coi moscioli — spaghetti with mussles Portonovo-style
Italy January 26, 2005 Le Marche, the central Adriatic region
of Italy, is one of the country's still unspoiled and undiscovered areas,
as well as the source of wonderful things to eat and drink. I just returned
from spending a few days there with my good friend Angelo
Recchi, investigating wines and foods and the region as a possible
destination for gourmet travel and short breaks. It is a wonderful part
of Italy and I'm eager to return soon. Angelo is passionate about Le
Marche and enthusiastic to share and show all that it has to offer.
He himself works with a tour operator creating and leading gastronomic
tours and is happy to discuss custom tours for individuals or small
groups or just give advice and tips to anyone who is contemplating visiting
father Antonio is a trawler fisherman in Ancona. One evening we went
to the family home where Angelo's mother Letitzia cooked a wonderful
dinner with fish staight off the boats: an antipasti of marinaded octopus,
alici con spaccasassi (fresh anchovies with samphire), fried
and soused sgombro (mackerel); then a primo piatto
of tagliatelle (very thin, fine egg noodles) with frutti
di mare such as vongole veraci (the sweetest and best
of all clams) and the exquisite cannocchie (mantis shrimp,
a speciality of the Adriatic); finally a secondo of tiny coda
di rospo (monkfish tails, too small to legally sell, so a bonus
for the fisherman's family since the smallest fish are always the sweetest)
cooked with a little tomato, peperoncino and wild fennel, the
latter found most everywhere and a characteristic flavouring of Le Marche.
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, zesty, full in flavour and body, is
the white wine par excellence to accompany such delicious local foods
from the sea.
is a region that presents contrasts, above all between the sea and the
inland hinterland, a country of soft rolling hills that lead up to the
Apennines, with isolated fortress-topped villages that look across to
each other. Inland foods similarly contrast with the cucina di mare
of the coast - here in the hills more robust foods such as smoked
trout, coniglio in porchetta (rabbit stewed with garlic and
wild fennel) and rich ragù di anatra (duck sauce to
have over homemade egg noodles) are accompanied by similarly warming,
richly flavoured red wines such as Rosso Cònero made from the
characterful Montepulciano grape.
back by the sea, moscioli - the local name for mussels (cozze
in Italian) - are cultivated in the protected bay of Portonovo and harvested
and served in any number of simple trattoria, tables by the
beach, the sea literally lapping at your feet.
on returning home to Devon, I thought I'd recreate the flavours of Le
Marche. So I purchased a kilo or so of our delicious local Exmouth mussels
from Derek our mobile fishmonger (here in Topsham Tue, Thur, Fri, Sat)
and prepared a big bowl of spaghetti coi moscioli - the specialty
of Portonovo. The pasta and shellfish, bathed in a slightly piccante
tomato-and-mussel-broth sauce, is most perfectly partnered with an equally
forthright and full flavoured Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, such
as our favourite Loretello from Az Ag Fratelli Politi.
coi moscioli - spaghetti with mussels Portonovo-style
onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 red chili pepper, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tin chopped organic tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 kg live mussels
2 glasses dry white wine
1 lb spaghetti
and clean the mussels, discarding any that do not close when given a
sharp tap. Rinse well. Take about half the chopped onion, garlic and
chili and add to a pot together with the dry white wine. Bring to the
boil. Throw in the mussels, cover and steam for 4-5 minutes, until all
the mussels have opened. Set aside, reserving the cooking liquid. When
cool, remove the mussels from their shells, reserving 8 or so to garnish.
In a saucepan,
heat the oil over a medium flame and sautee the remaining onion, garlic
and chili for 5 minutes, taking care not to burn. Add the tinned tomatoes.
Season with salt and pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Towards the end of cooking, add a few ladels of the mussel cooking liquid
to make a thinnish but flavourful sauce. Add the cooked mussels five
minutes before serving and keep warm.
large pot of salted water to the boil, add the spaghetti and cook until
al dente. Mix well with the tomato and mussel sauce, and serve, garnishing
each bowl with a few mussels in the shell.
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi of course. Nothing else will do!