YaYa's Mussels with Fresh Fennel, Sausage and Tomatoes

April 27, 2011
3 Ratings
  • Serves 2 for a dinner serving
Author Notes

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s we would often go to a tiny restaurant in the then small town of Vienna, Virginia, never can remember the name of the place, probably Salvatore’s, but we got to know the owners enough to invite them to our wedding. Salvatore changed locations a few times and we continued to enjoy his great food, my favorite being a big bowl of mussels. - ibbeachnana

One night at Salvatore’s I ordered my usual bowl of mussels and a huge platter piled high arrived at the table with a side of angel hair, my husband was amazed, but he, not too fond of mussels was practically daring me to finish all of them, easy since we all know that they can be rather small bites. As I was down to about half the plate he pointed out that another diner had ordered mussels and had half the amount, I felt special and to this day I miss Salvatore and the platters of mussels. I haven’t a clue what his recipe was pretty much the olive oil garlic and a few herbs, but I have one recipe that seems to have grown over the years, going from simple to this elaborate version that I make when I want to indulge myself. I am always changing things up a bit according to what I have in the house, pancetta or prosciutto, but my preference is the linguica sausage.

Mussels are not easy to come by here and there are but two stores that will carry them from time to time, oops, down to one store that advertised them but didn't order them because they always end up tossing them out, so sad. I was lucky enough to find nice ones at another store and knowing that I can finish the 3 lb. bag I will feast for tonight and share a recipe.

Tonight was special in that I introduced my little stand in 4 1/2 year old grandson, Holden James to mussels, being the gymnast that he is, the word mussels got him going and he was at his best chowing down.... I was so pleasantly surprised and the two YaYa's finished off the mussels for the most part, delicious! —ibbeachnana

Test Kitchen Notes

A simply wonderful recipe! The flavor profile is diverse, and incredibly complimentary to the mussels. I cooked my sauce a little longer so the flavors fully melded, and added extra basil and linguica to fit my tastes. Take YaYa's advice and don't forget the crusty bread! It's great for soaking up any remnants left in the bowl. - Bonnie Rae —Bonnie Rae

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 ounces finely diced fresh fennel
  • 1 1/2 ounces finely diced shallot, substitute red onion
  • 5 cloves smashed garlic
  • 8 ounces diced linguica sausage
  • 6 ounces fresh diced tomatoes
  • 10 ounces diced, drained, no salt added canned tomatoes
  • 4 Tavbespoons EVOO
  • 1 heaping tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 6 ounces of clam juice
  • Two small sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 6 large leaves of fresh basil, 3 for sauce and three for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest curls, a little for garnish
  • 1/8th teaspoon red pepper flakes, careful as the linguica that I use is spicy
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Fresh parsley for garnish
  • 3 pounds cleaned mussels
  1. 3 pounds cleaned mussels remove beards and toss open mussels if there are any. In a pan large enough to hold 3 lbs. of mussels, sauté linguica in evoo briefly to bring out a little color for the oil, toss in the smashed garlic, shallots, diced fennel, and red pepper flakes. Sauté for a few minutes, just enough to bring out the flavor of the vegetables, about 3 minutes.
  2. Deglaze with white wine ½ cup; reduce slightly, for another minute or so. Add 6 ounces clam broth cook for a another 2 minutes, add tomatoes total 8 ounces canned and 6 ounces fresh and all of the fresh herbs saving some basil and parsley for garnish simmer for 5-7 minutes. This sauce can be made ahead of time and reheated and simmered for another 5 or so minutes before adding the mussels.
  3. When ready, add the mussels to heated sauce and cover the pan, it takes about two minutes for the mussels to open. For serving, toss in the tablespoon of butter and the fresh herbs and pour into a large serving dish or bowl.
  4. Serve with crusty Italian bread and to make it a dinner for two, have a salad ready to serve. You can even make a dish of spaghetti and top it with the mussels and sauce. Notes: The clam broth and the mussels should provide plenty of salt for this recipe and the linguica can be pretty spicy so watch the red pepper flakes. Enjoy! YaYa

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • ibbeachnana
  • StephanieSays

3 Reviews

ibbeachnana May 26, 2011
StephanieSays...small world indeed. I lived on Ayr Hill Avenue in the 60's and we found the restaurant in the early 80's, I want to say a little strip mall on Branch Avenue at that time, perhaps a grocery store, A&P at the time? Hole in the wall in Danor Plaza I think.

Salvatore grew his business to a site at Tyson's Corner, we had moved by then so I am not sure what happened. Fond memories for sure and the biggest reason that I love mussels.

Oh I guess your family wouldn't remember the town in the 60's then, maybe one light installed at some point in time.

StephanieSays May 15, 2011
Ibbeachnana, I used your recipe tonight as the bones of a "welcome home from college" dinner for my brother tonight. What a wonderfully happy coincidence it was when I came home from the store and sat down to read the whole story before beginning to cook- we have lived in Vienna for many years! I knew then that it was fate! Sadly my family doesn't seem to remember the restaurant you are referring to, but I'm sure it was wonderful. Thanks for sharing such a delicious recipe and making our day!
ibbeachnana May 13, 2011
Thanks so much for the compliment and for trying my recipe.