Mussels are nice when served with bread or frites, but this lemon and fennel risotto with mussels is a complete meal that will satisfy all your comfort food cravings.
Ugh you guys. I never ever ever ever get sick. Except currently? I am sick. Wah. So, I guess it’s not true that I never get sick. But it does happen pretty rarely. And when it hits me, I can usually nip it in the bud really quickly (sleep! tea! vegetables and vitamins!). It just hit me today and I’m crossing my fingers that I wake up tomorrow and it will be gone. Please?
I’ve actually never had the flu, strep, a sinus infection, or anything like that. Not even the chicken pox. And now that I dared type that into a blog, I’m totally going to wake up tomorrow morning with cholera or scarlet fever or the plague. Or at least the chicken pox. And I’ll only have myself to blame. I don’t know why I do these things to myself.
In any event, sickness calls for comfort food. Actually, this ridiculously horrendous weather much of our country is experiencing calls for comfort food. Actually, is there really ever a bad time for comfort food? Not really. comfort should always be welcomed into our lives. And risotto is the perfect way to bring it. Plus, mussels are so ridiculously easy, it’s a wonder people aren’t making them more often. I’d love to know how long I could eat this for before getting sick of it. Maybe never.
LEMON AND FENNEL RISOTTO WITH MUSSELS RECIPE
I’m perfectly happy eating a pile of mussels and a loaf of crusty bread (or frites!!), but I also felt like mussels would be really fabulous in a risotto with lemon and fennel. It's a flavor combination that works any time of year and elevated comfort food that's perfect for serving to guests or eating alone on the couch in your pajamas.
I’ve said it a million times before and I’ll probably say it a million more times before I leave this world, but risotto is so EASY! I make it when I don’t feel like thinking much because as long as you know how to stir a little bit, you’ll be just fine. So, please, don't let risotto intimidate you. And mussels are also ridiculously easy to cook, but since they feel all kinds of fancy-ish, they're great for serving to guests that you want to impress.
For this recipe, you should start by cooking the risotto since it takes the longest. When it's almost done cooking, you can put the mussels on.
How to make lemon fennel risotto
The first thing you'll want to do when making risotto is heat your chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you choose). In a separate medium saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. And then add the fennel, onion, and garlic and cook about 3 minutes, until transparent. Add the rice and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir a bit, until the rice absorbs the wine. Add the lemon zest at this point, too. Things are smelling quite nice!
Now, for the fun part. Add 1 cup of the warmed chicken broth to the rice. Stir. And let the rice absorb the stock. Once the chicken broth is absorbed, continue to add more, a cup at a time, letting it absorb before stirring and adding more. Continue with the rest of the broth, or until the rice is nice and tender, but still firm. You don’t have to stand over your stove and stir non-stop, but be sure to stir the risotto every now and then and make sure the rice doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the pot.
When rice is fully cooked, stir in lemon juice, chopped parsley, and parmesan cheese.
How to clean and cook mussels
You can begin the mussels when the risotto is almost done cooking. First you need to rinse the mussels in cold water, clean off the shells, and remove the beards. I know, I know; I hate referring to mussels’ beards, too. It’s weird and creepy and just plain gross. But it's still kinda necessary to take care of them. And honestly, it's not that tough to do!
Tips for cleaning mussels:
- Put mussels in a colander and rinse with water. If there is any debris on the shells (sometimes seaweed or mud gets stuck to them), gently scrub with a brush.
- While cleaning, look for any mussels that may no longer be alive. If you see mussels with shells that are open, gently tap the mussel on your counter to see if it closes. If it does, you can keep it (this means it's alive). If the mussel doesn't close, discard it (this means it's probably not alive).
- Now, take care of those beards! I usually don't have a ton of mussels that still have beards on them, but I check them all by feeling along the opening of the shell to see if there is anything that feels like hair. If you find a beard, you simply grab it with your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward the mussel shell hinge.
Now that our mussels are beard-free, we can move on. Phew. In a large dutch oven or pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in red pepper flakes and stir for another minute.
