Spaghetti with Mussels and Breadcrumbs

This recipe is a mix of two or three other recipes that I’ve either seen or tried. Tonight I wanted something out of the ordinary and indulgent. For me, pasta and cheese are usually off the shopping list because I love them both so much that I can’t control my portion sizes. Since I’ve been eating like a crazed horse sine Thursday I figured that one more day wouldn’t do much more harm. A terrible way to think about it, and one I don’t recommend, but it’s the truth. I wouldn’t lie to you. Look at my honest face… in my pirate… hat… Let’s just gloss over that for now. Where my ‘it won’t matter for one more day’ philosophy breaks down even further is that I made enough for two, and there was only me, so now I have a portion of this in my fridge. I hate to waste food, but I also hate to eat the same thing two days in a row, so all I can do is palm this off on someone else. Well, it’s a hard life for my friends, but someone has to eat my leftovers. They’re a brave bunch.

I discovered a liking for spaghetti with mussels when I was on holiday in Italy. This was the first holiday abroad I’d taken in eleven years, so forgive me if I mention it a lot. We went out for a lovely posh dinner one night, and I had spaghetti con cozze alla marinara – this is what I think I remember it being called, and means (I’m pretty sure) spaghetti with mussels in marinara sauce. I thought marinara was a sort of standard tomato sauce, but this dish had a very light sauce with paprika and fresh, sliced tomatoes. At any rate it was lovely, though my taste for mussels isn’t as vast as my taste for almost every other pasta dish, I find them too rich to eat very many. I have replicated this dish a couple of times since coming home because I enjoyed it so much. Tonight I fancied using the mussels in a different way and remembered another recipe for spaghetti with breadcrumbs (spaghetti con pangrattato?) which I’ve never seen outside of that recipe book, and had made before adding chorizo to give a more filling dish. I thought I’d try a combination, especially since I had some breadcrumbs in the freezer that I’d made to top yet another pasta dish a while back – a pasta al forno dish with gorgonzola and mushrooms, topped with these lovely crisp parsley and parmesan breadcrumbs.

Once I’d settled on combining these two dishes – something that happened pretty fast today, sometimes it can take me hours to hone down what I want to make – I only had to buy the mussels and I was all set. Now, I have to admit something at this juncture. I bought ready cooked, pre-packed mussels. This was for a few reasons. Firstly, this was the smallest pack size I could get in the supermarket, as the fish counter only sells mussels in net bags and that was too much. Secondly, they are quicker and easier to prepare and heat. Thirdly, the last time I bought live mussels I inadvertently slaughtered them before I could cook them by putting them in the fridge, and I still haven’t got over it. I thought that because they were on ice in the shop they’d be alright – it also crossed my mind that you chill or freeze other animals before cooking them because it puts them to sleep and they don’t suffer. Anyway, when I took the bag out of the fridge they were all open, and my understanding is that you don’t cook mussels after they’re open. I’m not sure, it might have been OK because they had just been bought that day, but to me it wasn’t worth the risk.

Poor things.

So I got home with my cheat’s mussels and did the following:

  • removed breadcrumbs from freezer and put into shallow oven dish under a hot grill, to defrost and crisp up
  • boiled a pot of water and put the spaghetti on to cook
  • when spaghetti was cooked, poured into drainer and put pack of mussels in garlic butter into pot
  • heated mussels for five minutes
  • put pasta back into pot with the mussels and stirred gently
  • added crisped breadcrumbs to pot and stirred gently
  • drizzled over with garlic oil
  • served with freshly ground black pepper

Simple as that, and here it is:


Just a few clarifications…

The breadcrumbs were originally made by blending a demi-baguette with a handful of flat leaf parsley and 150g of parmigiano reggiano (in case you couldn’t tell already, I *totally* speak Italian. Yup…). The result of that concoction is a green coloured, sticky breadcrumb that simultaneously melts and goes crunchy on top when baked. I have to say I enjoyed it very much as a topping, and also enjoyed it through the pasta. Once it’s mixed through the spaghetti, though, it is more chewy than crunchy. Still tastes good but I would have liked more texture, especially as the flesh of the mussels is soft. Another thing to note is that while they were under the grill, I kept taking them out and giving them a stir around to break them up, otherwise I fear I would have ended up with one mass of bready, herby, cheesiness.

I like to serve mussels in their shells, just for the look of it really. It is kind of novel to take them out of the shells as you go along too but mainly it’s because they don’t look that nice once they’re out, and the color of the shell stands out better against the pasta than the orange or white meat does. You do have to watch out for accidentally spearing them with a spaghetti server if you’re using one to stir the pasta while cooking.

Another time I would make this without the mussels at all, just with the sticky breadcrumbs and maybe with some freshly made plain breadcrumbs (bread which has been blended or finely grated and then stuck under the grill to crisp up) to add texture and some freshly chopped parsley for colour. If I was going to do this, I would substitute garlic or plain olive oil for the garlic butter that came from the packet I bought this evening. It was a very filling dish too, which is no wonder when you think that it’s bread, cheese and pasta all in one bowl before you even add the seafood. To sum it up, then, it’s an easy meal to make, it’s nice to look at and it was just the kind of treat I was looking for. Now back to the diet…

Tunes: The Italian stereotype songs are jostling for my attention, but I’ve turned it elsewhere. I’m going with a seafaring theme and choosing The Tide is High by Blondie. Not their most rocking song, or my favourite, but relevant today. It’s taken me longer to come up with a song choice than it did to make the pasta. 

Movie: I feel like Jaws is the way to go here. You may have been expecting something Italian, or The Italian Job, but I’m more subtle than that. I’ve gone with Jaws because it contains seafood (people eat shark, right?), needs a bit of chewing (Robert Shaw got the wrong end of that rubber shark’s teeth and no mistake) and it’s uncomplicated in its beauty (cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water.). Also, when you find out how much you like it, you’re going to need a bigger bowl. Yes, I went there. And I’m actually pretty proud of it.


About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983. View all posts by Rock Salt

2 responses to “Spaghetti with Mussels and Breadcrumbs

  • rocksaltuk

    I reheated this for dinner last night, adding milk and parmesan cheese to make a thick, gooey sauce. It was pretty good.

    Diet starts on Monday.

  • Red

    Mmmm. Interesting. I’ve had spaghetti alla vongole (I *totally* speak Food-Italian too) but never with mussels.

    If you don’t already have it, I can’t recommend The Silver Spoon highly enough. Traditionally an Italian wedding gift, I got it for Christmas a few years back. It’s amazing. I’ve mainly stuck with frittata and primi piatti esp risotto and pasta, but there are huge sections on fish, meat, poultry and game, plus desserts and baking and ‘menus by celebrated chefs’. My marker-ribbon-thingy is at spaghetti with spring onions and red chilli – love it!

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