Years ago, I spent my first holiday with a boyfriend on the Amalfi coast, and almost every night we ate spaghetti with mussels.
This dish evokes so many memories – not necessarily of the boyfriend, but of the sea and the sunshine of that beautiful coastline. The flavours of southern Italy are so distinctive. They are much lighter and slightly spicier; the proximity to northern Africa has given southern Italian cuisine more heat than its northern counterpart. I particularly enjoy the use of the sweet tomatoes that grow in the south, the best of which are the San Marzano variety from Sicily.
I use tinned tomatoes in this dish – they are ideal for when tomatoes are out of season. In season (from June to September) try to use the San Marzanos, as their flavour and low water content mean they make a lovely, thick sauce. If you are using tinned during the other months, buy the best quality you can afford.
With mussels, the simple way to tell when they are in season is if there is an R in the month. When there isn’t, don’t buy them. Make sure all the mussels open when you cook them. Any that haven’t should be discarded.
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
½ tsp dried or fresh red chilli, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Wash the mussels and remove any beards (the bits that hang from them like seaweed) using a small knife. Allow them to sit in cold water for 10 minutes to remove any grit. Then in a hot, dry pan, add the mussels, place a lid on and steam them for around five minutes, until they open.
Take them off the heat, allow them to cool slightly and remove their shells. Put them to one side in a bowl, covered in their own cooking juices.
In a frying pan, add two tablespoons of olive oil. Chuck in the onion, garlic and chilli, and sauté until soft, but not browned. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes until you have a nice, thick sauce.
While the sauce is cooking, put the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling, salted water. Cook as per packet instructions.
When the pasta is ready, drain from the water and mix with the tomatoes and mussels. Finish with the parsley and serve immediately.