Without my prompting, James presented me with Mark Peel's New Classic Family Dinners on Christmas day. Within a couple hours I was baking the chef's puffy version of Yorkshire pudding and had scoped out my next test recipe -- Spaghetti with Mussels and Peas. Fresh blue-podded peas long ago replaced the summer corn in our little front yard and they (and I) have been waiting for a dinnertime showcase. Peel's simple recipe cooked olive oil, shallots and garlic until soft, added white wine and chicken broth brought to a boil and steamed the mussels for 3-4 minutes. The mollusks are taken from their shells, returned to the cooking broth (along with the strained liquid from the mussels) with chopped marjoram (an herb I rarely use) and butter and kept warm while the pasta cooks. The drained pasta and mussel mixture along with a dollop of olive oil and chopped fresh parsley are added back into the spaghetti cooking pot and given a few turns to mix the flavors before serving garnished with a few mussels in the shells.
In deference to the chef and his new book, I followed a few steps I generally ignore. Aside from shelling the cooked mussels, I purged them before cooking and rinsed lightly after. And, I begrudgingly strained the mussel cooking liquid. Peel, it seems, is religiously anti-sand and his exacting methods resulted in a mild, likable dish that seemed at once familiar and we grew to like better with each bite -- much like Campanile itself.