Mussels with Tomato, Garlic, White Wine and Parsley

6 Mussels jpeg.jpg

Our first twenty four hours on the east coast of Tasmania were spent with friends on their merino sheep farm. It is quite a long and fascinating story how we ended up here. Let's just say through me watching an episode of my favourite TV show 'Australian Story' in October 2013, a wonderful connection then arose through a mutual friend. This was followed by delightful banter and conversation shared on social media. Then my reading of Maggie Mackellar's two magnificent memoirs 'When It Rains' and 'How To Get There' left me feeling like we were meant to be friends. All this culminated in Maggie and I meeting for dinner in Sydney in November 2014, happily joined by our lovely, mutual friend Clare. From there we planned to visit the farm where Maggie now lives, when we traveled up the east coast of Tasmania some months later. 

When our children headed off on the bus that morning from Hobart, we gave them some cash to have a little breakie in a local cafe at Little Swanport (where the bus was to drop them off), while they waited for us to arrive in the car. The adventurer was dreaming of 'eggs benedict' and fresh apple juice, however local knowledge from the bus driver bought the news that there was nothing at Little Swanport and he would just be letting them off on the side of the road! That sure killed the cafe breakfast fantasy real fast. So without catching sight of anything resembling a town, never mind a cafe, our very brave offspring were dropped off on the side of the road at the farm gate. They wandered down the long driveway, bags in hand and knocked on the old wooden door, having being told to 'just ask for Maggie!' We arrived soon after to find them quite settled and well looked after, drinking cups of tea, reading books and playing cards together, in the natural light filled, indoor courtyard of the farmhouse.

What a delightful time we all had together at 'Ravensdale', meeting the farmer Jim and one of his daughters El, Maggie's gorgeous two children Arkie and Clancy, as well as the corgis 'Duke' and 'Ethel', 'Dusty' the black labrador and 'Beagle' the beagle of course. It just worked out so well, and in a very short time we were all as comfortable with each other, as you are with an old pair of slippers. Once we had unpacked what was necessary, us girls went for an afternoon drive in the farmers' ute to the nearby town of Triabunna to grab some Spring Bay mussels, they are the award winning Tasmanian blue mussels. Meanwhile, Mr G went searching the nearby river with the adventurer, Clancy and fishing rods in tow, in hope of catching some of the prized local black bream. 

Back at the farm house kitchen, our evening began with a cheese board and local wine, along with a starter of mussels cooked in tomatoes, garlic, white wine and parsley, with fresh bread for dipping. This was just the beginning of our feasting. The farmer then barbecued some lamb, well actually 'two tooth' (let's call it a youthful sheep aka not lamb and not mutton) on a wood fire, accompanied by local 'pink eye' potatoes with butter and mashed, minted, green peas.

The following day, after a delicious night's sleep, we had a stroll around the farm. It was a windy old day out, so we decided on a morning indoors, with the girls baking a cake together. Maggie enjoyed a rough lesson in making pastry from me and we stewed freshly picked mulberries and apples to fill a sweet pie. All this was happening amidst much laughter and chatter in the old farm kitchen. While things were cooking in the oven, we enjoyed a time of leisurely lounging and reading in the courtyard, as the smells of berry crumble cake and apple and mulberry pie did their best to distract us.

After handfuls of warm cake and more cups of tea, it was time for us to leave, so we said our farewells and headed on our way to travel further up the east coast to Swanwick. Fortunately our goodbyes were short lived as in the days that followed, we enjoyed more fun times together at our next east coast destination. We were staying in Swanwick for nine days and as it happened the farmer has 'a shack' on the water at Coles Bay (just ten minutes from Swanwick), where they would all be staying for the next two weeks. How absolutely perfect, and rumours of crayfish, flathead, black bream, harvesting our own mussels and the beauty of the Freycinet National Park awaited us all.

Mussels took on a whole new meaning to us when we visited Tasmania. We were fortunate enough to harvest them ourselves from the rocks at low tide. We gathered them in a bucket, cleaned them and steamed them in a big pot with simple ingredients.

serves 4
what you need
1 kg fresh mussels
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup (250ml) white wine
400g can diced tomatoes
handful of parsley (or thyme leaves), roughly chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

what you do
1. Prepare mussels by soaking in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes to remove sand and grit. Rinse with fresh water. Remove the beards; these are the little brown threads that may be sticking out from between the two shells. Grasp the beard and pull it out and towards the hinge end of the mussel. Remove it completely and discard.
2. In a large pot or deep pan (with a lid), begin by warming olive oil on a low heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Increase to medium heat, add white wine and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, herbs and pepper to taste. Stir then simmer on medium heat for 5 minutes with the lid on.
4. Add mussels to the sauce, place lid on the pot or pan and steam for 5 to 7 minutes. The mussels are usually cooked when their shells pop open – sometimes this can take a little longer than 5 to 7 minutes depending on the size and freshness of the mussels. If they are not opening continue to simmer on a low heat with the lid on until the shells pop open.
5. Serve in the pan with spoons, some crusty fresh bread and a roll of paper towel.

mussels are molluscs found in fresh water and salt water habitats. They are more elongated than other types of edible molluscs such as clams. Often cooked in their shells and smoked, steamed or added to pasta sauces, mussels are high in protein and a helpful source of iron and vitamin C.

© Recipe - Our Delicious Adventure - Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel by Jane Grover