Health & Medical Food & Drink

Mussels and Spaghetti

Mussels have to be one of the best elements in so many cuisines that appreciate delicate and sweet tastes.
Numerous Asian recipes feature them in soups and curries.
The Belgians cook them in beer and butter and the Italians serve them in two of the recipes that I'm suggesting here.
Of course, mussels can also be baked, broiled or grilled.
The only way I have never seen mussels, unlike other shellfish, is raw.
There are too many people who are afraid to even try mussels.
Sometimes I think it has to do with the sound of the word: like people who won't eat squash or eggplant because they mistrust the sound of it.
If you are among these folks, you need to break out of your shell and open some mussel shells to give them a chance to show you just how good, and economical, and nutritious they are.
Finding good mussels can be a trick.
When I was a kid, it was my father's uncle that we called "Zimmaneel" who taught us how to gather mussels in their natural state.
I'll get to his strange name in aminute.
Anyway, Zimmaneel would take us out at low tide to the fishing pier in front of our house.
There on the pilings, attached in great black and shining clumps were the thickly encrusted mussels.
He showed us how to pluck them from the wooden pilings, knock off the barnacles with the edge of sharp shell and store them in our little plastic beach buckets.
With our buckets full, we brought the mussels in to the kitchen for dinner.
I do have to say that there were some hazards connected to gathering wild mussels.
First there was the incoming tide.
If we didn't get our catch before the tides returned, we risked being knocked against the pilings by the encroaching waves.
So, while we were too small to stand up against the tide and had to run back to the beach, Zimmaneel would hug one arm tight around the piling hug, and with the other free hand pluck the mussels from the tangled blue black clusters.
He held his ground not only against the oncoming rush of waves but against the lifeguard's whistle calling him in.
But he was Italian and it was an American whistle, so he probably didn't understand.
When he talked he spoke only Italian, even after living in America for most of his life.
Much later, after he had passed away, I discovered the mystery of his name.
As a student in Italy, I quickly learned Italian.
There, I came to realize with my new found knowledge of the language that "Zimmaneel" was really not my father's uncle's name.
In fact, it wasn't a real name at all.
As with so many other Italian American words, Zimmaneel was a word created by my father's non-Italian speaking generation.
"Zimmaneel" was not even an actual word.
It was a smushed corruption of two words and a suffix that confusedly entered the ears of my father's non-Italian speaking generation and reconstructed in their childish pronunciation.
I came to realize that my great uncle's name was actual Mario.
The name "Mario" became all but obliterated with only the "ma" sound remaining.
The first part of his name, the "z" part was all that was left of the Italian word for uncle, "zio.
" MPwSo, Uncle Mario, being a small man, would have had the ending "-ile," (eel).
meaning "small.
" His name was then, "Zio Marionile" which is to say, "Little Uncle Mario.
" But my father's generation did not speak Italian.
So they slurred what they thought they heard.
To them, "Zio Marionile," "Little Uncle Mario" was "Zimmaneel.
" You known, I don't think that my father or his brothers and sisters really knew that.
Besides the danger of the waves against the pilings, there was the chemical hazard.
Back in the 50's the ocean water was often layered in black petroleum tar that coated the tide line.
In those days it was common for oil tankers to dump off excess before entering the Delaware River at Cape May as they made their way to the Philadelphia refineries.
It was a common event to go home from the beach with soles of our feet covered in black tar.
If all that black tar was what stuck to our feet what went unseen into the mussels? But, those days of environmental ignorance are gone.
Unfortunately, so are the mussels.
The shore line has retreated and the old pier was demolished.
I know of nowhere else that children can go to collect mussels.
In fact, I know of less than few children who even know what mussels are.
These days, I must say, while I'm not familiar with obtaining seafood in other parts of the country, here in the East (Philadelphia) we have access to a fairly good variety.
When it comes to mussels, there seem to be three kinds.
The first kind of mussel is somewhat generic and when cooked, often gives little more than little orange knots of meat that, while they may flavor a sauce, are useless as a dish in themselves.
The second group are indeed much better and yield a nice, fleshy meat that in color shifts between an orange and a yellow.
There is no way that I know of to distinguish these types of mussels.
Their quality is only evident once you cook them.
And then it can be too late.
The third type found in the East is Prince Edward Island Mussels (PEI's).
PEI mussels.
These are usually labeled.
While these mussels tend to be on the pale side rather than the bright orange of wild mussels, they are fully formed and meaty delights.
The foremost, most important and essential part of preparing mussels is not to overcook them.
You need to remove them from the heat the very moment that the shells open in the case of the two recipes below certainly no more than six or seven minutes.
But, you have to keep watching.
When cooking in this method, the mussels will need to be covered.
You have to lift the cover at the end of five minutes and repeatedly within seconds thereafter.
If you go beyond their opening time, the mussels will shrivel into tasteless nodules.
For the same reason, do not cook the mussels in the sauce.
Steam them open.
Remove them from the pot while you prepare the sauce and then return them only at the end before you serve them.

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