Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 2 hours 10 min
Total time: 2 1/2 hours
Yield: Makes 8 side-dish servings
Most of us don't think of it -- we usually associate beans with meaty things -- but the combination of beans and shellfish is surprisingly good. The Italians are the masters of this combination (the seafood equivalent of France's meaty cassoulet), and they incorporate various combinations of fish and shellfish, the simplest and most common being canned tuna. In this version, mussels are steamed open and the briny liquid they release is then used to cook the beans. You can also just toss cooked beans with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, some parsley, and whatever cooked seafood you have left over from dinner the night before or what looks tempting at the fish store. Shrimp, lobster, clams, and chunks of cooked swordfish or barely cooked fresh tuna are a few of my favorites.
When buying mussels, look for cultivated mussels, which usually have less sand and a more delicate briny flavor than the larger wild mussels. Make sure the mussels are tightly closed -- or close up if you tap a couple together. When you get the mussels home, brush them under cold running water and press sideways against their shells in opposite directions so that any dead ones will break apart in your hand so you can toss them out and they won't end up in the pot. Store the mussels in a bowl covered with a wet towel -- never submerge mussels in water -- for up to 24 hours.
Note: Fresh fava or cranberry beans can be substituted for dried
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 shallots, minced
- 4 pounds cultivated mussels or clams in the shell, rinsed and drained
- 1-1/2 cups dried beans, such as cranberry, cannellini, great northern, or navy beans, rinsed and soaked in a quart of cold water for 3 to 12 hours
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or basil (chopped at the last minute) salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1. Combine the garlic and half the shallots with a cup of water in a pot large enough to hold the mussles. Bring to a rapid boil, add the mussels, and cover the pot. Steam the mussels for about 5 minutes, or until they've all completely opened. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let the mussels cool slightly. Take the mussles out of the pot with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Reserve the cooking liquid in the bottom of the pot.
- 2. Drain the beans and put them in a heavy-bottomed pot large enough so that the beans don't come more than two-thirds of the way up the sides (the beans expand as they cook). Slowly pour over the liquid in the bottom of the mussel pot, leaving any grit or sand in the bottom of the pot. If there isn't enough liquid to come about an inch over the top of the beans, add more water. Bring the beans to a simmer, partially cover the pot (leave about an inch opening), and simmer very gently until the beans have completely softened, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. If the beans start to run dry, add 1/2 cup of water from time to time; if they seem too liquid, remove the lid.
- 3. While the beans are cooking, take the mussels out of their shells. Discard the shells and reserve the meats, covered in the refrigerator.
- 4. When the beans are cooked and have absorbed all their cooking liquid - ideally they shouldn't need to be drained -toss them with the reserved mussels, olive oil, the rest of the chopped shallots, lemon juice, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.