Mussels and Sausage in Bed

Combining pork and mollusks is common in Mediterranean countries. I first enjoyed this at a Pittsburgh restaurant, the recently departed Baum Vivant, owned by a Portuguese chef, where I enjoyed pork loin with clams. More recently, a chef friend brought clams and ground pork to a dinner at a friend's house.

Yesterday I decided to explore this combination.

I purchased one "Spicy Sicilian" sausage from Parma and 18 mussels from Pittsburgh Fish Co, both in the Strip District. I bought a sheet of fresh pasta, about 1' x 3', from Groceria Italiana in Bloomfield.

(I pointedly ignored Wholey's Fish Market; I purchased mussels there a month ago and three-fourths of them were dead.)

I definitely wanted a tomato presence. Thanks to our CSA, we have plenty of ripe, sweet, plump, rosy tomatoes. (Our own garden tomatoes, but for one, have yet to ripen, and probably won't.) A cream sauce would have worked, but I wanted the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes playing off the richness of the sausage.

I cut the pasta into 7" square "blankets". Each plate would have two with sauce separating and covering them, essentially making deconstructed ravioli (or an unbaked lasagne).

I also wanted some cheese in the dish. I bought some fresh ricotta and used a half-cup measuring cup to cut rounds out of the pasta to make ravioli "pillows." (I'd never done this before. While they were fine, next time I'll buy "homemade" ravioli from Groceria Italia.)

It was a very delicious dish, one I will definitely recreate.

Mussels and Sausage in Bed

1/4 cup chopped shallot
chopped garlic
fresh basil
few leaves of arugula
4 large tomatoes, peeled, halved, seeded*, juices saved
1 spicy sausage (about 3 ounces), casing removed, meat finely chopped
1/2 cup of white wine
18 mussels
fresh pasta, cut into 5" sheets, and homemade or store-bought cheese ravioli

1. make the sauce
saute half the shallots and garlic in olive oil for one minute, careful not to burn. Add chopped meat and saute until no longer pink, about two minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, S and P, and fresh herbs and arugula and saute gently until the tomatoes give up their water.

2. cook the mussels
melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a stock pot. Add remaining shallots and garlic and saute for one minute, careful not to burn. Add mussels, then pour on accumulated tomato juice and white wine. Cover and bring to low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for two minutes, until mussels open. Using skimmer, remove cooked mussels to a bowl, and then bring juices back to a boil and reduce by half. Add this to the tomato sauce. Remove mussels from shell. Add any accumulated mussel juice to tomato sauce.

3. Assemble the dish

Boil an inch of salted water in two wide, shallow pans. Slide ravioli into one and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Slide two pasta "blankets" into the other and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. Place one each on warm plate. (Slide remaining two blankets and simmer for 2-3 minutes while you begin assembling the dish.)

Place a few mussels on each blanket, then add a scoop of tomato sauce. Position the two "pillows" at the head of the blanket. When the second batch of blankets are cooked, cover the first blanket and sauce with the second blanket. Place a few more mussels on this blanket, then cover with more tomato sauce. Sprinkle with fresh basil. Depending on the spiciness of the sausage and the saltiness of the sauce, add black pepper or sprinkle with Parmesan cheese at your discretion.

This was a beautiful, delicious dish, something I'm genuinely proud of. The sauce was sweet from the shallots, but the tomatoes added a brisk, acidic twang. The pork was spicy, the mussels were briny, and the dish came together remarkably well.

Margaritas on the front porch

Arugula with vinaigrette
Slice of prosciutto from Parma
Shaved Parmesan
Sliced tomato, sea salt, olive oil

Music: Perfectly Frank: Tony Bennet sings Frank Sinatra

*After peeling tomatoes (by plunging into boiling water briefly), chop in half across the equator. Squeeze seeds from each half through a strainer set over a bowl, allowing juices to flow through. When finished with all 4 tomatoes, gently stir the seeds, encouraging the last of the juices to fall into the bowl. You should have 1/2 to 1 cup.


prepared foods/a damn fine sandwich

I think I eat more prepared/packaged foods than I'd care to confess too. Off the top of my head:

canned beans
orange juice
peanut or almond butter

And probably a few more.