Add the mussels to the pot and then pour in the wine, too.
Turn heat to high and put cover on pot. Let mussels cook for 2 minutes before you remove the cover and stir. Close and cook another 3-4 minutes.
Yum! Make sure you remove all the mussels that haven’t opened after cooking. Because… Just do it. Mussels that don't open during cooking are not safe to eat.
If you want to serve something else with the lemon fennel risotto with mussels, I recommend making garlic bread. Even though you’re already planning to eat a bowl of rice. Garlic bread is really a must with mussels… And just one of those things that makes anything in life better.
You can either serve your mussels as is atop the risotto or you can take them out of the shells for ease of eating.
Risotto with mussels is all you need in this negative degree bone-chilling weather. OK, maybe a scarf, too. And one of those really long blanket coats that look ridiculous, but are so, so comfy.
Have I mentioned it’s going to be 70 degrees in Napa this weekend?? 70 degrees. And I’ll be there. Eating at French Laundry and drinking lots and lots of wine. No big deal.
But when I return, it will probably still be ridiculously cold in Boston, though perhaps it will have risen to the 30s? Wouldn’t that be nice? Balmy even. Still the perfect weather for comfort food like risotto with mussels.
I’m a big risotto person (I’ve made dozens of varieties in my lifetime), but this is one of my new favorites. I love how simple it is, but with the freshness of lemon and snap of fennel. I definitely don’t eat enough fennel.
The mussels add delicious full-bodied flavor and though this dish can serve quite a few, I discovered I can also eat quite a few mussels. A talent of mine?
Oh, and slices of garlic bread, too. I can eat A LOT of those. Oops. Who knew?
Carbs, seafood, and carbs. A successful meal if I do say so myself. This lemon fennel risotto with mussels hits everything I love in life.
And now I’m going to pass out in bed and hope that I don’t wake up with some crazy 19th-century disease. Or this stupid cold.
What’s your ideal “it’s a negative number temperature outside” food? And furthermore, how cold is it by you?
California, 70 degrees, California, 70 degrees, California, 70 degrees…. Yup, I’m trying to force sweet dreams upon myself. Good night!
If you love mussels, be sure to check out my recipes for Grapefruit Shandy Mussels with Grapefruit Linguine and my Blood Orange Mussels with Pomegranate Lime Linguine. I also love this more traditional Mussels Frites from Anisa Sabet.
Lemon and Fennel Risotto with Mussels
Lemon Fennel Risotto
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (can also use vegetable broth)
- 2 Tbsp unsalted buter
- 1 cup chopped fennel, from one bulb
- ½ onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ cups arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine (like sauvignon blanc)
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
- 2 Tbso lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
- 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ Tbsp red pepper flakes
- 3 ½ lbs. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine (like sauvignon blanc)
Lemon Fennel Risotto
- Put chicken broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower to a simmer.
- In a separate medium saucepan, heat butter over medium heat. Add fennel, onion, and garlic and cook about 3 minutes, until transparent.
- Add the rice and cook for about 2 minutes. Add wine and stir a bit, until the rice absorbs the wine. Stir lemon zest in.
- Add 1 cup of the warmed chicken broth to the rice. Stir and let the rice absorb the stock. Once the chicken broth is absorbed, continue to add more, a cup at a time, letting it absorb before stirring and adding more. Continue with the rest of the broth, or until the rice is nice and tender, but still firm. Be sure to stir risotto every couple minutes so it doesn't stick to pan.
- When rice is fully cooked, stir in lemon juice, chopped parsley, and parmesan cheese.
- In a large dutch oven or pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in red pepper flakes and stir for another minute.
- Add the mussels to the pot and pour in the wine. Turn heat to high and put cover on pot. Let mussels cook for 2 minutes before removing the cover and stirring. Return cover and cook another 3-4 minutes. Discard any mussels that haven't opened.
- Serve mussels atop risotto. Top with additional chopped parsley or fennel fronds.