Mediterranean-Inspired Dinner

It’s hot in Texas these days. Not just Texas hot, but, to quote Matthew Brodderick, “Africa Hot”. I may be a native girl, but even I’m a little overwhelmed by this early summer heat wave. For a recent dinner I decided a gastronomical getaway to lands cooler would help make the heat a little easier to bear. My destination? The Mediterranean. I knew I could count on light and flavorful fare that would be compliment the summer. The menu included:

  • Sicilian spiced olives served along side young Pecorino Toscano cheese. The olives are available spiced and ready to eat at my local Central Market olive bar – I keep them around for snacking and in case I need to throw together an impromptu appetizer platter. I chose the creamy, young sheep’s milk cheese to compliment the spicy olives. Of course classic Parmigiano-Reggiano would have gone nicely, or an aged Manchego to add a little Spanish twist.
  • Grilled artichokes with truffle oil. This recipe was inspired by a dish I had at NoRTH, a restaurant in the Domain shopping center here in Austin. A co-worker recommended the dish and after my first bite I was committed to recreating it. It was easy to put together and dresses up whole artichokes in a way that’s perfect for company.
    • Note: When artichokes are the only thing I’m grilling, I use a grill pan instead of running back and forth to the outside grill.
  • Mussels in a spicy white wine broth. Fresh seafood and classic flavors of lemon, white wine, and thyme were perfect for a virtual visit to the blue waters of the Mediterranean. This is my own recipe and combines my favorite elements of the many great mussel dishes I’ve had. Crusty chiabatta is a must along side this dish to soak up all of the great broth.

The Plan

This meal takes 30-40 minutes top to bottom to prepare and cook. Once you start cooking the mussels and grilling the artichokes everything moves very quickly. I recommend setting the table and setting out serving dishes while the artichokes are steaming so you can serve everything piping hot.

  1. Spoon olives into serving bowl. Slice cheese. Set both out to come to room temperature.
  2. Trim artichoke and prepare steaming liquid. Set artichoke on steamer basket over liquid, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and steam.
  3. Slice bread, wrap in aluminum foil and warm in a 250 degree oven.
  4. Prep all ingredients for mussels. If grilling outside, preheat grill.
  5. Remove artichoke from steamer. Cut in half, remove choke, and prep for grill. If grilling inside, preheat grill pan.
  6. Begin preparing mussels and put artichokes cut-side down onto the grill.
  7. When the mussels go into the pan to steam, flip the artichoke.
  8. When the mussels are done the artichoke should be done. Serve both immediately.

Grilled Artichokes with Truffle Oil

Depending on your perspective, artichokes are fun to cook and eat or not worth the trouble. For a long time I was in the second camp, feeling that the yield from an artichoke just didn’t justify the effort required to cook or eat it. Over time though, I’ve realized that artichokes are a great dish for a group because they are naturally built of one-bite servings. They are also fun for sharing around the dinner table. I loved these grilled artichokes because they smack of summer and the truffle oil takes the taste experience to a whole new level.

I’ve seen artichokes grilled a couple of different ways:

  • All of the cooking is done on the grill. It takes about 30-45 minutes depending on the size of the artichoke. Because the artichokes spend so much time on the grill they char heavily. This is not my favorite method because I think the extended dry heat cooking takes away from the final flavor of the dish.
  • Steam the artichoke first and finish on the grill. This also takes about 30-45 minutes based on artichoke size, but most of the cooking happens in the steamer. The artichokes spend about 10 minutes on the grill to pickup some nice marks and flavor, but you end up with a very tender artichoke thanks to the steaming. You can also add aromatics to the steaming water to add a subtle flavor boost. My favorites are bay leaves, peppercorns, and some lemon slices.

Cooking for Engineers has the best detailed explanation for steaming and then grilling artichokes that I have ever seen. Follow their directions and you can’t go wrong. To finish the dish NoRTH style, drizzle first with olive oil then with your favorite truffle oil and sprinkle generously with good sea salt. Be sure to take the time to distribute the truffle oil and salt evenly around the artichoke halves so each bit has a little taste of truffle heaven.

At NoRTH they serve the artichokes with lemon aioli. My co-worker contends, and I agree, that they need nothing. It’s hard to improve on truffle oil and sea salt.

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Recipe: Mussels with Spicy White Wine Broth


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: 2-3 as dinner, 4-6 as an appetizer
  • Prep Time: 15 min
  • Cook Time: 20 min
  • Weight Watchers Points: 8 per dinner serving


  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ¼ c. thinly sliced onion
  • ¼ c. chopped shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½. Tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ½ c. chopped canned tomatoes, drained
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • ½ c. chopped parsley, divided
  • 1 c. white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 lb. fresh mussels in the shell, scrubbed and de-bearded


  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add shallots and onions and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 3 minutes
  4. Add the tomatoes, thyme, saffron, lemon zest and juice, ¼ c. of parsley, wine, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
  5. Add mussels. Cover pan and cook 6-8 minutes, until mussel shells open up, stirring once to prevent sticking. Discard any mussels that do not open.
  6. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer mussels to a shallow bowl for group noshing or to individual bowls for single servings.
  7. Check broth for seasoning, add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Pour broth over mussels and sprinkle with remaining parsley.
  9. Serve with warm, crusty bread.

Recipe for Success

  • Fresh, high-quality mussels are the critical ingredient in this dish. Fresh mussels should be tightly closed. If any are open, gently try to close them. If they won’t close they are dead and should be discarded.
  • If you aren’t sure about how to buy mussels, ask your fishmonger. If you aren’t sure where to get good fish in your area, try posting a message on the local boards at Chances are you’ll find someone in your area (or several someones) who can point you in the right direction. Your fishmonger should take the time to talk to you about the source of the seafood you are buying and how long it’s been in their case. Dodgy fishmongers equal dodgy seafood, so choose both carefully.
  • If possible, use mussels on the day that you buy them. They will hold about a day in your refrigerator if necessary, but if you plan to store them overnight, buy about 10% more than you’ll need because some will die in the fridge. Whatever you do, don’t freeze fresh mussels.
  • Scott Loranc, the Seafood Manager at my local Central Market recommends storing mussels in a colander over a bowl in the coldest part of your refrigerator. The mussels need air so cover them loosely with a damp paper towel until you are ready to use them. Before you cook the mussels, immerse them in cold water for about 10 minutes so they can expel any grit. Rinse them one last time in the colander and throw out any open mussels before cooking.

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