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Friday, 9 April 2010

Spaghetti with Mussels

Since this is my first post, I thought I'd start with something that is within my comfort zone. Being Italian, that means pasta! A nice plate of spaghetti with mussels is a beautiful thing made by a few simple ingredients; yet as for all the simple things, it is so easy to mess up. The countless times I had this dish and either the spaghetti was overcooked, or the sauce bland, or worst of all I found myself chewing on a gritty mouthful of pasta and...sand.  This is a step by step demonstration that will show you how to create a simple, yet incredibly tasty, spaghetti with mussels.
INGREDIENTS (for two hungry people as a main, or four as a starter)
  • 200 gr. of spaghetti (I normally use De Cecco)
  • 1 Kg of fresh mussels, shell on
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, a good glug
  • Half a glass of dry white wine (or champagne)
  • Half a tin of quality canned cherry tomatoes or about 200 gr of fresh ones, if in season
  • Finely chopped flat leaf parsely
  • Salt & pepper to season
First of all, you need to prep your mussels. You can do so by pulling the rope off each muscle and tapping them one by one. Put on the side the ones that haven't closed immediately. At the end, run the ones that are still open under the cold tap. If they still remain open, you must discard them as they are definitely dead, and possibly harmful.
Now put a medium sized saucepan (or one where all the mussels will fit in comfortably) on the hob, and tip your mussels in together with half a glass of water. Let them steam at moderate heat for about 4-5 minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times. When all the mussels have opened and turned orange (or yellow in some cases), turn the heat off and take each mussels out of its shell. I find that using a spoon helps! Strain the cooking liquid left at the bottom of the pan (being really careful not to include any sand) and reserve on the side. If you have a dinner party, you can make up to this step of the recipe in advance, then assemble the rest of the dish later.

Next, put the olive oil and chopped garlic in a wide, non stick pan at very low heat and let it soften, without browning it, for about 2 minutes. Add your mussels, their cooking liquid, the white wine (I used brut champagne, hence the foam in the picture!) and turn the heat up, until all the alcohol has bubbled away. 

Add the tomatoes (if fresh, halve them. I used the Pachini quality, they are super-sweet and full of flavour), season with salt and pepper and let the sauce reduce, keeping the heat high. It should reduce to a half of its original quantity; don't let it thicken completely though, leave it a bit runny. I will explain why in the next step :-) It should take about 4-5 minutes. Once ready, turn the heat off and let it rest for a few minutes. Taste it again and season if necessary.

While the sauce is bubbling, cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions, however if it says you should cook them for 12 minutes, cook them for 10 instead. Once ready, drain them completely then tip them in the pan where the sauce is, turn the heat on full and sautée them for about 30 second, adding the parsley and stirring the sauce and the spaghetti continuously. The pasta will soak up all the juices and will finish cooking, retaining a beautiful 'al dente' consistency. Dish it up, sprinkle some more chopped parsley on top and serve immediately!!! Nothing spoils pasta like letting it sit around . And for heaven's sake, skip the cheese: fish pasta dishes and parmigiano is a no no. All the Italians know this. Now, you do, too ;-)

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