As the mussels cook so quickly, first bake the cornbread, or heat it through. If using the polenta instead, heat the grill or a well-seasoned frying pan and sear it on both sides, until hot all the way through.
Discard any mussels that remain open after scrubbing and rinsing – they are dead – put the rest in a large lidded saucepan with the flavourings and liquid and cover with the lid.
Cook the mussels until they open, shaking the pan for the heat to reach all of them. This should take about five minutes.
Put the cornbread or polenta in large soup plates, with a splash or two of olive oil if using it, and ladle the mussels and juice on top. Serve very hot.
Quantities can simply be multiplied if more servings are required.
© 2000 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.