Guest Post: Katherine Hall Page shares her recipe for Mussels with Pasta
Today’s guest post comes from beloved mystery writer, Katherine Hall Page. For years, Katherine has delighted readers with her Faith Fairchild series, each book like a delicious, satisfying meal. With her new book, Small Plates, she has whipped up a tasty collection of appetizing bites. Filled with the charm, wit, and the appeal of her beloved novels, Small Plates is a feast for every lover of traditional mysteries.
Increasingly I find myself ordering two appetizers in a restaurant instead of an entrée. I love tapas and going for dim sum on a weekend—those steaming carts with tantalizing smells—has long been a favorite outing. I think of Small Plates, this collection of my short fiction, as much the same experience. With settings ranging from the coast of Maine to the streets of Manhattan, and even “Across the Pond”, I’ve tried to serve up a kind of buffet.
While my series character, caterer Faith Fairchild, makes an appearance in several of these tales; there are many new faces. They include a man who longs for widowhood, dreaming of attention from the casserole brigade: good women lining up at his door offering food and perhaps themselves. A newlywed discovers her husband’s ingenious hiding places for objects like his spare keys. Faith shows up in “Sliced”, a reality cooking show where the competition turns deadly. In “The Proof is Always in the Pudding”, I take readers back in time to 19th century Boston for the source of a family superstition.
As a writer, I find short stories much more difficult to write than novels. And, although I quite like the ones I’ve done for Small Plates, I do not kid myself that I have mastered the form. To be as able at longer fiction as short is rare, especially in the mystery genre—Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and, more recently, Robert Barnard are without equal. Henry David Thoreau summed it up best, perhaps, observing to a friend: “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
I don’t understand why some readers avoid short stories—just as I have never been able to comprehend a good friend’s dislike, and avoidance, of mushrooms, garlic, and uncooked vegetables. In the case of a good short story, however, the experience not only lingers on in the palate of memory, but also prods us to think deeply about what might happen next—and even what might have occurred earlier. Small Plates is all about the tastes that may remain on the tongue.
Here’s a different sort of taste from the book: my recipe for Mussels with Pasta mentioned in “The Body in the Dunes”
Mussels With Pasta
3 pounds fresh mussels (washed and bearded)
3 large cloves of garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley finely chopped plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
A sprig of fresh thyme or pinch of dried thyme
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
8 ounces thin spaghetti or linguine
If your mussels are farmed or from a fish market where they have already been cleaned, your job is easier. Just be sure they are bearded, rinse them thoroughly, and discard any that are not closed. While you are doing this, bring the pasta water to a boil.
Melt the butter in a pot with a lid large enough to hold the mussels, leaving some room at the top—the mussels will take up roughly 2/3 of the pot. Add the garlic, parsley, and thyme to the butter and sauté briefly. Be careful not to let the garlic brown.
Add the mussels and pour the wine on top. Cover immediately.
Cook the pasta. You want it all to come out at the same time—around 7 minutes.
Drain the pasta and divide among four large heated soup bowls. Spoon the mussels on top of each portion. Make sure all the mussels have steamed open. When you have finished, ladle the broth over each bowl. Some cooks strain the broth, but I like the bits of garlic and the parsley. Sprinkle each dish with the remaining parsley and serve with a side salad and crusty bread.
You can do all sorts of things with this basic recipe: add lemon zest, fresh chopped tomato and/or chopped sausage—chorizo or linguica— to the pot before you put in the mussels and sauté. I also like to use whole-wheat pasta, which stands up well to the hearty mussel and garlic tastes.