We’ll take any opportunity to French-ify our lives and Bastille Day is the perfect occasion to do so. Lucky for us, Brooklyn hosts a massive Bastille Day fête every July where a portion of Smith Street, one of the local thoroughfares, is transformed into a giant sand Pétanque court, where teams compete all day while revelers look on and enjoy live French music and chow down on French delicacies. The celebration promises to be extra spirited this year as the festivities will be held this Sunday, the same day that France competes against Croatia in the World Cup Final.
Bastille Day, formally known as Féte Nationale in France, celebrates the beginning of the French Revolution and the eventual end of the French Monarchy. On July 14, 1789, after a brutal summer of food shortages and high taxes thanks to King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, an angry mob of Parisians stormed the Bastille, a military fortress and prison. What followed was a deadly battle, a brutal beheading and the King declaring his support for the revolution. The following year on July 14, 1790, the French came together to celebrate their newfound unity. But it wasn’t all liberté, egalité, fraternité for long. The revolution eventually led to the Reign of Terror and it wasn’t until nearly a century later that July 14 would be recognized as a national holiday in France.
Since 1918, the largest and oldest military parade in Europe marches down the Champs-Élysées every July 14 to commemmorate the momentous storming of the Bastille. While we love a good parade, we feel there’s no better way to honor France than by indulging in some classic French cuisine. While the choices are somewhat overwhelming, we decided on moules Mariniéres, mussels steamed in white wine. We gained an appreciation for this dish while vacationing in Brittany, the region in north-west France known for its excellent shellfish. Make sure you use a nice dry white wine in this recipe, one that you’ll want to enjoy with your mussels.
This is a non-fussy French classic that you can file under “easy summer recipes.” We make this year round, but it feels especially celebratory in the summer when everyone can gather around a big pot of briny mussels in the backyard. We added some fennel for a certain je ne sais quoi but if fennel’s not your thing, just leave it out. This comes together in 20 minutes, start to finish so it works for a weekday meal as well…Mussel Mondays is catching on in our kitchen. Serve with some sliced french bread for dipping into the sauce. We brushed ours with olive oil and grilled until toasty.
3 pounds mussels, debearded and scrubbed
1 cup of dry white wine (we used Sancerre)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 medium sized leek, sliced thin crosswise, white and light green parts only
1/2 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thin
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp freshlly squeezed lemon juice
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
fennel fronds for garnish
Loaf of crusty french bread
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy pot over high heat. Add garlic, shallot, leeks and fennel to pot. Stir and cook until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook for a couple minutes more. Add mussels and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook until mussels fully open, between 3 and 5 minutes. Add parsley, fennel fronds, lemon juice and some freshly ground pepper and stir to combine. Serve immediately with grilled bread for dipping.