The key to a great restaurant is the relationship between the owner and chef. Mussels Isabella reflects the synergy between Vincent Cappelletti, owner of Lucas Local Oyster Bar in Newtown and the new Céntrico Taqueria & Tequila Bar in Bethel, and chef Brett Mitchell. “It’s the perfect analogy of the restaurant,” Mitchell says. “It was Vince’s inspiration for the dish that he made for his daughter, yet it’s my take on it. Vince gives me the freedom to create and change the menu on a moment’s notice, yet we have our fingers on the same pulse and complement each other perfectly.”
A menu staple, mussels Isabella represents a mix of classic techniques with high-quality ingredients. “It’s perfect for September because it has the freshness of summer from the herbs but the comfort and warmth of a hot broth to get you ready for the upcoming cold,” Mitchell says. The chef ignores food trends, preferring to work with different cultural and regional ingredients. “My style of cooking is a combination of rustic and modern preparations of international ingredients and cuisines. I’m influenced by Asian and Middle Eastern flavors but my training is more French-New American.” Mitchell likes discovering endless ways to use different ingredients. “It can be as simple as wood-fire grilling a vegetable or as complex as dehydrating that same vegetable and making a powder or a vinegar with it.”
A love of cooking and savoring his mother’s home cooking encouraged Mitchell to pursue a culinary career. “She let me experiment making concoctions at a young age,” he says. “When I was 15, I got my first restaurant job and the love affair continued.”
Serves 2 • Time: 30 minutes
Note: The pesto and the sage cream reduction can be made up to three days ahead of time.
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- ½ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
Place garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. Pulse a few times until it makes a paste. Add all remaining ingredients except for the oil and run food processor on high for one minute while slowly pouring the oil in the top until everything is incorporated, creating a smooth, bright pesto. Don’t over-blend or it won’t be as bright or herbaceous.
- ½ cup whole sage leaves
- 1½ cups white wine of your choosing
- 4 cups heavy cream
Pour the heavy cream into a medium saucepan. Reduce on very low heat, whisking every 10 minutes. The 4 cups of cream will be reduced by half. Every stove is different, but it could take up to an hour or so.
In a separate medium saucepan, add the sage leaves and wine. Reduce the wine over medium heat to a half-cup. This should take about 30 minutes.
Once done, strain out the sage and add the wine to the reduced cream. Stir together and cook on low heat for 10 more minutes.
Set in fridge to cool for a couple hours or overnight. It should be firm and able to be scooped like a dense mousse.
- 2 pounds mussels
- Half-stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup chopped shallots
- Half-bunch scallions, chopped
- Small bunch parsley, chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ cup seafood or chicken stock (either canned or one from a container is fine; if using a low-sodium stock, adjust salt to your taste)
- Salt and white pepper, to taste
Rinse and clean the in-shell mussels by placing them in a strainer or colander and running under water; do not submerge. Pull any beards that may be hanging out of the mussel shell.
Heat large sauté pan over high heat. Add butter and shallots; cook quickly until translucent, about a minute.
Add mussels and toss until shallots are off the bottom of the pan and distributed evenly on the mussels.
Deglaze pan with white wine and then stock. Cover pan and cook until mussels are all open, about 3-4 minutes.
Uncover and add half-cup of pesto and half-cup of sage cream. Stir them together and cook on medium-high or high for about 2 minutes, reducing the liquid in the pan. It should come together as a slightly green, herb-filled sauce.
Top with parsley and scallions and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately with a high-quality crusty bread for sopping up the broth.
Chef’s tip: Mussels and sauce can also be poured over pasta such as linguine or bucatini.