This recipe is ideal as a starter, especially when the first and second course are made with fish. However, you can also have it alone as a light lunch, accompanied by a good glass of white wine and that's it!
Italy has a great tradition regarding the cooking of mussels and most of the recipes come from the South of the country, especially from the Puglia region of Italy where, apparently, one of the best quality of mussels is grown. Anyway, the key factor for this recipe is to keep it simple; use very simple ingredients and do not be tempted to add other herbs because you risk overwhelming the sea flavour typical of the mussels.
SERVES 8 AS A STARTER
Ingredients (Metric & Imperial measurements):
Nutrition facts: Calories 650 per serving.
Ingredients (U.S. measurements):
Note 1: for the breadcrumbs I usually leave a couple of French baguettes in my larder for two or three weeks. Once the baguettes are hard like a stick, they can be grated using a normal cheese grater. During the recipe preparation I further process the breadcrumbs with a processor to make the crumbs similar to flour.
Note 2: it would be handy having an atomiser filled with 3 parts olive oil and one part white wine to be used during the cooking stage.
Note 3: clean the mussels before you start cooking. If you do not know how to do it, check “fish preparation”, featured in the top tips section of the website.
Take 1 garlic clove and some parsley leaves, then chop them all together.
Put the breadcrumbs into the processor bucket and add the Parmesan cheese.
Add salt and black pepper.
Add the chopped garlic and parsley. Now, process the bucket contents until everything is evenly mixed and reduced to a fine crumb.
Pour the bucket contents into a bowl.
Now, take the 75 ml (5 tablespoons) olive oil you previously set aside and gradually add it to the dry mixture. Start with half of the olive oil and mix with a spoon so that the oil is evenly distributed.
I said 75 ml (5 tablespoons), but play it by ear because sometimes you may need some extra drops. What we need to achieve here is a mix that it is not too oily and loose, but it should still break easily (friable).
This photograph should give you a better idea of the mix consistency.
Now, add the 60 ml (4 tablespoons) of olive oil you previously set aside into a large pan. The pan should be big enough to contain all your mussels. Cut the remaining garlic clove into thin slices and sauté for 3-4 minutes over low heat.
Next, turn the heat to medium and add all the mussels. Leave to cook for 1 minute.
Then, add the white wine and...
...cover with the lid. Cook the mussels until they open.
Generally it takes 5-7 minutes to open them all. Half way cooking I gently overturn the mussels with a spatula, bringing the mussels in the bottom of the pan to the top. I do this only once and with lots of care because I do not want the mussels contents to get out of the shell.
There you go, after 5-7 minutes you should have this. Now, this is important, discard any mussels that have not opened.
About the opened mussels, remove and discard the upper shell and leave each mussel attached to the bottom shell. Sprinkle the moist breadcrumb mix onto each mussels, also filling the empty space around them, but do not press with the fingers, just let the breadcrumb mix to drop.
Lay all the half shells onto a baking tray.
With 1.5 kg (3 pounds 5 ounces) of mussels I have managed to prepare 3 trays. Now, pre-heat the oven to 220ºC (425ºF).
When the oven is ready, put the tray in to cook for a couple of minutes.
After 2 minutes, spray with the atomiser and then continue for about 8 minutes or until the top of the mussels are golden brown and a lovely smell of fish is all around your kitchen.
Be sure you have a glass of chilled white wine near you.
Federico Pezzaioli is an ex-badass Italian Paratrooper on a mission - to make creating delicious authentic Italian food really easy. He researches, writes and photographs each recipe with the same attention to detail he used to apply to packing his parachute.
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