I found some mussels on sale yesterday! I have done very little interesting cooking for quite a while, so I was delighted at the price and the look of these critters.
Time for one of my favs… spaghetti, or in this case perciatelli, with mussels, tomato and red peppers. It is a dish I learned in Venice, on the Giudecca gazing across the bacino at the amazing view of San Marco.
Start your guests with a sturdy Campari and Soda on ice with generous paper thin strip of just the yellow zest of the lemon.
I like to give the mussels a good wash and look them over. Some will be slightly open. You can tell if they are alive by tapping them a few times or tickling inside. You want to remove the bit of seaweed or "beard" by tugging it out. If the mussels are wild caught they may have some sand. You can soak them for a while in cold water.
Start a basic sauce with tomatoes, whole canned or fresh, but instead of using mostly tomatoes try just a little tomato and use mostly red peppers, preferably roasted first. Lots of garlic, a little sweet onion, really good olive oil. Not too much salt. I like to brighten up sauces for seafood with a little lemon instead. I used some basil and oregano also. You can add heat to this too! I did. Use little thai dragons or what Italians call pepperoncino. If you want a little fusion action, try adding some Sichuan style chile infused oil to give it real fire.
When your pasta is about half cooked, add it to the sauce, which you should have reduced. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. I like the big fat pasta, such a this perciatelli or bucatini. Linguine works well with this, but probably not fettucine or the shorter cut pastas like elicoidali.
When the pasta is nearly done, put half a glass of dry white wine, give it a stir and turn the heat up to high to get it going. Grind in some strong black pepper. Then add your mussels and put on a tight cover. Holding the lid down, give it a nice shake to get everything settled. Stay close to the stove.
Having a glass lid helps. You don’t have to cook them too long until they open.
When they do, take off the lid and let it cook down just a bit.
Serve in a wide shallow bowl, rather than a plate.
If you are doing this as a first course, think per person 1/2 lbs of mussels and 75g of pasta for men. Otherwise, as your primary course think 1 lbs per person and 100g of pasta for men. Women, poor things, generally eat less pasta. Check with them first, but you can usually cut their portions nearly in half and they are content. Sorry, ladies, that is usually what goes on.
They utter little shrieks of horror against my hovering serving spoons.
So, four priests, think in terms of a half a large can of whole tomatoes (get San Marzano) and a four red peppers, four pounds of mussels. You will need at least two bottles of wine.
Last night I garnished with cilantro, gave it a last drizzle of the really good olive oil and then squeezed more lemon over it.
You will want to give your guests extra napkins and a discard bowl for the shells.
Serve with cold dry white wine: sauvignon blanc works well.
PS: Every mussel opened perfectly.
Very easy, very fast, and if you can get those mussels on sale, not as spendy as you might imagine.