From west Sweden to northwest Italy: Swedish Mussel soup with a touch of Italian Vermentino from Liguria

Creamy west Swedish blue mussel soup laced with Vermentino an Italian white wine – a toast and celebration of the friendly relations between Sweden and Italy – whether at a Swedish Royal gala dinner for trade or in more politically shared interests regarding developments in the Middle East organized at the Second Aspen Bosphorus Dialogue Conference by the Aspen Institute Italia, 2-3 March 2012.
Text and Photo © JE Nilsson and CM Cordeiro 2012

It was after work and I had my mind on the topics covered at a recent seminar held at the Aspen Institute Italia on Leadership, Globalization and the Quest for Common Values held earlier in March 2012 in beautiful and panoramic Cernobbio nonetheless, where ideas were exchanged on leadership for the twenty-first century. Just 40 km north of Milan, Cernobbio is the city that is home to the luxury hotel Villa d’Este that sits along the shores of Lake Como. The city was also host to a seminar that allowed for various interpretations to be heard on the complexities of leadership in the modern, globalized world and how tensions in leadership could be addressed.

Half absent in mind at the wet market, I scanned flittingly over the different types of raw seafood that west Sweden is so well known for when my eyes came to settle on some very lovely blue mussels.

Part of the innovative culture in Sweden is manifest in their attitude towards culinary adventures. You can find recipes for mussel soup in west Sweden laced with a variety alcohol from white wines to dry sherry and beer.

Blue mussels are almost as staple as cod in restaurants along the Swedish west coast, where fish and seafood are Gothenburg’s culinary métier. So when I got my hands on these mussels, I simply stood alongside my Bertazzoni at home and stared blank at them, not for the lack of ideas but rather, too many ideas. I had already settled for a creamy mussel soup but even a creamy mussel soup in Sweden had several well recommended recipes you could choose from, not to mention, happily modify to make your own.

Considering that I had a bottle of Vermentino in the wine cellar and that was what the dinner table was going to have the evening, the recipe for this Mussel Soup went something like this:

    • About 2 kgs of mussels, scrubbed and cleaned (in Sweden, you could also use clams, cockles or a mixture of mussels, clams and cockels)
    • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic
    • A small bit of leek, chopped
    Marina Colonna extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 cup oregano (in some other Swedish recipes, parsley, basil or thyme)
    • A generous splash of Vermentino, Italian white wine
    • 1 cup cream
    • A tablespoon of butter
    • A pinch of salt
    • A crush of black pepper
    • Some cayenne pepper (depending on how much heat you want in the soup)
    • A squirt of lemon (lime or vinegar) to adjust the taste

Blue mussels and shrimp – a taste of the west Sweden. Well, actually a Taste of West Sweden is a brand owned by the tourism board of West Sweden that puts culinary joy in the sights, smells and textures of raw produce from western Sweden.

While the mussels were simmering in the garlic, spices and wine with heat turned on high and in the seven minutes that it took for them to open, my thoughts wandered back to seminar moderator Professor Leigh Hafrey who is with the MIT Sloan School of Management.

With a career in Behavioral and Policy Sciences and lecturing in executive education programs, in 2008, Professor Leigh Hafrey taught a class on “Values into Leadership” to Tsinghua International MBA program (IMBA) first-year students on the importance of values and how they could be applied at the workplace. The students learned about corporate ethics and the different methods in which they could stand up for their own values in the workplace. Learning not to compromise their own values at work would in turn promote and encourage an integrated organization fabric of cross-cultural values. The students learned how to preserve one’s integrity, whilst respecting the values of Others from different socio-cultural and religious background.

I strained the broth to get it smooth as a last move before serving the mussels in deep dishes to all around the table, where upon settling down with a glass of Vermentino proper at the table, I couldn’t help but figure that it would take time. Just as the blending of flavours in this creamy and aromatic broth takes time, things will settle. That when it comes to cross-cultural workplaces and the leadership tensions that result in today’s globalized organization landscapes, strategy and communication are of course key but add to that, patience and time.

In all these thoughts, there are immediate things to celebrate and in front of me, some very delightful Mussel Soup with white wine.

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