It may be a cliche but it has felt like a long winter! However, it feels like the weather is finally lifting and so it’s time to move away from heavy roasts and stews to lighter spring and summer flavours.
With this in mind, this evening I was planning on making fresh pasta but reached the supermarket undecided as to what to cook with it. On approaching the fish counter I discovered a large mound of mussels (only just delivered) and that was that. I frequently find myself planning recipes in the supermarket, walking back and fore, retracing my steps until I have a plan.
With Italian cooking, it pays to keep things simple and let the main ingredient shine. Here the rest of the ingredients just add seasoning and dress the mussels and pasta. The rocket here is used as a herb and just adds some pepper and greenery. This sauce would work perfectly with any shellfish, and would be amazing with clams! Although I love fresh pasta (partly from the ceremony of making it), this dish needs the extra bite that dried pasta gives.
Feel free to leave the fried bread crumbs (pangrattato) out if you like- it’s just an extra element- but it works so well! This was supposedly used as a cheaper alternative to Parmesan, but I think it works better with the mussels, giving the dish some crunch as well as carrying the seasoning. In some dishes adding chilli to the breadcrumbs is great but this doesn’t need it.
Serves 2 as a main course
- 1kg of live mussels
- 300g dried linguine
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tinned anchovy fillets
- 6 cherry tomatoes
- 1 handful of fresh rocket
- Olive oil
- White wine
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 slices of bread
- Clean the mussels. They don’t have to be spotless, just give them a rinse in cold water and wash off any seaweed or grit. If any are open already run them under the tap, if they close they are alive and good to eat, if they stay open then discard them.
- Half fill a large pan with salted water and bring to the boil.
- Once boiling add the linguine.
- Blitz the bread in a food processor to bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper.
- Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic.
- Heat a large glug of olive oil and a wedge of butter in a frying pan and add the garlic and breadcrumbs.
- Fry until golden and crisp and then turn the heat off and leave in the pan.
- In a lidded pan large enough to hold the entire dish add a large glug of olive oil and put on a medium heat.
- Add two cloves of roughly chopped garlic and two anchovy fillets. Cook until the anchovy dissolves but don’t let the garlic brown.
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and add to the pan. Once they have started cooking give them a good squish to release the juices. This combines with the oil and gives a lovely emulsion.
- Check your pasta, it should be nearly cooked.
- Add a glass of white wine to the pan and put on a high heat. Pour in the mussels and place the lid on. The mussels cook in the steam.
- Drain the pasta (it’s good to keep a little of the pasta water to add to the dish). You want the pasta to be just short of al dente as its going to cook a little more in the sauce.
- Give the mussels a good shake and stir to coat in the sauce. Once they are all open they are cooked. This will take about 3-4 minutes.
- Add a handful of rocket and the pasta. Stir to combine and coat everything in the sauce. Cook for another 30 seconds.
- Remove from the heat. Top with some more rocket and the fried bread crumbs.
- Buon appetito!
We ate this with a nice bottle of Gavi (a medium dry white from north west Italy), made with Cortese grapes.
Note: if using pre-cooked shellfish (not as good but more freely available), allow the wine to cook off before adding the fish, heating quickly and combining with the pasta.