Living in a port town (and an island-like port town at that) means I am spoilt for choice when it comes to seafood. And when the supermarket isn’t that handy for me to get to but the local pescivendolo (the fishmonger – though I should point out, here too I am spoilt because it’s not just a fishmonger but the outlet direct from the fishermen themselves) is, it means fish is often on the menu for dinner.
I particularly love shellfish. There is nothing quite like a good spaghetti alle vongole for mw and I find shellfish a rather easy meal to whip up (after you’ve purged or scrubbed the shells at least). Lately I’ve been making this dish of mussels and potatoes over and over again that I found in a lovely new cookbook, Racconti di Cucina, by my editor over at Cucina Corriere, Angela Frenda. She’s neapolitan and although the book contains recipes from all sorts of influences (including international food writers), this recipe comes from the chapter she has on Naples, ‘Napoli e dintorni‘ and I really have trouble resisting trying recipes that speak of a place and the habits and history of that area. This one, in particular, speaks of the island of Capri.
Some may find the inclusion of potatoes in this pasta dish a bit heavy, something about the doubling up of starch maybe. But they are good and sweet and make a fitting combination – as Angela notes in her book, the secret to this recipe is choosing delicious potatoes. And, much like pasta e ceci or pasta e fagioli, there’s something so comforting about a good, filling pasta dish like this. In any case, you use a lot less pasta in this dish (about 60 grams per person rather than 80 grams) than you would in a regular, potato-less pasta dish. I have also eaten this without the pasta, even tepid, as an antipasto – oh okay, I started eating it as I was waiting for the pasta to boil and couldn’t help myself, it just disappeared, it’s wonderful just as it is too.
The beauty of this dish is that it can all be prepared beforehand, then just 8 or 9 minutes before you want to serve it, cook the pasta and toss it all together. Too easy. You really can use any short pasta for this but I love the waste not want not idea of ‘pasta mista’ or ‘mixed pasta’ – traditionally, all the little broken bits of long pasta and leftover tiny amounts of short pasta found at the bottom of the bags that didn’t surmount to anything on their own were collected together and used as a mixed pasta rather than wasted – it’s great for broths or soups too, and in fact, this is a rather brothy pasta dish, where you use the liquid from opening the mussels to flavour the pasta.
Disclosure: I was sent this cookbook but the views are all my own. It’s really lovely and if you read Italian, seek it out or buy it at the nearest edicola together with the paper (here’s a cute video preview of the book). With permission from the publishers, I’ve translated Angela’s recipe for pasta mista con patate e cozze into English, below.
Pasta mista con patate e cozze // Mixed pasta with potatoes and mussels
In her original recipe, Angela says to cut open and stuff the mussels with the sundried tomatoes but if this is too fiddly, just toss everything together.
For 4 people
- 200 grams of potatoes (about 2-3 small potatoes), washed
- zest of 1 lemon (if you can choose, lemons from Sorrento would of course be appropriate)
- 500 grams of fresh mussels in their shells
- 2 cloves garlic, 1 whole and unpeeled, the other chopped
- 100 grams of semi-dried tomatoes (sundried tomatoes), thinly sliced – note, I used less here, about 70 grams
- extra virgin olive oil
- a handful of thyme
- 250 grams of pasta mista or other short pasta
Place the potatoes, whole, in a small saucepan of cold, salted water. Bring to the boil and cook until a fork easily pierces them. Drain and run under cold water until cool enough to handle then peel and dice them. Place in a bowl with a pinch of salt, a few tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon zest and toss until well coated. Set aside.
Scrub the shells if necessary of any mud or dirt and pull of beards. Rinse under cold, fresh water then place the mussels in a large pot with the whole garlic clove and a splash of olive oil. Place over a medium-high heat and cover with a lid. Give the pot a shake every now and then and if needed, you can add a dash (about ¼ cup) water. Cook until the mussels have opened completely, a few minutes. Remove the mussels from their shells. Discard the shells and filter the liquid in the pot through a sieve lined with some absorbent kitchen paper. Reserve the liquid.
Toss the mussels together with the potatoes and the semi-dried tomatoes.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. When nearly ready, heat a skillet with some olive oil and add the chopped garlic and thyme leaves. Add a cup or so of the liquid from cooking the mussels, then add the mussel and potato mixture, and when the pasta is cooked and drained, add that too and toss together briefly. Take off the heat immediately and serve.