Summer is here and the aroma of spaghetti alle vongole and big bowls of sautéed mussels is in the air. When I wrote my Marinara article for Great Ocean Quarterly I researched the sustainability of mussels and mussel eating habits around the world. Mussels – cozze in Italian – are naturally sustainable in that they are farmed on lines and with little or no damage to the sea floor. As natural plankton filters they don’t rely on fish food which maintains the natural environmental balance, even if the more pristine the environment the healthier the mussels. Australia has immaculate mussel growing areas in Tasmania and in Southern Victoria, even if Australians eat very few mussels compared to many Europeans, roughly 300 g a year compared to some Europeans (French, Italian, Croatian and others) eat over 1 kilo a year. The other bonus is that while they feel like an indulgent seafood experience Mussels don’t cost much. A recipe for quickly cooked mussels with wine and garlic follows, with travel tips for Santa Marinella. Photos Leonardo Carosi.
Sautè di Cozze – Sauteed Mussels
Serves 4 as a first course, serves 2 as a main.
1 kg mussels – cleaned well and de-bearded
200 ml white wine
3 cloves garlic – peeled and lightly squashed
1 small dried or fresh chilli
Generous handful of continental parsley – roughly chopped
Day old bread – sliced and toasted
Clean mussels well in a sink full of water and pull off beards by pulling down towards the pointy end of the mussel. Rub with wire scourer to remove any stubborn grime. Discard the mussels that are already open.
Toast slices of day old bread and rub lightly with a half a clove of garlic and douse with a little olive oil. Wash, dry and roughly chop the parsley.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large deep frypan or wok and add the squashed garlic cloves and broken chili. Tip the cleaned mussels into the pan, toss vigorously and once everything is singing add the white wine, toss around again and cover. Cook for 3-5 minutes, tossing the mussels around a little until they have opened. Some mussels may be more obstinate than others in opening, those already open can be removed with a slotted spoon while the slow ones cook further. Remember that there is nothing wrong with the non-openers, they can be pried open and eaten, the mussels to avoid are those that are already open when they are purchased. Serve with a big plate in the middle of the table for the shells, and bib sized napkins.
Serve in large bowls with the cooking juices, a sprinkle of parsley and toasted bread crostini.
To transform this dish into a pasta meal, add half a can of crushed tomatoes to the oil before the wine and mussels are added. Cook spaghetti until al dente, drain and toss through the mussel sauce. It helps to discard some mussel shells before mixing sauce and pasta. Garnish with chopped parsley.