For me mussels are evening food ...
They take a bit of work, but they are worth it
Orecchiette with mussels, white wine, tomato, braised leeks and peas
2kg local blue mussels
1 onion, sliced
200 mls white wine
Available herbs such as dill, thyme or basil
500g packet Orecchiette (or other pasta of your choice)
400g tin diced tomatoes
1 leek, the white only, split and rinsed well
200mls mussel cooking liquor
Murray river salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Mussels take a bit of work, but they are worth it.
Although today we buy clean, farmed mussels they still need to be well cleaned. Mussels today are grown on line lines in the bay, which are leased to mussel farmers.
Call me old fashioned, but I still like to give the shells a bit of a scrub in a sink of water. As you scrub each mussel, place it to the side so at the end of the process you can clear the sink in readiness to make it dirty again.
Mussels require de-bearding. There are a tuft of hairs that protrude from the closed shell, this needs to be removed with a sharp tug, downwards. This removes the little tongue-like piece from within the mussel.
Mussels are best cooked in a wide, heavy based saucepan with a firm fitting lid. Toss in the white wine, bay leaves, peppercorns and any herb sprigs you may have, bring to the boil. Carefully add the mussels in one hit, slap on the lid and let the steam away for 4-5 minutes.
Remove the lid with care, as there will be a rush of steam following. Pour the mussels in to a large bowl, being careful to retain the cooking juices. Any unopened mussels can be returned to the pot with some of the cooking liquor to steam a little longer, and hopefully open. Strain the cooking liquor through a mesh sieve and retain. Remove the mussels from the shell and store in the cooking liquor for later use. You may want to retain a few mussel shells…for later.
I like Orecchiette, I like the texture of pasta made from Durum wheat, it has texture, it has bite. Durum wheat is ground down to Semolina, the preferred grain of southern Italy, whereas the Italians of the north prefer softer pasta made with softer flours and often egg.
I like the way each Orecchiette become custodians of the sauce, each little cup brimful of flavour and ingredients it’s hospitable pasta.
Here’s an interesting tit bit – the correct ratio for pasta is 1 litre per portion, and a litre for the pot, so the 550gm packet will need six litres. Technically it’s 100g pasta per person, but as always I am greedy and will cook the whole packet for four to ensure there is plenty and maybe some left overs. Left overs make me feel good, probably something about homebody/carer/guardian like role, surely tied up in the sign of the crab.
Then there is the salt/oil debate. Yes to salt, no to oil. Salt should be added to all the steps of production, cooking pasta in salted water will allow the pasta to absorb some of the salt and enhance its flavour. Add salt at a ratio of 1 tablespoon to 4lts water. Oil quite simply inhibits the pasta from adhering to the sauce in the finished dish.
So bring the six litres of water to a rapid boil in a large pot, pour in the pasta, give it a good stir leave it to boil rapidly for 10 – 12 minutes. Test a piece at 8 minutes and let then again at 10. As I said, I like chewy pasta, al dente, unlike my lazy children who like it well cooked and soft.
When the pasta is ready, drain it into a colander and let it cool on the bench.
Do not rinse it.
This will wash away the precious starch from the surface of the pasta, again inhibiting the pasta from catching the sauce.
Shell the peas and set to boil a small pot of salted water.
Fresh versus frozen.
If it's Summer, and this is a summer recipe, then there is no excuse for frozen peas. If it’s the depths of winter and you need a little sunshine in your dinner then frozen may have to do, and, yes, I have frozen peas in the freezer at my house.
Slice the leek into thin rounds, use the pot that the pasta was cooked in, melt a knob of butter with a little olive oil and as it starts to sizzle add the leeks, stirring well, reduce the heat and allow the leeks to sweat until they are limp.
Add the tomatoes, 300mls of the mussel cooking liquor and bring it to the boil.
Add the peas to the pot of now boiling water.
Add the cream to the leeks etc, return to the boil and simmer 3-5 minutes to allow the cream to thicken.
Add the pasta, drain the peas and add along with the mussels, keeping the heat low stir everything through to well coat the pasta.
Taste the dish, definitely add a little pepper, but you may not need much salt, given the mussel cooking liquor.
Kitsch but I like the idea of resting a half mussel shell on the side of the bowl to support a wedge of lemon for the guests to add.
You will notice I have refrained from adding a herb to the dish. This is beach food for me and herbs are not that plentiful where I am. You could, of course, add tarragon, or dill, basil or parsley.