The best thing about a meal of steamed mussels is the sauce left at the bottom of the bowl. Yes, I adore the bivalves themselves — those sweet, saline nuggets plucked out of their blue-black shells. (Pro tip: Use an empty pair of shells like tongs to pluck out the meat.) But it’s their sauce — suffused with garlic, wine and parsley — that makes me swoon, whether sipped from a spoon or sopped up with bread or crispy, golden frites if you’re very lucky.

In this speedy mussels recipe, I offer yet another way to savor that sauce: steeped into velvety white beans.

Making it is dead simple. First, the beans (canned or, if you plan ahead, cooked from scratch) are briefly braised with olive oil, garlic and chili flakes. At this point, they are tender and thoroughly delicious and would make a fine, quick meal on their own. But adding a couple of pounds of mussels to the pot makes them even tastier.

As the mussels steam, they release their briny liquid, which the beans soak up, growing even plumper and more complex. Some grated lemon zest and herbs are thrown in at the end, adding freshness and verve. It’s as substantial as a seafood stew but far less involved than, say, cioppino or bouillabaisse.

It’s thrifty, too, since mussels are some of the least expensive seafood you can buy. Right now, I can get a 2-pound bag at my local market for around $9. And farmed mussels are sustainable, consistently rated as one of the best choice seafoods to eat, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Even better, especially for a weeknight, the whole thing comes together faster than the time it takes for the average distracted teenager to set the table. (Mussels: 20 minutes; teenager: huh?) Farmed mussels don’t need much by way of cleaning since they come without the hairy clumps on wild mussels known as beards. Just give them a rinse, discarding any open specimens or those with broken shells, and you are good to go.

I do use a lot of oil for braising the beans. For this otherwise very lean recipe, I think it lends the necessary richness. That said, you can use less oil, but the beans won’t be nearly as silky.

This dish doesn’t need much to round it out as a meal, maybe a leafy green salad or a platter of the last summer tomatoes. After all, the sauce is the star.

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Mussels With White Beans, Garlic and Rosemary

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • Fine sea salt or table salt
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, such as cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup vegetable broth, plus more as needed
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2 pounds mussels
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup chopped fresh soft herbs, such as parsley, dill or cilantro, plus more for serving
Steps
  1. In a large pot with a tightfitting cover, combine oil and garlic over medium-low heat. Add red pepper flakes, rosemary and pinch of salt. Cook until garlic just begins to turn pale gold at the edges (don’t let the garlic turn brown), 2 to 4 minutes.
  2. Add beans, vegetable broth, wine and 1 teaspoon salt to the pot and stir until beans are well coated. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until broth thickens, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, rinse mussels under cold running water. If you see hairy clumps around the shell (called beards), use a sharp knife or your fingers to pull them off, then rinse mussels well. Discard any mussels with cracked shells or shells that won’t close once you pinch together the edges.
  4. Add mussels to the pot and cover. Let the mussels steam, stirring once or twice, until they open, 5 to 8 minutes. Gently stir in lemon zest and herbs. Taste, adding more salt, if needed.
  5. To serve, divide mussels and beans among individual bowls. Discard any mussels that have not opened and garnish with more herbs and red pepper flakes, if you like.