Fall is the perfect time to invite friends over to gather around a big pot of steamed mussels for a beautifully messy feast. Wine and cream add a touch of elegance, and a kale salad is the ideal accompaniment. Be sure to serve plenty of crusty artisanal bread to sop up every last drop of sauce, and complete the meal with an apple or pear tart topped with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

MUSSELS STEAMED WITH FENNEL, WINE AND CREAM

Farmed mussels, which are commonplace, will be free of those pesky black wiry beards and require very little, if any, scrubbing.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter

2 slender leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved and thinly sliced

1 small fennel bulb, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 pounds (about 4 dozen) mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary

1 cup white wine

1 cup bottled clam juice

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur, optional

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks and fennel to the pan and sauté until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and reserve.

In a large pot, combine mussels, wine, clam juice and ¾ cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until shells open, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to a bowl, discarding any that do not open. Pour broth into a large measuring cup and let liquid settle for 5 minutes.

Slowly pour mussel liquid into pot with leeks, leaving any grit behind in the bottom of the measuring cup. Add cream, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer uncovered until liquid is reduced by about one-third, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in optional Pernod and season with salt and pepper. Add mussels to cream mixture and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes to reheat.

Divide mussels among 4 shallow soup dishes, ladle broth over and serve.

BABY KALE SALAD WITH CURRANTS

AND TOASTED HAZELNUTS

Use the tender baby kale that is now being sold with the other packaged lettuces or buy a bunch of mature kale and cut it into fine slivers. Chances are, only the cook will know the secret ingredient in the dressing – mashed anchovies – but they give the dressing exactly enough salty intensity to stand up to the assertive greens.

4 to 6 servings

3 ounces (about ½ cup) hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

3 anchovy fillets

1 small shallot, finely chopped

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 cups (about 5 ounces) baby kale, torn into bite-size pieces, or thinly sliced kale leaves

1 cup dried currants

½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Toast nuts in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring now and then, until one shade darker, about 5 minutes.

Chop anchovies and then mash to a paste with the side of a chef’s knife. Combine in a small bowl or covered container with shallot, lemon juice, oil, honey, salt and pepper, whisking to blend. (Can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Combine kale and currants in a salad bowl. Drizzle with enough dressing to moisten and toss gently. Add cheese and toss again. Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts before serving.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland: Hearty Soups & Stews with Sides and Salads to Match.” She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at:

facebook.com/brookedojny