Mussels with Roasted Peppers and Salsa Verde

(NC)—For many people, the thought of holiday entertaining starts on a positive note, with ideas of homemade appetizers, beautiful décor and festive cocktails to celebrate the season.

But there’s a sinking feeling as you realize this dream requires lots of time — time to shop, cook, decorate — in addition to your daily work activities, gift shopping, holiday events and taking care of kids or visiting family.

Many aspiring hosts decide it’s just not worth it. That’s where fresh mussels can save the day.

Chef Lindsay Cameron Wilson suggests keeping it simple by finding recipes and ingredients, like fresh blue mussels, that are easy to prepare and impressive to serve.

“What’s most important is finding recipes that seem complex, but are actually quite easy. That’s why I like blue cultured mussels so much. They’re a special treat, and they’re really easy to prepare.”

Wilson suggests picking only a few recipe-based appetizers and limiting the number of things that will keep you in the kitchen during your party. She recommends selecting things you can prepare in advance so you can focus on your guests and actually enjoy the party yourself.

“Depending on how many people are coming, one cheese tray, one seafood dish, one dip and olives, nuts or sweets can easily cover a cocktail party for 12 to 16 people,” says Wilson.

Wilson recommends fresh mussels as an ideal holiday appetizer because they are simple, healthy and can even be made ahead. She suggests Mussels with Roasted Peppers and Salsa Verde as a festive option.

Mussels with Roasted Peppers and Salsa Verde

5 lbs / 2.27kg of fresh blue mussels

3 peppers – red, green and yellow

2 tbsp / 30 ml olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp / 2.5 ml dried red chili flakes

1 (796ml / 28 fl oz) can diced plum tomatoes

1 cup / 250 ml white wine

Sea salt and pepper to taste

For the Salsa Verde:

2 tbsp / 30 ml capers, rinsed

Handful flat leaf parsley

Handful fresh basil

1 clove garlic

1 tbsp / 15 ml red wine vinegar

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup / 80 ml olive oil, or enough to make a smooth paste

1 loaf of crusty bread to soak up juices

Rinse blue mussels in a colander and set aside. Discard any mussels that do not close when tapped.

Preheat broiler to high. Put peppers (whole) on a cookie sheet and slide directly under the broiler. Broil peppers, turning with tongs. This can also be done on a barbecue, directly over the flame. Once peppers are charred, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The steam will loosen the charred skin. When cool enough to handle, remove core, seeds and blackened skin. Chop flesh into cubes and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add onion, stirring, until slightly translucent. Add garlic and chili flakes and sauté two to three minutes more. Turn up the heat to medium high. Add tomatoes and their juice, chopped peppers, white wine and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well, add fresh mussels and cover. Cover the pot and steam for five to seven minutes, or until mussels are open. Discard any mussels that do not open.

While mussels are steaming, blitz Salsa Verde ingredients, without the oil, together in a food processor. Add oil until you have a liquid-y paste.

Transfer mussels to a serving dish and toss everything together. Top with generous drizzle of Salsa Verde and serve.

Short Cuts:

-Make ahead: prepare tomato sauce, except for the white wine and mussels, up to two days in advance. Before serving, heat sauce in a large pot, add white wine and mussels.

-Salsa Verde can be made up to four hours in advance. Cover surface directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Or, substitute purchased pesto, thinned with a little olive oil, instead.

-Instead of roasting your own peppers, substitute roasted peppers from a jar. Drain liquid, roughly chop peppers, and add to sauce as above.

Wilson adds you’ll also be doing your guests a favour, since fresh blue cultured mussels are not only tasty; they’re a healthy seafood choice. Mussels are very low in fat (2.2 g fat per 100 g of mussel meat) and carbohydrates. An average serving of mussels is only about 90 calories. They provide a full day’s serving of omega-3s, and contain high levels of zinc, iodine, vitamins B and C and iron. In fact, they have three times the absorbable iron as a comparable serving of beef.

The Mussel Industry Council website ( is home to great recipes, tips to cook and prepare mussels, and reasons why mussels are a perfect part of a healthy lifestyle.