It's always nice to cook something that's quick. What you might expect to be strong anise notes in the ouzo-spiked broth of these mussels is mellowed by an equal amount of white wine. The crispness of grape tomatoes, parsley and thin slices of fennel plays off the sweet, soft seafood.
The flavor won't be quite the same, but for a nonalcoholic version, replace the ouzo and wine with 1/2 cup sparkling pear cider plus 1 whole star anise. Be sure to remove the spice before serving.
Serve with a crusty baguette, for dunking.
Mussels Drenchedin Ouzo
2 cloves garlic
1 large shallot
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/2 small fennel bulb, with stems and fronds attached
2 or 3 stems fresh thyme
Leaves from 2 to 4 stems flat-leaf parsley
2 pounds fresh mussels
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup ouzo (may substitute arak, pastis or Pernod; see headnote)
1/4 cup dry white wine (may substitute sparkling pear cider)
Cut the garlic into thin slices. Coarsely chop enough shallot to yield 1/2 cup. Cut each tomato in half lengthwise. Chop a few of the fennel fronds; reserve the remaining stems and fronds for another use (such as homemade vegetable broth). Core the fennel bulb half, then cut it into very thin slices.
Pick enough leaves from the thyme stems to yield 1 teaspoon. Finely chop the parsley. Rinse the mussels and clean them as needed, discarding any stringy bits (beards) that might be attached. Do not use any mussels that have opened and will not close when tapped.
Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the shallot and stir to coat. Increase the heat to medium; cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring a few times, until the garlic and shallot have somewhat softened.
Add the tomatoes, sliced fennel, salt (to taste), black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and thyme; stir to incorporate, then cook for 3 minutes. Add the ouzo, wine and mussels. Cover and cook (medium heat) for 7 to 10 minutes or until the mussels have opened.
Uncover; discard any mussels that remained closed. Add the chopped parsley and fennel fronds. Use two large spoons to toss the mussels in the pot liquor and incorporate the herbs and vegetables.
Divide between wide, shallow bowls, including the liquor. Serve right away.
Serves 2. Per serving: 670 calories, 57 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 23 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 140 mg cholesterol, 1820 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
-- Adapted from "Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love," by Einat Admony with Joel Chasnoff and Dhale Pomes (Artisan, 2013).