I never thought it would ever be possible for me to lose my appetite for food. Extreme tragedy, grief and shock, as I discovered earlier this year, can have very dramatic effects on your body's ability to function normally. The permanent state of fullness I feel in the pit of my stomach has greatly impinged on my ability to wholeheartedly embrace my Sydney Food Sister role. Eating out a lot, reviewing restaurants, and developing new recipes, leaves no room for a lazy appetite and stroppy palette.
The process of retraining an appetite has not been an easy one. Every so often, though, there are real glimpses of hope. Caterina has been working on this stuffed mussel recipe for a while. When our recent Dubai travels re exposed us to the beautiful qualities of saffron, she knew she had discovered the final ingredient to give the mussels the final perfect punch of flavour they needed.
Every recipe we create needs to be tasted, and re tasted. So when I forced myself to pop a mussel in my mouth, purely for recipe validity and critique, something very rare happened... a food orgasm. The feeling where you are completely and utterly pleasantly overwhelmed with a complete inability to think, move, barely breathe, as you try to fight back the intense flavour sensation that is taking over your palette. It is not a common experience in our food world, but it can and does happen. And when it does, you just have to keep that momentum going.
So when we wrapped up the photo shoot, I sat with a dozen mussels, all to myself, and ate every single one of them, with great satisfaction and gusto, and a continuous melodic stream of multiple food orgasms. For a brief yet pleasant few moments I celebrated the temporary return of my food appetite, and embraced the idea that it may return permanently one day.
This is the perfect recipe for entertaining in the upcoming summer months. But be careful who you serve these to, and be prepared for the foodgasmic effects. The natural saltiness of the mussels marries perfectly with the sweetness of the currants, and the flavour burst of the orange juice and lemon rind. The panko crumbs are perfect for adding a beautiful yet subtle crunch, and the creamy saffron aioli tops everything perfectly.
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon juice of fresh orange
1 tablespoon juice of fresh lemon
11/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons pine nuts, roasted
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon currants
salt & pepper, to taste
1kg black mussels, washed and scrubbed, with beards removed
large pinch of saffron threads
1 cup egg mayonnaise
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnishing
1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the onion and stir occasionally for approximately 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent.
2. Add the orange and lemon juice, and cook for another few minutes, or until the juices have evaporated slightly.
3. Reduce the heat to low. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until golden. Remove from the heat, and transfer to a bowl.
4. Add the lemon rind, pine nuts, parsley and currants to the bowl. Stir altogether. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The stuffing is now ready.
5. Place the mussels in a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover the saucepan with a lid. Cook the mussels for 5 minutes over a medium heat, or until the mussels open. Remove the mussels from the saucepan, ensuring you reserve the cooking liquid. Allow the mussels to cool slightly so they are easier to handle.
6. Strain 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid into a small bowl. Add the saffron and allow it to stand for 5 minutes. Add the mayonnaise and garlic, and mix well.
7. To prepare the mussels, remove the top shells completely and discard. Top each mussel with one tablespoon of the panko crumb mixture, and press down slightly. Place the mussels on a baking tray and cook under a hot grill for 2 minutes or until warmed through and slightly golden.
8. Place the mussels on a serving dish. Drizzle liberally with lemon juice and sprinkle with fresh parsley. We like serving them with a dollop of the saffron aioli on them (alternatively you can let your guests add their own aioli).
Food photography, story and recipe creation by Effi Tsoukatos & Caterina Sterrantino for the Sydney Food Sisters