It is easy to overlook things I am used to. I don’t think much of them, I have always done them in this way, and I take them for granted. A wrong attitude surely, and particularly undeserved when it is directed to Italian classics. I always have some ace up my sleeve, that makes it easier to smile and invite someone over for dinner, even if it is late in the evening and I have prepared nothing, or to resist to another greasy takeaway, considering that more or less with the same time and effort I can have a plate of home cooked food ready at the table.
The secret to all of this is pasta. You probably already know that, given the popularity of events such as Presto Pasta Nights. It is all too easy to turn pasta into one ‘piatto unico’, a little feast that will leave everyone with a happy belly and a smile on their face. I have a few recipes I always resort to, and this is one of my favourites. It is easy to tweak and twist, but complication is not really required, and actually, it should probably be discouraged here.
The other day, after the most exhausting trip across Europe, I woke up in the morning and went grocery shopping for my new home. I have tons of things to organise; I was still exhausted, and already hungry. I wanted something good and comforting but I did not feel like any trash food – already had enough when travelling! The answer was a big packet of Scottish mussels, fresh and cheap, and a packet of linguine.
By the time the water boils, the mussels are cleaned, and that is all the prep done; while the pasta cooks, the sauce gets cooked as well. In less than half an hour you’ll be licking your fingers and the mussels shells. It is also a good idea to buy a bottle of white wine to cook the sauce with and to drink afterwards (it even works with beer, shhhh). What’s not to love?
And so we celebrated with pasta, our cats quite happy to find furniture they remembered from Germany, enthusiastic about the carpet (at least they are!) and all the space they now have to run around. It felt like home.
Linguine with mussels
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 Kg of mussels
2-3 garlic cloves
olive oil to taste
a small bunch of parsley
flakes of chilli, to taste
1/2 glass of white wine, or substitute with sherry or even a light beer
Optional:a few basil leaves
500 gr durum wheat linguine, or use spaghetti
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Meanwhile clean the mussels by removing the hard, fibrous bits from the shells. To make the sauce: choose a wide pan where the mussels can fit quite easily. Put about a tablespoon of olive oil in it, add some garlic (chopped or whole, to taste), some chilli flakes, and warm over medium-high heat: take care not to burn the garlic. When sizzling add the mussels, raise to high heat and cover. Let them take the heat for about 30 seconds, then add the chosen cooking liquid. Let cook uncovered for another 30 seconds to let the alcohol evaporate, then cover. Mix now and again to make sure all the mussels open. Meanwhile, when the water is boiling add salt and cook the pasta. If you find it difficult to taste the slippery linguine for seasoning, just taste the cooking water: it should be salty as a soup, something you’d like to eat. Adjust seasoning accordingly.While the pasta is cooking chop some parsley. Inspect the mussels to take out any closed one (the legend says these are the bad ones, but I’ve found that some extra heat usually convinces them to open, and very rarely had to discard one). Add a bit of water from the pasta, about half a cup, and drain the pasta while still very al dente. Add it to the mussels with the parsley, toss well and leave for a couple of minutes on high flame, stirring. Make sure you don’t overcook the pasta. It is ok if a little liquid is left, it will be absorbed by the pasta while you eat it. Serve immediately with extra olive oil.