Pasta with cannellini and mussels

Pasta con cannellini e cozze

An alternative and popular technique for cooking pasta is to cook it as if it were a risotto, adding water a little at a time. It  does require slightly more attention than the normal method, and certainly cannot be applied to all sauces, but it is more convenient for an easy weekday dinner, since it really is a one pot meal. It is all the more surprising that I never used it while I was living at home with my parents, and only started when my partner told me of his favourite way of making pasta with chickpeas.

The technique works particularly well for two categories of sauces: seafood sauces, where the starch in pasta actually binds an otherwise too thin sauce, and legume-based pasta, and I make all of them like this now . It is a bit like making a pasta e fagioli, but with less water so you can eat the end result with a fork. It is  particularly forgiving, since you don’t have to stir that much, provided the food does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

All sorts of flavourings and herbs work as tasty additions. I make this pasta for dinner every time I cook some legumes. I always use my pressure cooker – I don’t actually plan ahead, I simply cook two portions of legumes twice a week, since they keep a few days in the fridge and more in the freezer. So one night I soak them, the day after I cook them, then I store them. I may use some for some recipe I have in mind or for a quick salad or hummus. Then when I don’t know what to make for dinner or lunch, or I don’t have time, I make pasta with what is left. I usually break a bit of the legumes, using an immersion blender or a fork, keeping them in their cooking liquid; I add a bit of garlic or onion, some chopped herbs (very good use for parsley stalks), and possibly some chopped vegetables if I want  to make it go further (broccoli is a great candidate). I let it cook for a bit, until I have an aromatic soup, not very thin; then I add the pasta, making sure I top it up with hot water when I need, and I mix it now and again. A swirl of olive oil, and I tuck in.

This recipe is my favourite variation. The beans and mussels pairing is quite popular throughout Southern Italy, and once tried it is unforgettable. It is one of those pairings that just work. My partner swears the original version is from Calabria, of course, but I’ve seen variations of it in Naples and Puglia, and I’m sure there are dozens I’ve missed. All of them are different, by the amount of liquid, from a pasta asciutta to a soup, by the type of beans, from the widespread borlotti to cannellini to black eye beans, by the amount of tomato sauce and the type of pasta used. They all work, needless to say. The version I prefer tastes incredibly elegant for such a ‘peasant’ dish.  As I already told you, I find great mussels here (these actually came from the market and were even better). I used some pasta from Giuseppe Cocco, very pricey and very good. Cannellini are maybe the only pulse that I don’t cook with a pressure cooker normally. They don’t take longer than an hour once they are soaked, they produce a lot of foam (the biggest pressure cooker enemy), and they overcook easily.

Needless to say, this pasta would be perfect for some home-made short pasta shape like orecchiette. But this version is ready in twenty minutes (actually a bit more if you are using a posh pasta like Cocco – it takes ages to cook, and it is so totally worth the wait). This recipe goes to Presto Pasta Night #248, the weekly event created by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and hosted this week by Emma at Souperior (isn’t it a brilliant name?!).

Pasta with cannellini and mussels

Ingredients (serves 2)

100 gr dried cannellini beans, soaked and cooked until tender but not mushy – keep cooking water (or just use 1 can cannellini)

180 gr short pasta – I used penne from Giuseppe Cocco

1 small bunch of parsley

4-5 dried basil leaves, or use fresh

2 garlic cloves

2-3 tomatoes, optional

pinch of chilli flakes

500 gr mussels

best quality olive oil


Chop the parsley stalks and some of the leaves, dice the tomato and crush one of the garlic cloves. Add parsley, garlic, tomatoes and basil leaves (if using dried) to the cannellini in their cooking broth, topping up with water if needed (there should be about 1 cm liquid above the level of the cannellini). Bring to the boil and let cook for about five minutes. Meanwhile clean the mussels, making sure all the hard bits are removed from the shells. Add the pasta to the boiling cannellini broth.

In a wide pan heat a splash of olive oil, add the other clove of garlic and chilli flakes to taste. Add the mussels, cover  and let cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels are open. Turn off the heat, discard any unopened mussel and set aside. Stir the pasta and check if it needs more liquid. When it does, add in all the juice from the mussels. Keep mixing occasionally and topping up if needed until the pasta is ready, but still al dente. Add the mussels, give everything a final stir, and serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsely, fresh basil if using, and a drizzle of olive oil.


11 Responses to “Pasta with cannellini and mussels”

  1. That is indeed a great and popular pairing! A dish that I’d love to eat although I am not a big mussel fan. 😉



  2. Beans and mussels always pair well. And cannellini are so creamy they make a great sauce for pasta!

  3. Sounds Delicious!

    Will haveto try one of the variations! Pasta e fagioli is one of the memories from my childhood from visiting my grandmother. The mussels addition seems even better!


  4. I am well aware of this technique to cook pasta, but have never tried it. It’s like I am on auto-pilot: cook rice this way and cook pasta this other way. I like the way you describe how you create dinner starting from some already cooked legumes. Thanks for the pasta recommendation: I don’t think I have seen that brand here, but will keep my eyes open.

  5. Thanks for joining in Presto Pasta Night’s weekly roundup and I hope it’s the first of many delicious entries. I’ve always made my pasta the more traditional way… boiling water etc. Now I’ll have to try your method. Thanks for sharing such a delicious dish.

  6. I really like this method of cooking pasta…and I’m loving the cannellini and mussel combo. Sounds SO good!

  7. I have had this a few times but never made it. I think it is delicious. The closest I have come is making pasta in the Libyan stile, taught to me by my father in law, of cooking pasta with lamb in its tomato-based sauce.

  8. By the way, I just happened to see my name in your (new?) blogroll as I was writing my comment. Thanks for such a nice presentation!

    • I’ve been wanting to update the blogroll for ages. I do remember to add one or two new gems now and again, but I forget most of the times – shame on me. Still work in progress…

  9. See, again I’ve learnt something new. I didn’ know pasta could be cooked like a risotto, which I cook quite often. I’m going to try that with my pasta now, and cetainly with legumes!


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