up broccoli heads into florets with some stem attached. Rinse under cool water.

Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a boil. Add a drizzle or so of olive oil and some salt. Add broccoli. Break up vermicelli into 1-2-inch pieces. Add to pan. Bring back to a low boil and cook until broccoli and pasta are tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain. Adjust for seasoning — if needed, add more salt and/or another drizzle of olive oil.

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Crunchy Zucchini Slices with Mint

Vege Zucchini Slices1 large zucchini, or 2 small

2 eggs

1/4 cup grated parmigiano

1 cup AP flour, or self-rising flour

olive oil for frying (about 1/4 cup in all)

salt to taste

1-2 mint sprigs, stems discarded, leaves torn into smaller pieces

Trim the stem ends off of the zucchini. If large, cut zucchini in half crosswise. Then cut each half into thin slices.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat eggs with grated cheese. Add some salt. Add flour to a different (medium shallow) bowl. Season with salt.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. When hot. Dredge a few slices of zucchini in the flour, then coat each with egg mixture. Add to oil, repeat with more slices until they fill pan in one layer. Fry on each side until golden. Let drain on paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining slices, add more oil to pan if needed. Season fried slices with a little salt.

Transfer cooked slices to serving plate. Garnish with mint.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Vege MushroomsCheck out this easy recipe from an earlier post of mine:

https://chefpaulette.net/2019/10/13/easy-stuffed-mushrooms/

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Mini Peppers with Crunchy Breadcrumbs

Vege Peppers Bread2 cups mini bell peppers

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

2-3 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, stems discarded, leaves rough chopped

Salt to taste

Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the stem tops off of the peppers, discard. Slice peppers in half lengthwise, clean out and discard seeds and membrane inside. Line a baking pan with foil. Drizzle a little olive oil on foil to coat.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt. Drizzle some olive oil to make a “wet sand” consistency.

Fill each pepper with breadcrumb mixture and place each one on the prepared pan in one layer. When pan is filled with stuffed peppers, drizzle a little olive oil on top. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, until peppers are tender and breadcrumb is golden. Serve hot or at room temp.

Enjoy!!