October is always an exciting month for me, as I am a major enthusiast of local seafood. Growing up in the Santa Barbara area, I have, over the years, gained a great appreciation for what our local waters have to offer and the hard work that goes into bringing the sea's fresh offerings to our kitchens. Just like with produce, getting your seafood as fresh as possible makes all the difference when it comes to quality and results. Local fishermen J.R. Gorgita, Sam Shrout and Bernard Friedman regularly supply the Saturday farmers market in Santa Barbara, bringing in their freshly caught goods.

This month marks the opening of lobster and shrimp season. Also in the mix this time of year are freshly harvested local mussels, brought in weekly by Mr. Friedman. I tried these mussels for the first time last weekend and they were, without a doubt, the best I'd ever tried. Unbelievably tender for mussels and loaded with natural flavor, these will regularly be on my shopping list.

Fresh mussels are quite nutritious. While they do contain cholesterol, they are packed with protein and iron and contain hearty amounts of vitamins C and A and calcium.

Mussels, which may be cream to dark orange in color, are amazingly sweet and are usually steamed and served in their deep black shells, baked with a crumb topping or used in salads. But they're also great when served over thin pasta noodles and topped with a garlic, lemon grass and heirloom tomato sauce.

Sam Edelman is general manager of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association. His column appears every Thursday. E-mail him at food@newspress.com.


FRESH LOCAL LEMON GRASS MUSSELS

2 pounds fresh mussels (shells should be tightly shut) (available from Bernard Friedman at the Saturday Santa Barbara farmers market)

2 cups broth or stock (any you prefer; I used veggie stock)

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped

1 stock lemon grass, thinly sliced

1 small onion, diced

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1 red pepper, diced

2 large heirloom tomatoes, diced

2 cups cooked pasta (I like angel-hair for a delicate finish)

3 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1 small bunch opal basil (or regular basil), finely chopped

Juice of 1 large lemon

Rinse and scrub mussels, removing the beard so that they're completely clean. Set aside. In a pot, add stock or broth and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. In a saucepan over low heat, add butter and olive oil, garlic, lemon grass and onion. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Add red pepper and continue to simmer. Add 1/2 cup hot broth or stock from the other pot to the garlic/lemon grass mixture and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Add heirloom tomatoes to the sauce about 2 minutes before finishing.

Bring pot of broth back up to a boil, add the mussels and cover with a lid. Keep on medium-high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Drain mussels and pour sauce over the top, coating the shells inside and out. Serve immediately over fresh pasta and garnish with fresh cilantro and basil. Top with the lemon juice.

Yield: 4 servings