Pasta and shellfish make a fantastic pair for any special meal. You may be surprised how simple and quick it is to put a dish like mussels and linguine together. I think cooking mussels and clams are a lot of fun and they taste great. They're sustainable, inexpensive and easy to cook. They're also rich in minerals, vitamins and amino acids. They look incredible too! I always leave mussels in the shell when I serve them. The sleek, black look always gives a certain edge to a dish.
The most popular way to prepare mussels is steamed. Basically you sautée some aromatic flavours in a pot, add some liquid, add the mussels and cover to steam for a few minutes. This recipe is no different except you add cooked linguine at the end. The best part is that the linguine releases some starch into the liquid to help thicken it up and make it creamy. There is really no need for cheese. Cheese and seafood rarely go well together. This is no exception. I can't stop you from doing what you want to do, just be advised that adding Parmigiano to this recipe would not be traditional. The saltiness in cheese overpowers the natural, mild brininess of the mussels.
A few key things to always bear in mind when cooking shellfish... They must be cooked fresh and alive. Uncooked shellfish once expired will degrade rapidly and can make you ill. Fresh mussels will either have no smell at all or a mild, pleasant aroma of the sea. Mussels with any cracked or damaged shells should be discarded. It's not uncommon that a few mussels may die before you prepare them. So it's important to keep a look out for any ones that have died before you cook them. It's very simple. Before you cook them the shells should be all be closed. After you cook them they should all be open. When cleaning the mussels, if any of them are open, give them a light tap on a hard surface. If it's alive it will slowly begin to close. If it's dead, it will not react at all and must be discarded. After you've cooked them, any mussel with its shell still closed was already dead before it went in and must be discarded. There is no grey area. So you are covered.
Any linguine will work for this. I used this really cool pasta from an Italian company called Morelli. It was made with red chilis so it has a deep natural red colour and had just the right amount of heat that worked so well in this recipe! I found this through a Canadian food supplier: Qualifirst. You can check out the linguine red chili pasta. They supply restaurants and retailers with gourmet and speciality items but you can order whatever size and quantity you need if it's just for you or a foodie you know. Most of the vendors they operate with are family owned businesses so many of their products are unique, good quality and made with passion.
2 lbs fresh, live mussels (a standard mesh bag from your fish monger)
9 oz/250 grams linguine, uncooked
1/4 lb pancetta, cubed (you can substitute bacon)
3 large cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 white onion, diced
4 small tomatoes, chopped
1.5 tbsp fresh parsley, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp (total) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine (a wine you would enjoy drinking)
2 tbsp butter
1.5 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
The first step is to prepare a gremolata. A traditional gremolata is usually about 1 part garlic, 2 part lemon zest, 3 part fresh parsley with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Since we are using fresh lemon juice in the recipe we don't need as much zest. Combine 1.5 tbsp finely minced fresh parsley, 2 cloves of finely minced garlic, the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. It tastes better the longer it sits so this should be your first step.
Keep the mussels at the bottom shelf of your fridge until you are ready to use them. Packaging should always come with a tag that clearly indicates the expiry date. Rinse the mussels in cold water, scrub them with a brush or abrasive sponge and remove any beards that may appear. Beards are the fibrous tails that may appear on some of them. They can be pulled out with your fingers or a pair of tweezers. Discard any mussels that stay open when lightly tapped against a hard surface.
Cook the linguine according to package instructions. While the water for your pasta is warming up to a boil, warm another pot over medium high heat. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil and fry the pancetta for a few minutes until it begins to crisp up.
Add the onion, cremini mushrooms and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes until the onions soften and caramelize.
Add the butter and stir until completely melted. Then add the gremolata mixture and stir often for the next 2 minutes to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.
Then add the white wine. Turn the heat up to medium high. Allow the alcohol to burn off. This process takes around 90 seconds or so. When the alcohol is burning it gives off a foul chemical smell if you bring your face toward it. When the alcohol has burned off the bad smell will disappear (in fact it should smell quite delicious). Trust your nose rather than a set time.
Dump in your live mussels. Give the pot a little shake to settle things a bit then place a lid tightly on the pot. The build up of steam will cook the mussels. As they cook the shells will open and release a little "liquor" into the sauce permeating their mild sea-like flavour throughout the whole dish. Keep the lid closed but give the pot another shake or two. One of my favourite parts of cooking mussels and clams like this is the clicking and clacking sounds they make when you swirl the pot around with the lid on.
Remove the lid and check on your mussels. Most of them should have opened. If not, place the lid back on and give them another minute or so. Do not exceed 4 minutes or you'll overcook the mussels and they'll get rubbery and chewy. Gently stir the mussels and discard any that didn't open. As we discussed before, they likely died before you cooked them and are not safe to eat.
Try to cook your linguine about a minute under al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the other ingredients. A pair of tongs works best to incorporate everything together. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce and thicken it slightly with the additional starch. This gives it a luxurious creamy finish.
Add the chopped tomato, 1.5 tbsp of fresh chopped parsley and the fresh lemon juice. Incorporate everything together. Taste a noodle and adjust the seasoning if need be. Serve right away.
This is a well rounded dish that satisfies all of the different flavour receptors on the palate. The heat from the noodles was just enough to give the dish bite but doesn't overpower any of the many other flavours going on. If you can't get this product then just substitute some chopped fresh chilies to your taste and add them in with the gremolata. Either way you're going to end up with a really delicious meal.
I made this for a friend and I while we were dog sitting. It was a hit! This was fun to make, I had great company and there were just positive vibes all around. I really believe that the mood you're in influences the taste in what you cook. It was a great night that produced great food. I hope that you'll give this recipe a try. The bulldog we were sitting also thinks you should give it a try. Come on, can you really say no to this face?
lol! Alright guys that's all for now. Stay tuned because there are other great recipes in store this summer.
Until next time,
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