I first whipped up this fabulous dish when I was living in Valencia, a gorgeous coastal city in Eastern Spain. On Saturday mornings I would wake up, hop on the metro and peruse the offerings displayed on the counters of Mercado Central, piled high with ice and tasty morsels caught fresh from the ocean . I'd walk along admiring the huge spider crabs (so fresh they were still frothing at the mouth, poor sods) , baby tellinas with pretty purple shells, monster octopuses and squids, long-limbed langoustines and tanks of slimy eels swimming about. However, often I settled on the piles of shining, jet-black mussels or in the local lingo Mejillones . For a couple of euros, I would purchase a big bag of the beasties from a friendly fishmonger, then scurry home to wadge them in the fridge until cooking-time later on that evening.
This dish is typical of the Puglia region of Southern Italy, where mussels are sourced from Taranto, a coastal town within the region. For those of us who are less confident cooking seafood , this wonderful recipe is a great place to begin as it is surprisingly straight-forward, relying on robust, good-quality ingredients.
1kg of live mussels, de-bearded and scrubbed
175ml of dry white wine
300g of dried spaghetti (more if you are hungry, De Cecco is my all time favorite)
2 medium shallots, peeled and diced
3 fat garlic cloves, chopped finely
2 tbsp of chopped flat leaf parsley
A handful of plump cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 small hot red chili - sliced finely, seeds removed.
1 slosh of extra-virgin olive oil
Firstly, you need to prepare the mussels for cooking. Pull on the green beard of the mussel to remove it, if needed you can use scissors and scrub the shells clean, this is best done in a sink.
Fry your shallots and garlic in the olive oil in a large deep saucepan with a lid (the mussels will be jumping in here too so you need a big enough pan to accommodate them), once the onion and garlic have colored set your pasta boiling.
Add the parsley, cherry tomatoes and chili to the saucepan, cooking for a few minutes. Next pour in the white wine and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Now place your mussels into the pan, place the lid on the top and cook on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Depending on the size of your pan you may notice the lid starts to rise as the mussels open, once all the mussels are open they are cooked and ready to be eaten, avoid cooking them too long as the mussels will become pale and have an unappetizing flavor.
Drain your pasta and place your mussels and sauce on top in deep bowls, to make room for the wonderful sauce. Garnish with some more parsley and serve. You may need to remove some of the mussels and place them in a bowl at the side, always place a small bowl for empty shells on the table when dining.