I went out to buy sardines but got sidetracked by pork osso bucco and a kilo of mussels with a very silly price tag (£1.75) – they were practically giving them away! I conversed with the fish lady – she said she’d been talking to the mussels and tapping them occasionally to keep their spirits up, but they wouldn’t last another day and needed to go to a good home! Evidently this moral boosting worked because there were very few bivalve casualties!
I had no idea how I was going to cook the mussels, but as I cycled home, remembered the first Perry Court tomatoes of the year – Martin the farmer had presented me with a large bag on Sunday. Catie was coming for supper and my initial idea was a marinara sauce with crusty bread, but it was a bit late in the day to find a decent baguette, so I decided on pasta instead.
Marinara (marinera in Catalan) sauce is said to have originated in Southern Italy around 1600, after tomatoes were introduced by the Spanish, who controlled two thirds of the country for several hundred years. The name marinara means mariners and it’s thought that the dish was created on board ships sailing from the Americas to Naples, or by fishermen who cooked while out at sea. Either way, it’s an incredibly versatile sauce that can be turned into many other dishes, such as puttanesca and arrabbiata or in my case músclos a la marinera.
Recepta de Músclos a la Marinera (serves 4):
1 kg fresh mussels
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
4 medium to large ripe tomatoes (grated)
a dessertspoon tomato purée
a large squeeze anchovy paste (or a couple of good quality tinned anchovies)
a handful of fresh basil leaves (torn)
a pinch of chipotle chilli flakes (or any chilli you have to hand)
a glass dry white wine
a splash or two of red wine vinegar
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil
a few torn basil leaves for decoration
Gently poach the chopped onion in plenty of olive oil. When the onion becomes soft, add the garlic and grate on 4 medium to large ripe tomatoes (cut the tomatoes in half and grate the wet side – you will be left with a circle of skin, which can be disposed of or used in making stock). Stir in the tomato purée, a large squirt of anchovy paste, a pinch of chilli, black pepper, red wine vinegar and a glass of white wine. Sprinkle on some torn basil and the sauce is done, though simmering for 30 minutes or so will bring all the flavours together. Salt can be added if necessary, but use it sparingly because mussels can be quite salty naturally. This can be made ahead of time and heated up when you are ready for pasta and or mussels.
When hungry, make sure the marinara is simmering, have the mussels debearded and rinsed in cold water. Don’t soak them beforehand, it kills them! Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil (for pasta) and when the spaghetti goes in, add the mussels to the sauce – stir or shake them and put the lid on. When the pasta is al dente, drain the water (saving a cupful) and stir it into the músclos a la marinera – pour a splash of the cooking water into the pot with the spaghetti. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and a few torn basil leaves. Serve with salad and ideally, crusty bread.