The beauty of cooking with mussels these days is that farm-raised mussels are widely available. Not only do they contain lower levels of pollutants, but they are also beautifully washed and trimmed, making repeated washings and struggling to remove tiny bits of "beard" a thing of the past. Remember that mussels last in the refrigerator for one day, so buy them the day before or the day of your brunch—no longer. Ask your fishmonger to pack them in ice for the trip home, but remove the ice before placing them in the refrigerator. Nor should you store them in water. The cool air of the refrigerator is best. For the tomato sauce, use any combination of the herbs you like.
Wine recommendation: The grassy notes and bright acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, New Zealand or the U.S. will flatter this dish.
For the sauce:
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or ¼ teaspoon dried oregano), chopped
Â½ tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
For the mussels:
4 pounds mussels
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dry, unoaked white wine
To start the tomato sauce, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until soft and translucent. Add all the tomatoes and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until they have "melted." Break them up with a spoon if necessary. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Keep warm.
To steam the mussels, sort through them, discarding any that are open or that do not close when you tap them. Wash and remove the stringy beard from any that need it.
Heat the oil and butter in a large pot set over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until translucent and soft. Add the wine and bring to a simmer.
Add the mussels, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels are open. Discard any that do not open. Remove the mussels from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside. Return the steaming liquid to the heat and cook until syrupy and reduced in volume.
Return the tomato sauce to the heat and stir in the mussels' cooking liquid and the parsley, oregano and basil. Place the mussels into the sauce and stir gently. Serve hot with crusty bread.