On our recent trip to Puglia, we had this dish at multiple restaurants for both lunch and dinner. It’s a terrific and light dish first course (primo) dish that’s more a soup than a pasta course. As usual with fish and shellfish dishes, the freshness of the ingredients make all the difference. Seek out really fresh mussels (cozze) that are closed and don’t have a fishy smell. If your seafood seller tries to sell you a ready to go bag of mussels, make him or her go through the bag and discard any that are open.
When we were in Puglia, if your asked someone where they got their mussels, they’d look at your funny and say “over there” pointing to the sea. Meaning, in Italy, if the ingredient isn’t right from the source, they are not going to use it.
This recipe makes 4 servings as a first course or 2 servings as a main course. Serve with some bread to sop up the broth. Or as Italians say, scarpetta!
Ingredients and directions:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
- A small bunch of fresh herbs such as oregano, marjoram or thyme, leaves stripped from branches and finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 1 14-ounce can of good quality stewed pureed tomatoes such as Pomi stewed tomatoes or the homemade equivalent from fresh tomatoes
- 1/4 pound of dried cavatelli or other short pasta
- 2 pounds of black mussels, bread removed and rinsed under cold water
- 1 cup or more of white wine
- A handful parley leaves, finely chopped
- In a large pot that will hold the final dish, heat a splash of extra virgin olive oil and saute the onions and garlic until they begin to brown. About 10 minutes.
- Add the tomato puree and stir in with the cooking onions. Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes or so over low heat to let the flavors come together. Taste and further season with salt and pepper as needed.
- In a pasta pot, add water and a handful of salt and bring to boil. Cook the cavatelli to 1 minute short of the package directions. The pasta will cook further in the tomato sauce so don’t over cook. Drain the pasta well and place in the hot tomato sauce. Stir into the sauce.
- And now for the final step, in a shallow saute pan heat some more olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the mussels and shake the pan to coat the mussels. Sprinkle the mussels with some of the chopped parsley and add the wine. Cover and cook until the mussels have just opened. Do not over cook the mussels.
- Remove the mussels from the heat and let cool until you can handle them. Over the swallow pan in order to catch the juices, remove the mussels from the shells and put the mussels meat in the tomato sauce. Discard the shells.
- The broth that’s left in the pan is LIQUID GOLD!. At this point, we can add a little more wine, salt and pepper and cook further to suit your taste. The broth should not be sandy but if it is, strain the broth through a paper towel. Finally add it to the tomato broth.
- The tomato broth should now be soupy and not too thick. Add water to thin out if needed. Heat quickly before serving and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve in bowls with sprinkle of the chopped parsley.