Now that I’m camped out in small town America, I’m missing a few of the more, er, worldly ingredients that I took for granted in the UK. I’ve already whined to you about pancetta, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in my mind.
I used to go to Bologna every year and bring back a piece of parmaggiano-reggiano the size of my head, which if I was careful would last me a good six months. Every time I went skiing in France, I brought back little cans of paté de compagne which I’d then pull out on a rainy day (literally!) and devour on a crisp baguette, spreading crusty crumbs all over the house in my wake. I used to live within easy distance of several shops which specialized entirely in locally made cheese.
Now I poke around the cured meat section of the supermarket to find bologna (that’s ‘baloney’, not ‘Bolonya’) and Lunchables. Baguettes are floury and soft. Cheese is waxy and orange. I’m not trying to be snooty, I just miss the good stuff.
On the other hand, I’ve got access to the freshest and most wonderful local ingredients, which even if I could find in London I wouldn’t have been able to afford. Yesterday, on a reconnaissance mission to find the cheapest lobsters in town, I stopped at a little clapboard lobster pound on the water, hidden behind a few thick curls of fog.
I go into places like this because I feel a deep need to know what they sell, and for how much. Unfortunately in April no one else is around, so as soon as the bell above the door rings, you’ve got the owner watching you walk around the shop like you’re the most exciting thing that’s happened all day (and you probably are). It doesn’t seem polite to walk out empty handed. So I bought a pound of fresh mussels, which set me back three bucks. Three! That doesn’t even buy you a single stop on the tube in London.
I decided to make something a little punchier than the obvious moules marinières, and my mind wandered to chorizo (it often wanders there). Assuming I probably couldn’t find any, I looked around online for some New England recipes and came up with…something Portuguese!
Turns out, there is a huge Portuguese population in New England, dating back to the 1600’s. From 1890-1920 especially, there was a wave of mass immigration. The Portuguese economy was in trouble, and New England offered plenty of factory jobs and existing Portuguese communities to new immigrants. They settled in large concentrations in New Bedford, Fall River, and Boston in Massachusetts, as well as Providence in Rhode Island. Additional waves in the 60’s and 70’s sealed the deal, giving these areas an undeniably Portuguese flavor.
Perhaps, I thought, I will find these flavors in my small town grocery? Sure enough, just to the left of the hot dogs, I found linguica and chourico (aka chorizo). Score. I dashed home to cook up something local.
Linguica and chorizo are similar, though linguica is a little milder, sweeter, and coarser in texture. I would happily use either as a substitute for the other, so if you can only find chorizo for this, no big deal. You’ll just have a spicier version.
Mussels with Linguica
adapted from The Heart of New England. serves 2
- 1 T olive oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 linguica sausage (about 3 oz), sliced
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 glass white wine (any kind—just use whatever you’re drinking)
- 1 lb. mussels
- handful chopped parsley
- another drizzle of olive oil
Start by cleaning the mussels. Let them sit in clean cold water for a half hour or so, so they will breathe in the clean water and flush out some of the sand and whatnot they may be carrying around with them. Then take them out of the water. Ideally the sand will have sunk to the bottom of the bowl, so lift them out of the water rather than dumping them into a colander.
Feel around the edge of each shell for their ‘beards’, then grasp the beard with a towel and pull it toward the hinge of the mussel. It should come out this way. Then scrub each shell with a rough sponge or a brush to remove any loose ocean-matter. Put them back into the bowl with another round of fresh clean water until you’re ready to use them.
In a large pot with a lid, cook the onions in a little olive oil for a few minutes until translucent, then add the linguica, green pepper, and garlic, and cook all for another 3 minutes or so until the sausage has colored a little and crisped up. Throw in a can of chopped tomatoes and a glass of white wine, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Let it all simmer on low while you get the rest of your dinner ready—you don’t want to add the mussels until you’re nearly ready to eat.
When the table is ready and you’re getting hungry, turn the heat back up to medium, so the liquid is bubbling. Double check the seasoning now to be sure you’re happy, then add the clean mussels and close the lid. Leave to steam for five minutes, then take off the heat, stir in the parsley and an extra drizzle of olive oil, and serve.
Served with a salad and some nice crusty bread to sop up the sauce, this is plenty for a main course.