Perciatelli with mussels and red peppers

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. joy says:

    ‘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.’

    Fr Z, you’ve obviously never eaten at my house when there is pasta.

  2. Domini Sumus says:

    That looks so good! I can’t wait to try the recipe.

  3. Jayna says:

    “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.”

    Or you can leave out the pasta altogether and just give me a double portion of mussels. I’d be totally cool with that.

  4. Jane Teresa says:

    Oh, Father. Half the portion size for the ladies? How mean of you. Next you will be telling me that it is ontologically impossible for me to be a Priest!

    Your feast looked delightful. I hope you enjoyed it.

  5. Alive-Alive-O!

    Those mussels have good color. Nice find there!

    Fantastic looking meal!

  6. Gregg the Obscure says:

    An outstanding feast!

    Might you be a fellow afficianado (though not necessarily on Fridays) of Bucatini all’Amatriciana? [One of my standards and favorites.]

  7. Emily says:

    This 1/2 Italian femme eats PLENTY of pasta, thank you. :) And is about to have some for lunch.

  8. Lucy says:

    Kendall Jackson is an especially good savingnon blanc and at a reasonable price!

  9. By, ‘sturdy’ I trust you mean, “corretto al gin.”

  10. Lucy: That’s the spirit! You can put good things on the table without spending an eye out of your head.

  11. E a giudicare dalla foto, il campari lo servi come Dio commanda, cioe’, bitter con una spruzza di soda, piuttosto che quella robaccia da femminucce chiamato <>.

  12. Chris: Come Iddio lo vuole!

    I suppose one could have the old war horse, a Negroni… with a dash of vermouth as well. But I really like the clean Campari & soda, with a really generous percentage of Campari. I serve it is a tall narrow glass.

  13. kathy says:

    Cilantro? Interesting final touch. Just started my herb garden this spring and am slowly learning how to use them. Dinner looks great Father!

  14. I share your predilection for the clean Campari & soda, although I serve it in a lowball glass with 2-3 medium cubes and a “scorsetta” (a generous cut of the rind of a citrus fruit), preferably an orange.


  15. Chris: When it comes to aperitivi I reserve the lowball glasses for Martini “biano, the sweet white vermouth, also on ice with the zest. No soda in that, of course!

  16. Immaculatae says:

    I’m with Jayna. Low carb delight -extra mussel – pasta not necessary. but do add the Sichuan style chile infused oil …. It looks beautiful and yummy.

  17. Girgadis says:

    Are little Thai dragons the same thing as the little green marinated peppers
    that come in a jar? I think of the latter as pepperoncino. I learned to use
    them and San Marzano tomotoes from Lidia Bastianich and never make a pescatore
    without them or bucatini. Next time I will have to try cilantro. It’s my
    favorite herb but I’ve always associated it with Mexican and Indian dishes.
    Thanks for sharing.

  18. Regina says:

    Oh, such a delicious meal! Mussels are also delicious in a herbed butter wine broth with garlic. Instead of pasta,use crusty bread for dipping in the broth. But I often cook the mussels on the side and then add to the tomato sauce or broth. Sometimes the mussels emit that “taste of the sea”- and it ruins my sauce. Glad you suggested an affordable Sauvignon. Your last recommended wine from one of your recipes cited looked so interesting, but when I looked for it, it was 300 dollars a bottle!

  19. Linda says:

    Oh mon pere,
    C’est tres mangnifique!

    ps: You made me do it. It lookes so fabulous.

  20. Yummmmm! I’ll take a priest-sized portion, please! (This lady doesn’t shy away from pasta!) ;-)

  21. Brian Sudlow says:

    Cilantro! I once spent twenty minutes wandering around a supermarket in Ann Arbor trying to find ‘coriander’ only to discover in the end that you lot call it ‘cilantro’. Once more, two people divided by a common language.

  22. catholic says:

    from a struggling Catholic and kitchen noob:

    Father this meal looks fantastic. I do have a few questions though.
    If you use red peppers does putting them in a blender and then directly into
    the pan suffice?

    This is silly question but here goes do you have to roast(or boil) tomatoes
    before you put them into a blender in order to create a puree for a sauce?

    What are the beards of Mussels are they literally seaweed and why do you
    have to remove them?

    What are Thai dragons(pepper?) and are they easy to find?

    What brands of olive oil do you consider good and why?(Does generrally first
    cold press suffice?)

    What ratio of olive oil, tomato puree and red pepper do you typically use for

    How well cooked must mussels be to be safe to eat(I think some people eat
    them raw) or how well should they be cooked in your experiance?

    Will you write a book with your recipes and perhaps pther priests’ as well,
    many ministers in my experiance are good cooks….

  23. Ricky Vines says:

    1.) That looks so appetizing. Perhaps you can collate these recipes in a book with the pictures at all. I know I’d buy a copy.

    2.) If you a want an instant mussel soup – Chinese style, you can boil them with slices of ginger and spring onions. When the water turns silvery, turn off the heat. Enjoy.

  24. oh man oh man that looks yummy, and ‘specially after you describe what’s in it!
    yes, i like more mussel, less pasta, and always with crusty bread to eat every last drop of a worthy sauce.

    I learned from Julia Child in “The Way to Cook” of a steamed mussel recipe that is simple and deelish. No tomatoes, but white wine, parsley and lemons. Very simple and quick too.

    Mussels are super-easy and fairly quick to prepare. Thanks for the reminder. But now my tummy is rumbly.

  25. John Enright says:

    Stop, Father! I’m on a diet!

  26. Jane says:

    The food certainly looks colourful.

  27. But do mussels constitute valid matter? I suspect not. I’ll checkin “De Defectibus”.

  28. David: If you baptize them in white wine and olive oil, yes.

  29. jarhead462 says:


    I can eat those 3 nights a week.
    My usual choice for sauvignon blanc is Markham Vineyards. Inexpensive and tasty.

    Semper Cozze!

  30. irishgirl says:

    Oooo that looks good….though I’ve never had mussels.

    I had calamari squid for dinner one night during my first trip to Rome ‘way back in 1977…it’s a acquired taste…

  31. Allena says:

    sigh, it looks so yummy. I don’t know what half that stuff is that you mention LOL.
    This girl is used to biscuits and gravy and simple homey southern food.

    I may try this, don’t know if I can get any mussells, unless you can use mussells from the river? I know of one spring fed river that has clean enough water…

    We are expecting our 6th child now, in the throws of morning sickness, I really want some of this :D

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