Pasta with mussels is one of those complex-tasting dishes that is simple to make. Steam mussels in white wine with chopped shallot and crushed garlic for a few minutes, just until they open. Set mussels aside, then strain and reserve some of the briny broth, which will enrich a light marinara sauce.
I season the sauce generously with garlic, fresh herbs and just enough peperoncini to give the tomatoes a little kick. All of this can be done in the time it takes for a large pot of water to come to a boil for pasta.
Semolina linguine is a traditional and wonderful pasta to use. But you can make the dish with whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta; both are getting better and better. Look for a flat noodle like tagliatelle, fettuccine or linguine.
If you use whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta, make sure not to overcook it. This is easy to do, and once overcooked, the noodles tend to break apart. My rule of thumb is to check for doneness a minute before the suggested cooking time on the package; noodles should be cooked al dente. The mussel broth adds depth and intensity to the tomato sauce but doesn’t weigh it down. What makes some versions of this dish (and its cousin, linguine with clams) heavy is excessive olive oil and, in some cases, too much tomato sauce. Here, two tablespoons of oil and one 14.5-ounce can of tomatoes create a vibrant dish that tastes rich but isn’t.
Pasta With Mussels in Tomato Sauce
Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 can chopped or whole tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
3 fat garlic cloves; 1 crushed, 2 minced
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 pounds mussels, rinsed, scrubbed and beards removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or marjoram, or both
Salt to taste
3/4 pound linguine or other pasta
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1. Pulse tomatoes with juices in food processor just a few times to break down into a coarse purée; set aside.
Bring large pot of water to boil for pasta.
2. Meanwhile, in a wide skillet or saucepan with lid, combine crushed garlic clove and shallot with white wine. Bring to a boil and add mussels. Cover and cook, shaking pan from time to time, 2 to 4 minutes, or until mussels open up. Check mussels after 2 minutes; transfer open mussels to a bowl using tongs. Cover pan again, wait another minute, and repeat until all mussels have opened.
3. Leave mussels to cool in bowl until easily removed from shells. Remove half from shells and leave other half intact. Taste a mussel; if it is sandy, give them all a very quick rinse and drain in a colander. Transfer to a bowl and keep covered while you make tomato sauce.
4. Place a strainer over another bowl, line with cheesecloth and strain the liquid in the pan into bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup. Rinse and dry pan.
5. Heat olive oil over medium heat in pan and add minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add tomatoes, thyme or marjoram (or both), and sugar.
6. Turn heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring often, 5 to 10 minutes, until tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add 1/2 cup broth from mussels, stir together and bring to a simmer. Taste and add salt as needed (you may not need to add any). Tip all mussels, shelled and unshelled, into sauce, cover and turn heat to very low or remove from heat if not serving right away. Keep warm while you cook pasta.
7. Warm a large bowl for the pasta. When water for pasta comes to a rolling boil, salt generously and add pasta. Cook al dente, following the directions on the package. Drain and toss in the warm bowl with tomato sauce, mussels and parsley. Serve right away.
Note: You can make this through Step 6 an hour or 2 before you cook the pasta. Reheat gently and proceed with the recipe.
© 2015 New York Times News Service