On the east coast of Corsica there’s a little holiday village called Cappiciolo where you’re woken each morning by the bleat and fart of the three wheeled baker’s van trundling down the treacherous gravelled path. He sold the clown-faced Corsican loaves* alongside the ubiquitous pain au chocolat & baguette, and the smell that rose from his little wagon’s open back doors made 8am not seem so bad.
On the beach there was a little dip where the sand drifts had subsided. It was coarse with brush and teeming with mysterious little beach insects but for a week and a half every year it became a battlefield, a race course, an ocean or a mine. That little dip was fuel to the fire of infant imagination.
But nothing excited a young Harding so much as the sea. Even after being stung by a jellyfish and scarred for life (though don’t tell anyone – I’ve been telling people I’m in a fight club), I couldn’t wait to fling myself back into the Corsican surf.
The brother passions of our baker’s bread, the child’s storytelling mind and the sea combined 10 years ago when my mother and I commandeered a canoe – though only after saying thank you to the nice man – and struck out for the buoy that bobbed in the harbour calm about half a mile out from the shore.
We were carrying a sack, a palette knife and spatula. The buoy played host to a bounty that mum had spotted on her pre-prandial morning swims. Its fat orange belly was studded and slimy with mussels.
I think back then we just chucked our fresh mussels into a pan of salted, boiling water with a few sprigs of wild herbs plucked from the sand blasted shrubbery which separated the beach from the little pebble-dash gelateria. It took nothing more to spark a young love for mussels and their ilk – though it took years to develop into fully fledged loving relationship with the fruits of the sea.
Welcome to the gun show.
Mussels with chorizo, leek & potato
- 1 kg mussels, scrubbed clean
- 300g chorizo cooking sausage, chopped
- 2 leeks, sliced
- 1 medium sized potato, diced
- 4 shallots, roughly chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 50cl white wine, nothing fancy
- 50cl vegetable stock
- A little double cream, for thickening
- Bunch of thyme
- Big knob of butter
Heat your big lump of butter in a pan that’s going to be big enough to contain everything. Throw in the shallots when the butter starts to foam, followed by the garlic, chorizo, leeks and potato. Fry until the shallots are starting to become translucent and soft.
Combine the vegetable stock & wine before adding to the pan. Bring the heat up to a decent boil and add the thyme, salt and pepper. Put a lid on the pan and turn down the heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes and taste. If the chorizo is cooked, you’re ready to add the mussels.
Take the lid off the pan and pour in all the mussels. Allow to boil for 4-5 minutes, or until almost all of the mussels have opened. Turn the heat right down and stir through enough double cream to form a thick sauce.
Serve in bowls with crusty white bread rubbed with olive oil and crushed garlic as a good starter for 4. Drink the rest of the white wine.
*If anyone knows what these are called or where I might buy some, get in touch.