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We traveled North for the holidays.  it’s a bit chillier there than in the Carolinas, but decidedly more Christmas-y.  This soup/chowder came about through the wonderful duo, Dave and Terri!  They always come up with delicious fare and this was truly an inspiring way to ring in the New Year.  For some reason, I have a particular fondness for mussels.  And oysters.  Yeah, clams, too!  Okay, I love shellfish.  This was part of a buffet, so mussels in shells would be difficult to serve.  So, in their ingenuity, they used frozen mussel meat.  I’ve seen it, but figured it would be less than delicious.  Wrong!!!  The meat is tender, not at all mushy and no shells to deal with!  The key is to add the mussel meat at the very end of cooking and just heat them through.  I used jarred tomato sauce, Arriabbiata, to be precise.  But, you could use another type and just kick it up with red pepper flakes.  I added fennel, lemongrass and orange zest, which wasn’t in their original version, but we liked the addition, too.  The bonus?  This reheats beautifully, and is even better…maybe.

And please remember to clean those leeks really, really well…sandy grit doesn’t enhance the deliciousness!  Sour Cream Cornbread was a great accompaniment, but any really good quality loaf would be great, too.  Shredded Asiago or Parmesan is nice sprinkles over each serving…options, my friends, options!

Spicy Mussel Chowder with Fennel and Orange Zest

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Relatively Quick and Easy
  • Print

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large leek, cleaned very well and chopped
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced frozen lemongrass (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon julienned orange zest
  • 3/4 cup diced bell peppers (I used frozen, mixed)
  • 5-6 cloves roasted garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch (or two) of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons clam or seafood base
  • 6-8 cups water
  • 12 ounces Arriabbiata pasta sauce (or pasta sauce of your choice)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2-3 tablespoons cornstarch slurry, if desired (don’t use arrowroot)
  • 2 tablespoon finely minced fresh (or frozen) parsley
  • 1 pound frozen, shelled mussel meat, thawed
  • 1-2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (optional, if needed)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Add olive oil to a large saucepan; heat on medium heat. Add the leeks, fennel, lemongrass, orange zest, bell peppers, roasted garlic; sauté for 3 minutes.  Add the dried basil and oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, two bay leaves and the wine.  Bring to the simmer and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the clam base, water, pasta sauce, and carrots; simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.  Add the heavy cream, grated garlic and thicken with the slurry, if using; simmer for about 3 minutes.  Add the mussels and parsley flakes.  Remove from the heat; taste and correct the seasoning.  Add the sherry vinegar, if the flavor is flat.
Serve with some good, crusty French bread or cornbread, to soak up any extra sauce!

NOTE:  You may use fresh mussels, steamed until open, and then either serve as is, or remove the mussel meat.

Spicy Mussel Chowder with Fennel and Orange Zest Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2020.  All rights reserved.

Dave, I’m still dreaming about that smoked octopus.  Mmmmmm!