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Pasta maritata con cozze e ceci

July 21, 2011

As promised, here is the recipe for pasta maritata con cozze e ceci – fresh pasta with mussels and chickpeas – as interpreted by my stepmother-in-law (after many a painstaking meal at bustling seaside restaurants in the Salento region of Puglia). When in Puglia a few weeks ago, we probably ate a variation of this dish two or three times. The best ones are made with cozze taratine: small, sweet Mediterranean mussels that make normal mussels seem cumbersome. One night we were seated next to the kitchen which I unashamedly spied on as our laganari con le cozze in sugo rosso (fresh spaghetti with mussels, seen here) was being prepared. The only differences (besides the chickpeas and pasta shape) I could spot between this version and the restaurant’s was a bit of garlic and a splash of white wine.

As we settle back into Australia’s cooler, wetter weather, I’m dreaming of making this recipe and recreating a bit of Salento at home. While the mussels might not be as delicate, and the breeze will be coming from the space heater rather than the sea, a little vacation withdrawal stands no chance.

PASTA WITH MUSSELS AND CHICKPEAS

A simple, classic seafood pasta inspired by Puglia. Using cleaned, de-shelled mussels means the whole process takes only about as long as it takes to boil a pot of water. Pasta maritata (which I talk about here) may be impossible to find where you are, so feel free to substitute any short, fresh pasta (orecchiette or cavatelli would be perfect) or, if you, like me, can’t find good egg-free fresh pasta and don’t quite feel up to making it, dried orecchiette would also be fine. Serves 4 as a main or 6 as a starter.

400 grams (or 3/4 lb) fresh semolina (egg-free) pasta OR 500 grams (1 lb) dried orecchiette

1 shallot (or 1/2 onion), diced

2-3 tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup tomato puree (passata)

2 pounds mussels (or 2 cups cleaned and de-shelled mussels)

1 jar or can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped finely

In a large skillet, heat an ample amount of olive oil over a medium flame, then fry the chopped shallot slowly, not letting it turn dark, for a few minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato puree and stir. Keep cooking over a medium-low flame for 10 – 20 minutes as the pasta water boils and you prepare the mussels (see below).

Meanwhile, boil water for the pasta. Once boiling, add salt. Cook fresh pasta for 2 – 3 minutes, or until very al dente; slightly under-cook dried pasta. Drain and reserve.

If you’re using already de-shelled mussels, skip this step. If you’re using fresh, live mussels, fill a pot that will fit them all with a few inches of water and bring it to a boil. Add the mussels and cover, checking on them after a few minutes. Remove the mussels as soon as most are open. Remove the mussels and, once they are cool enough to handle, remove them from the shells (which you can then discard). If you want, you can keep some mussels intact for decoration. Rinse the mussels well to make sure no sand remains.

As the pasta cooks, add the mussels, half the parsley and the chickpeas to the skillet. Turn up flame slightly, and stir everything together for a few more minutes. If the sauce appears too dry, add more tomato puree or some pasta water. Combine the sauce with the just slightly undercooked pasta and, over medium heat, stir everything together with a few big glugs of olive oil and the rest of the parsley.

Serve immediately with a chilled bottle of rosé or white.

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