When I was little, I would sometimes tag along with my Mom when she went to work. Work, being her Spanish restaurant. Over the 34 or so years of El Comedor (that means the “Dining Room” which was what the restaurant was called), some of my best memories was when I was allowed inside the kitchen to watch the cooks as they went about their work.
None of the cooks in El Comedor ever went to cooking school, I am pretty sure none of them even graduated high school. They originally started as house help (doing the cleaning) for my Grandmother (who we fondly called Mama).
When she started the restaurant they were tasked to cook in the kitchen.
Imagine if you will, a young man, Manny (his nickname for Manuel), who has never finished high school, who has never picked up a cookbook in his life, never held a chef’s knife, never tasted paella, being asked to give up cleaning, the only job he has ever known, to cook in a fine dining Spanish restaurant? It must have taken a leap of faith by my Grandmother, and Manny to both give it a go!
When Ellie mentioned Spanish food to me recently, I realized that I have been very delinquent in posting some of the delicious recipes I remember eating so many years ago when Manny would sneak a little tapa to me while no one was looking. I must have looked like a drooling labrador to him, just watching him cook. And I guess he took pity on me.
“Don’t tell your Mom okay?” he would say as he handed me a little croqueta or some of the stuffed mussels pictured above. At the restaurant we called them Mejillones Relleñadas. I call them – Mussels a la Manny. They are made with mussels, ham, white wine, an uber creamy bechamel sauce and topped with parmesan cheese. This recipe is so simple and you can make it ahead, just top with parmesan cheese and let it rest in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. It’s perfect when you are expecting guests – just bake them in the oven prior to serving.
Sadly, Manny passed away a few years ago but to this day I still think of him when I make this dish – from something that has very humble beginnings – such a beautiful dish!
Buen Provecho Manny!
- 25 mussels, cleaned and debearded
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/4 cup ham, finely diced
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 3/4 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- grated parmesan cheese to top
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the mussels in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. When they are open, remove from the heat to cool. Be careful not to overcook. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the meat and chop (not too finely) and reserve half of the mussel shell.
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a sauce pan and add the onions, salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook until translucent.
- Add the ham and cook for another 2 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the flour and cook out for a few minutes, then add the white wine and cook for two minutes, and then gradually add the milk.
- Add the chopped mussel meat and the parsley.
- Place a spoonful on the reserved mussel shell.
- Top with parmesan cheese and bake in a 180c (fan forced) oven for 10 minutes until the cheese has melted.
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