On the other hand, I'm enjoying eating more real foods lately too. Off same head:


Here's a good sandwich that combines prepared food with fresh food:

Wheat bread/goat cheese/tapenade/proscuitto/tomato/mayonaisse

Spread bread with a little mayo and black olive tapenade, add some crumbled goat cheese and a sliced tomato, salt and pepper, and a thin slice of prosciutto. (The sandwich eats easier if you slice the meat up into little bits first.)

Slice in half with a sharp knife. It'll drip a bit, so keep a paper towel handy.

All You Can Eat Sushi

Normally I'd pass an establishment that offers "All you can eat (x)." But I made an exception for the Wednesday sushi special at Pittsburgh Fish Market on Penn Avenue in the Strip District, because the fish there is always super good.

Open for lunch only, the PFM offers a varied selection of Nigiri and rolls with very fresh ingredients. Each course consists of two orders of Nigiri (for a total of 4 pieces) and 3 selections of rolls. When you finish your selection you can order again. I didn't quite manage two courses, but everything I ate was made and presented very well.

The cost for the special is $19-- about $9 more than I pay for the usual sushi plate of 4 pieces of Nigiri and a roll. The freshness of the fish makes this quite the bargain.

The decor is fairly plain, the seating basic, the music is dull rock and there's no liquor license, so no beer with your fish (unless you bring your own, I suppose). Paper napkins and plastic cups for the soy sauce. But you can peruse a great selection of cookbooks and books about fish while you eat.

For my first course I ordered salmon and tuna Nigiri and both were excellent. For my rolls I had spicy tuna (not particularly spicy), eel with cucumber and a roll that featured fried (tempura) shrimp and avocado, which I thought particularly good.

Course two was basic: more salmon and an order of eel, followed by just two rolls, salmon and tuna.

PFM is definitely not Umi-- in fact it's not even Chaya. But I think that even ordering one course-- 4 pieces of sushi and 18 pieces of roll-- is quite the bargain-- particularly when the fish is so fresh and of such high quality. I wouldn't hesitate to go back or recommend it to hungry, sushi-loving friends.


Paella and how to play Smoke on the Water and rescue mayo

With so few refreshingly mild nights left to us before the coolness of autumn descends, it seemed a shame not to indulge in an outdoor meal with friends.

I made fish stock and was considering fish soup, as one of our friends does not eat meat. However it seemed warm for soup, so instead I made a seafood paella, which is also much less work.

I've made paella once or twice before. There are limitless variations. But what they all have in common are few ingredients and ease of creation.

Basically, paella consists of sauteed aromatics (onions, red pepper, garlic), tomato, short grain rice, and stock. It could end here, though I'm sure most paella consumed around the world include the addition of chicken thighs and chorizo sausage. My fish one baked with sliced monkfish medallions nestled under the rice. When it came out of the oven 25 minutes later, I somewhat artfully (for me) arranged atop it barely cooked jumbo prawns, seared scallops, and mussels, then covered it all and let the residual heat and steam from the rice finish cooking the seafood.

I only wish I had enough mussels to include some raw ones atop the cooked dish, allowing them to cook and open up their black, shiney, goodness-filled shells to us dramatically. Of the two-pound bag I purchased from Wholey's in the Strip, only a dozen mussels were alive when I got home. I threw away at least two dozen. Though two days before the paella-fest, I feared for the worst, so cooked the living mussels in some shallot and white wine. I de-shelled (?) them and stored them in their cooking juices. It made for a less dramatic presentation, but the mussels were in fact quite tasty.

I also made some gazpacho to start. This batch was a little different. I had cooked two big bunches of beets along with a roasting chicken on Friday and added a little chopped beet to the soup, which gave it a deep purple, smoke-on-the-water kind of color. (Dun dun duuuun... dun dun dundun....) (Many guitarists misplay this riff, by the way. For the musically inclined, the 5th goes beneath the root here, which gives it its distinct melodic heaviness.)

Keeping the theme Spanish, dessert was orange flans. I added strips of candied orange peel to the caramel.

I had one egg leftover and decided to make mayonaisse for some grilled asparagus. I can't say it broke, because it was never unbroken. But it didn't set, so I was left with a thickened oil that wasn't saucy at all.

So, a quick way to rescue mayo:

Put a tablespoon of store-bought mayo in a bowl, and slowly whisk in your broken mayo (or hollondaise, etc.). The store-bought stuff has so many emulsifiers in it it'll bind anything. You could probably build a wall with it. While listening to Deep Purple.