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My Nepenthe
by Romney Steele

Gathering fresh mussels has always been a favorite winter activity in Big Sur and a fun outing with kids. My stepmother, Elena, remembered how one year, during an extended road closure, she and others made Moules Mariniere in the family kitchen for a crowd. This is my version of that French coastal favorite.
Serve the mussels right out of the pot, setting it at the center of the table for all to dig in, as we used to do, or transfer to a warm family-sized bowl for a prettier presentation. Serve with a large green salad and some crusty bread for sopping up the juices.
Serves 4 to 6


    • 1 small white onion or 2 large shallots, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1½ to 2 cups dry white wine (about half a bottle)
    • 2 small plum tomatoes, chopped (optional)
    • 3 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
    • 2 tablespoons cold butter
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 3 sprigs fresh parsley or a few basil leaves, finely chopped


Saute the onions and garlic in the oil in a heavy, wide pot over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the wine and tomatoes and boil for 2 minutes. Add the mussels, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shells open, 5 to 6 minutes. (Discard any that don't open after 8 to 10 minutes or so.) Transfer the mussels to a warm bowl with a slotted spoon.

Return the broth to high heat. Whisk the butter into the broth and simmer for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the broth over the mussels and sprinkle with the parsley. Set in the center of the table and pass smaller bowls to your guests.

NOTE: On the California coast you can gather mussels from November through April, but check your local agency before venturing out. Some areas require a permit. Bring an old bucket and a screwdriver or chisel for prying them off the rocks, being careful not to cut your fingers. Fill the bucket partway with seawater for the ride home. Before cooking, scrub the mussels clean and pull off the wispy beards. Discard any that don't open after cooking.


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