Whole Foods on the cheap?

Twenty spot gives it a shot
By TODD RICHARD  |  March 7, 2007
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Whole Foods is has been looming in my future since its snowy opening on Valentine’s Day. So far, I’ve succeeded in avoiding the crowds flocking to this culinary colossus. I recently had nightmares of losing my twenty spot the moment I enter the store. But, I can avert my gaze no longer.

When entering Whole Foods, newbies like myself find themselves swallowing expletives. How is it possible to navigate through this expanse and only spend twenty dollars?

Grocery-store fish in general is to be distrusted, but I see no reason to deny Whole Foods the benefit of the doubt. A two-pound bag of fresh mussels is $3.69, and since the neighborhood fish market is out due to frozen flats, these should not be passed up. Along the inner side of the prepared-foods complex, fresh pastas are flanked with several selections of hard cheeses for grating. A roasted-red-pepper fettuccine sounds perfect with the mussels, and a small wedge of parmesan is obligatory.

The size and possibilities within the prepared-foods area of Whole Foods are amazing, boasting, in no particular order: a pizzeria, a sushi and dim sum bar, hot Italian, hot Indian, a massive salad bar, a full sit-down trattoria, several hot soups, a barbecue bar, a dessert bar, and an antipasto bar with a gentleman making fresh mozzarella. The cheesemaker was kind in pointing out that his bar area was not part of the salad bar, therefore I would need a separate container to ring up the higher-priced antipasti. Reality slowly set in. Drunk from the spectacle of it all, prices and rules were ignored. Yes, a budget . . . twenty dollars.

I put some items from my salad box into the sectioned antipasti tray, but later saw them in the salad bar for a few dollars less. Regardless, Peppadew peppers, balsamic marinated cipollini onions, marinated eggplant, chunks of feta, mixed country olives, and cherry tomatoes are perfect for the mini-pita not too far away and will be an easy snack while making dinner.

Even at home, the image of the massive market stuck. The magnitude of the experience set in: it is a store for me, for foodies, for people who appreciate choices but value quality even more.

These things float in my head as chopped shallot and garlic sauté in butter in a large shallow-sided pan. To this I add salt, pepper, a veggie bouillon cube, a half-cup of white wine and a half-cup of water. Once boiling, the cleaned and rinsed mussels are placed in gently, as not to break the shells. They are covered and simmered for 5 minutes, or until they fully open. They are then removed to a covered dish, leaving the liquid behind in the pan. This is cooked down with the juice of a lemon and another bit of butter, salt and pepper. Once slightly reduced and browned, this is turned off and set aside. The fresh fettuccine, cooked only for 90 seconds, is added to the pan sauce and the mussels are dumped on top. After a quick toss in the pan, garnish with a bit of chopped parsley, basil, and a shred of the parmesan.

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