Moules Provençale


shallots-2.jpgOh those personal chefs of Palm Beach – those white jacketed, croc-shod, Bluetooth-eared, clubby bunch that troll the aisles of our local supermarket! Is it simple envy that knowing they wield a knife better than I that has made me feel less than human as I wheel my cart past them? Probably. But, today there was victory!  Today, There was Deliverance! Equality – nay – Superiority! (They don’t have to know I usually cut my finger when I cut a bagel – and you don’t have to tell them!)

I am shopping for an intimate Moules Provençale dinner, and I am in a snit trying to find the shallots.  I humbly ask one of “them” if he knew where they stocked the shallots.  After a delicious amount of time wasted as he poked about the onions and garlic, we simultaneously found them among the potatoes.  “Thank you.”

Later he sought me out.  “I noticed you were buying shallots.  You must be a serious cook.”  (Excuse me, that is all it takes for a woman to appear ‘serious’ in Palm Beach!)
“Fixing moules for friends,” I casually replied. (Thank god I wasn’t shopping for meat loaf!)

“Were you trained?”  He archly inquired with his regional English accent broadening.

“Dionne Lucus.” I responded, trying to remain as casual and nonchalant as possible.

He looked puzzled. 

redcurrant-jelly.jpgI graciously offered help, “Dionne Lucus … Cordon Bleu?  Before there was Julia, there was Dionne!” (YES! Touchdown!)

“Oh, yes, certainly,” he bluffed.

“Of course you would know her,” I purred. “She was English… like you. And, she was a master of red currant jelly and Calvados.  Actually she used them for everything including boredom!”

Trying to catch up, he said (and this was Victory!), “Oh I just love using red currant jelly - I have this incredible glaze that is just simply … incredible.”

Of course you do, I thought, with Dame Edna in mind. I left the market taller, prouder and it took so little!  Well, actually it took shallots and a six weeks course with the fabulous Calvados swigging Dionne Lucus.

Moules Provençale
Serves four - as a main dish

4 lbs mussels well scrubbed
1 stick of butter
2-3 shallots chopped
1 yellow onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
Bouquet Garni of fresh thyme, Italian parsley, cilantro, celery leaves and 1 dried bay leaf
1 large can of crushed tomatoes with basil
Sun dried tomatoes added to taste
White Wine (1/2 bottle more or less)

Fresh basil, Italian Parsley or Cilantro lightly chopped as garnish

Melt the butter in a large wok or kettle and lightly sauté the shallots, garlic and onion.

Add the tomato mixture and wine and simmer for a few minutes, (or until a guest says, “What is that divine aroma?”)

Add the mussels to the broth cover and simmer until fully opened.

Garnish with the chopped basil and parsley mixture.

Serve immediately with Italian or French country bread thickly sliced, spread on one side with melted garlic butter and pan-fried.

PS: Dionne advised, if you are keeping your mussels in the refrigerator over night be sure to immerse them in water and sprinkle with oatmeal; they will devour the oat meal and grow fatter and juicer!


Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her newest book, "Wagner's Eternal Ring" will be published this September byRizzoli.