These mussels should speak of hot summer days past. The taste is nostalgic with childhood visions of technicolour rock pools, whole swirling miniature worlds which I could get so lost in the tide would come rushing and I’d be caught on a rock suddenly way out deep with white foam at my feet. The sauce you create should taste very much of the ocean. This is what is really wonderful about the dish, more so than the mussels themselves, although the mussels should still be succulent mouthfuls.
My friend Emilio cooked this for Nadia and I this time last year on one of our last trips to the beach. We cooked outside his caravan, the night was cool and our salty selves were rugged up in jumpers. It wasn’t quite cold enough to justify imagining the sound of the ocean was the roaring of an open fire but it was definitely an autumn evening. We sat around with deep bowls and ripped open a loaf of bread with our hands.
This year Sarah and I have been eating big bowls of mussels at the outside table under the wisteria in the last lingering late evenings, still planning trips to the sea. Cook these as the nights get cooler. Having these shells hissing in a giant pot on the stovetop brings dreams of the ocean washing around the rocks at your bare feet.
Mussels With White Wine, Tomatoes and Herbs
1kg of mussels, de-bearded
a little olive oil
1 heaped tsp sea salt, or to taste
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 or 2 red chillies, chopped thinly (remove the seeds if you’re worried, but it should be fine)
500g of ripe tomatoes chopped/diced roughly
1 glass of dry white wine (1/2 for you and half for the pot)
half a bunch of parsley, chopped roughly
bunch of basil, chopped roughly
loaf of good Italian pastadura, sliced thickly
De-beard the mussels in a plastic bag so you can keep the juice to add later. Give their shells a little scrub too if they look too much like they’ve just come from the bottom of the sea. Heat a large heavy saucepan and fry the salt and garlic until fragrant in the olive oil. Add 1/2 of all the leafy herbs and let it fry off for a second. Add the tomatoes and let them sit in the oil for a minute, they should be a bit soft when you add the mussels. Make sure that you add any oceany juice that may have escaped from the shells. Stir, then add the white wine. It should all be hot enough that the wine sizzles then steams. Lower the heat and put the lid on the pot when the strong smell of alcohol has gone. Leave the lid on for a couple of minutes only, jiggling the pot once or twice. Open the lid, add the herbs, give it a stir through and make sure that most of the mussels have cracked open. If they have it’s ready but you’ll get a few that haven’t, don’t worry you can open these with a knife at the table. You don’t want to overcook them. Taste a couple to check. They should have a light soft texture with no bitterness. (If they are bitter they are off.) Serve alongside large hunks of pastadura.
This is also beautiful with fresh coriander or sage instead of parsley and basil.