Cooking with wine isn’t an afterthought for Tulio Executive Chef Walter Pisano — it’s an essential part of the equation. As a second generation professional gourmand, Pisano’s restaurant roots and Italian heritage brought him to opening the wine-focused Tulio Risotarante on the main floor of Seattle’s Hotel Vintage in 1992. Named for Pisano’s restaurateur father, John Tulio Pisano, the downtown locale takes on the persona of an East Coast Italian joint: dark wood, white tablecloths, glowing ceiling sconce light, house-made pastas, grappa, wine and more wine.

Pisano plates up a Venetian-style mussels dish on the regular at his father’s namesake joint, which celebrates 25 years in 2017, accented by local Washington wine — Avennia 2015 Oliane Sauvignon Blanc from Yakima Valley.

“I tasted it at Tulio and it was a perfect match for the flavor profile of the dish,” Pisano recalls his inspiration. “The grapefruit-citrus qualities of the wine enhance the sweetness of the mussels.”

When making this classic dish at home, Pisano says fresh mussels are the key. “My advice is to go to Pike Place Market, or your local farmers’ market, and ask for the freshest mussels they have,” he says. “Call ahead and ask when they come in, and make a point to buy them then. Stick your nose in the bag and smell them: they should smell like the sound or the bay. They also need to be closed shells [and] if the mussels don’t look good, then abort!”

Pisano instructs home cooks to always use fresh garlic (as opposed to jarred) and to peel, slice and zest the ingredients to order — no cutting corners. For peeling the tomatoes, he also suggests to score the bottom of the tomato with an “x,” take the core out and drop tomato into a pot of boiling water for 10-15 second. After that, remove and submerge into ice bath — from there, the skin can be easily be peeled off.

Venetian-Style Mussels
Recipe by Executive Chef Walter Pisano
Serves 8-10 people

3 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
Oil, to coat
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
5 ripe tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced small
1 lemon zest
½ cup Avennia 2015 Oliane Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley
Pinch chili flakes
½ cup fresh basil, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, sliced

To prepare the mussels: scrub well any outside shell, run under cold water and remove the “beard” the growth attached to the shell. Place in the refrigerator to keep cold.

In a large sauce pan, medium heat the oil then add the garlic clove and cook until it turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add mussels, stir for another 1-2 minutes and cover the pan. Shake the tightly covered pan frequently on the burner to cook evenly, until the mussels begin to open, about 4-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, lemon zest, wine and chili fakes, then replace the cover and cook for another 2 minutes.

Remove the cover, add basil and parsley then toss for 30 seconds. Place the mussels on a platter and spoon the sauce over the top. Serve immediately.