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Plenty more shellfish in the sea

Following on from last week’s cookalong - which critics called ‘a resounding triumph’, ‘an instant classic’ and ‘a career-best performance’ - we’re looking at another shellfish pasta dish: paccheri with mussels, potato and samphire.

Paccheri is a type of tubular pasta often used with seafood sauces. It’s a perfect partner to the sauce that comes from cooking mussels.

All in all, get ready for something that’s simple and soothing while still light and fresh.

This week’s album: 
Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor by Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco, real name Wasulu Muhammad Jaco, came on at a recent EMW Heads of Department meeting which made us realise that we’d neglected this great musician for too long. We discussed our favourite tracks, which spanned a few albums, but this one seems the appropriate pick. It’s his debut album and the one responsible for his rise to fame.

Potatoes and pasta

You might think adding potato to a pasta dish is an unnecessary amount of carbohydrates that would result in a heavy dish. And you might be right. But, in this instance, you’re wrong.

Potato in pasta is not an unusual pairing and one that’s found regularly in Italy. There’s even a dish from southern Italy called ‘pasta e patate’ - literally ‘pasta and potatoes’ - which is a perfect example of cucina povera: broken/scrap pieces of dried pasta are padded out with the ultimate ‘poor man's vegetable’, the potato, to ensure there’s enough to go around.

Although that dish was born out of necessity, or lack of any alternatives, it's actually delicious and incredibly tasty. Hence why in the wealthier north of Italy they have their own iconic potatoes and pasta dish called pizzoccheri della Valtellina: buckwheat pasta, cabbage, cheese and lots of butter. A true comfort dish.

Although potato is a key feature of this week’s recipe, the main element is really the mussels. We’ll cook them in white wine and season with lemon, chilli and garlic to create a vibrant flavour profile. We’ll then add samphire and parsley for freshness. 

Re the pasta - I’m using paccheri which comes from the southern region of Campania...

Paccheri is derived from the Neapolitan word ‘paccharia’ which means slaps. It’s also called ‘schiaffoni’ as ‘un schiaffo’ is a slap in Italian.

Supposedly, these names were chosen because of the slapping sound this pasta makes when it's being cooked and eaten. We’ll achieve this (satisfying?) sound by creating a sauce from the cooking liquid that we’ll get from the mussels and white wine. That liquid will be slightly thickened by the cooked potato to create an unctuous (I used a thesaurus) consistency that slaps around the pan.

What you need

The below serves 2. It takes 10 mins to prep and 15 mins to cook.

100g-120g paccheri
(or pasta of your choice)
4 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium potato
(washed & peeled)
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 garlic clove
(whole but lightly crushed)
500g mussels
100ml white wine
50g samphire
(woody ends removed)
¼ lemon (juice & zest)
15g parsley (leaves picked & roughly chopped, stalks retained)
Sea salt & black pepper

Ready, steady, cook

1. Place a pan of salted water onto a high heat. Bring to the boil.

2. Remove any beards from the mussels (the light-brown hairy stuff). Put the mussels into a large bowl of water and rinse thoroughly. Remove them from the water either with your hands or a spider so that any seaweed/grit remains in the bowl. If the remaining water is particularly dirty then repeat the process. Transfer the drained mussels to a dry bowl.

3. Cut the potato into small cubes (about 2cm). Place a large frying pan onto a medium heat and, when hot, add half the extra-virgin olive oil followed by the potato cubes, a good pinch of salt and pepper, the chilli flakes and crushed garlic clove. Cook gently for 4-5 mins (or until they start to become tender but still retain some bite).

4. While the potatoes cook, add your pasta to the pan of boiling water and set a timer for two mins less than the packet suggests for al dente.

5. Turn up the heat on the frying pan. To the bowl of mussels, add the wine and a couple of parsley stalks. Now carefully tip the mussel-bowl over the potatoes. Shake the pan gently and cover with a lid. Cook for two mins (or until the mussels open up) and then switch off the heat.

NOTE: there may be a few mussels that never open up. C’est la vie. Chuck in the bin.

6. Allow the mussels to cool for a moment before removing from the pan. Pick the meat from the mussels, discard the shells, then add the meat back to the potato mixture. You can leave a few shells for presentation if you like. Pick out, and discard, the garlic clove and parsley stalks.

7. Just before the timer goes off, put the frying pan back on a high heat. Transfer the pasta directly from the pasta-cooking water to the mussel and potato mixture (or scoop out a mug of the water and drain the pasta using a colander). Add in the samphire and toss everything through, adding any pasta-cooking water as needed to create a liquid-sauce consistency.

8. When happy with the consistency, add in the lemon juice and zest, chopped parsley, and remaining half of the olive oil. Toss together until the olive oil has emulsified. Split between warmed plates and slurp away.

Final thought

Nothing to see here. Speak next week.



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Eat My Words · Kew Gardens · Kew, TW9 · United Kingdom

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