Peppered Mussels and Prosecco

February 21, 2016
Sunset in Gargano Puglia

This is a very typical recipe from Puglia, the heel of Italy, in Italian “impepata di cozze” (Peppered Mussels).

Mussels are considered a cheap dish, but if you can pick the right ones, they are an amazing and tasty main course or antipasto.

Like every recipe based on genuine, organic and “in season” food, this recipe starts at the market.

If you’re not in Puglia, and you can’t buy cozze (mussels) at the local markets on the seaside, you will have to go to your most trusted fish market.

In Florence we go to Alessandro’s, in the San Lorenzo Market.

Alessandro fish shop San Lorenzo Market

The fish shop of Alessandro, in the San Lorenzo Market in center of Florence.

Beach of Peschici in Puglia

View at sunset of the beach of Peschici in Puglia. Here you can buy amazing fresh cozze and other fishes directly from the fishermen.

Great cozze (mussels) are commonly found in the Adriatic sea, but can also be found throughout Northern Europe.

Our favourites are either from the south Adriatic (Puglia) or from the island of Sardegna, in particular, the area around S.Teodoro in the north-east coast of Sardegna.

What you need:

  • 2 kg of fresh mussels, this is more than enough for 2 people. (If you don’t eat them all, you can use the rest for a fantastic spaghetti the day after.)
  • 3 or 4 cherry tomatoes
  • ground black pepper
  • 2 dried chili peppers
  • parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves of garlic (optional)

The way I cook them is very simple and light, with only a couple of tomatoes, no garlic, and not much oil.

The rocky coast of Sardegna

The rocky coast of Sardegna. Seafood from Sardegna is amazing.

A trick to understanding if you have good quality mussels, it to smell them. You should be able to smell the marine breeze; fresh and salty.

Don’t be tempted to use a machine to clean your mussels, they need to be hand washed with care. Wash them in cold water at home in the sink. Gently remove the “byssus”, that little tuft or filament that is coming out of the side of the shell.

Wash them in cold water about four or five times, until the water runs clear. Also, make sure to clean the outside of the shells very well.

Mussels have to be clean well and gently

Mussels have to be clean well, but gently.

Now you’re ready to cook them in the Pugliese style!

In a tall pot, warm up on medium heat 1cm of Tuscan olive oil. Add in the chili peppers, tomatoes (ciliegini), some parsley, black pepper and a little bit of whatever other herb or spice you might feel like adding to personalise your recipe, then fry in the oil for a few minutes.

You can also add in a couple of cloves of garlic, I don’t like adding garlic, but many people do. I would rather add it later, raw.

Now you’re ready to add in the mussels. After placing them in the pot, cover, and keep the heat at medium.

After 5 to 10 minutes, the mussels will open and release their water.

Discard the mussels that won’t open.

Cook in total for approx. 15 minutes, and then serve warm with lots of lemon juice, parsley and black pepper.

mussels in the pot

Add all the mussels in the pot on top of the oil and spices.

Pomodorini ciliegini

I use the pomodorini from Gennaro’s (Francesco’s dad) field. I have several jars that I can use all year-long. Good ingredients are the key of every recipe.

mussels served hot with sauce and lemon

Mussels served hot with lemon.

You can roast some bread slices, they will be great to dip in the mussels’ sauce.

Roasted bread with dark-leaved kale

Use roasted bread, in this case with cooked kale leaves, to dip into the salty and spicy mussels sauce.

Cozze with no shell for pasta

Remove mussles from their shells and keep them in the fridge. You’ll make an awesome spaghetti alle cozze the day after by simply adding olive oil, fresh garlic and the mussels’ sauce to your pasta.

We recommend with mussels

Pair them with a Prosecco from Valdobbiadene. This is also considered a cheap bubbly wine, but just like the cozze, if you can pick the right one, it will be amazing.

The Sant’Eurosia Prosecco from Valdobbiadene, is only about 7 euros per bottle, a great deal for this price and quality.

Prosecco Sanata Eurosia Valdobbiadene Brut

Prosecco Sanata Eurosia Valdobbiadene Brut. A fantastic deal for its price.

Its dry scents of citrus and pear, and its persistent fizzy bubbles, will boost the sea breeze and spicy taste of your cozze.

Passion fruit

Passion fruit is a perfect and fresh ending to this hot and spicy meal.