Cozze in Umido (Steamed Mussels)

Mussels are not found in any quantity in Gulf Coast waters, but they have become so easily available in recent years that Andrea’s has them prepared several ways on the menu. Remember that mussels cook very quickly. WHAT YOU WILL NEED 24 mussels in shells ½ cup olive oil ¼ cup chopped onion 2 teaspoons chopped fresh garlic ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper ½ cup dry white wine 1 cup fish stock 2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley ½ teaspoon salt 1¼ teaspoon white pepper HOW TO PREP The most time-consuming part of cooking mussels used to be cleaning them. You’d have to wash them extremely well, as they always contain more than a little sand. The “beard” — a mat of fibers with which the mussel attaches itself to its rock — also must be removed. Rouses mussels are pre-cleaned. Mussels should be closed when you receive them. Any open mussels should be tapped lightly with a spoon; if they don’t close then, discard them. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion and garlic until onions are blond. Add crushed red pepper, wine, stock, parsley, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Add washed mussels to skillet and cook, covered, until they open — about two minutes. Remove the mussels from the pan and wash them in a bowl of warm, salted water to remove the sand inside. Return mussels to skillet and continue to cook for two or three minutes more, sloshing the sauce inside the open shells. Mussels are cooked when the edges curl; don’t overcook them or they’ll become tough and tasteless. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve very hot. Makes four appetizers or two entrées. If serving as an entrée accompany with cooked linguine tossed with extra sauce and garnished with chopped parsley.

The way we proceeded with the cookbook proved not only to be very effective, but the best education in cooking I ever had. I propped my laptop on the stove top and watched Andrea cook each dish, step by step, while I wrote it all down. We measured, timed, and took the temperature of everything. If Andrea did something I didn’t understand, he would stop and explain the step. When he was about to grab a handful of something to throw into the pot, I stopped him so we could measure the quantity exactly. Two hundred dishes later, I had written all the recipes and was going about the endless task of cross-checking the ingredient lists with the instructions. Meanwhile, photographer Glade Bilby and his team came in to shoot the beautiful illustrations of the food. By the time we were finished, I was betrothed. Almost three decades have gone by, and I still think that La Cucina Di Andrea’s is one of the two most useful cookbooks in my kitchen. I refer to it constantly. I also keep a copy at the radio station, to answer questions asked by my listeners. It’s over thirty years that Andrea’s has been open. Over the years Chef Andrea has adopted a policy of cooking anything a customer asks for if he has the ingredients on hand.This has made the place less Italian and more New Orleans every day. But that’s what the customers want, and that’s what Chef Andrea offers to give.


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