12 November 2007

Mussels Spaghetti in a White Wine and Basil Oil Broth

Spaghetti Cozzo in Brodo di Vino Bianco e Basilico Olio
Mussels Spaghetti in a White Wine and Basil Oil Broth (with title)
You will never like every single item on the menu. And even if it looks good on paper, you will have your own taste which may not coincide with the chef's. So in the world of restaurant uncertainty, how do you guarantee with a good degree of consistency between patrons the quality of one? Answer: with the care with which the food is prepared. So there was this one time I ate mussels in a reputedly good restaurant in Tagaytay. I wasn't yet well-versed in preparing mussels so I unknowingly ate the beards, which were present in almost all of them.

FUCK I ATE THESE FREAKING GROSS NYLONY THREADS!!! Byssus threads. Totally nauseating. Now that I've learned how to cook mussels, which are high in protein, low in fat, and I totally love, I don't ever have to live through that again. It's not just the debearded mussels. Check if the shrimp is deveined. You'll enjoy the tenderloin more if you don't have a silvery sheet of fascia running through it. Squid that is meltingly soft tells you they didn't throw it in a pan and leave it there forever. Care for the food equals care for the customers, and that's a good gauge of quality as any. (Recipe follows)
Mortar with basil oil
This recipe is from Cook With Jamie, which will drain you of your saliva flipping through it and best of all, all profits from the book go to the Fifteen foundation.

  • 1kg (2lbs) fresh mussels

  • 1 large handful of fresh basil

  • 2 anchovy fillets, drained

  • juice of 1 lemon

  • 60mL (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil

  • 500g (9oz) spaghetti

  • 200mL (3/4 cup) white wine

  • 2 fresh red chili peppers

You'll get your fresh mussels hopefully in some water. Make sure that they are all shut tight. If there are any ajar, give them a thwack on the counter and they should close right up. If they don't, they are dead and you should discard them since you don't know how long they've been dead and mussels become toxic quickly. Pull out any beards (black strings) emanating from the shells with your fingers (or use a paring knife for leverage) and give them a good rinse just to get any remaining dirt or scum out; I even gave them a scrub. Drain them in a colander.

In a mortar, place the basil leaves with a good pinch of salt and pound into a paste. Add half the lemon juice and all the olive oil and combine.

If available, wear clean latex gloves when handling the chili peppers. If not, just wash your hands extremely well with soap and water afterwards. Chop off the top of the peppers and slice them open. Scrape out the seeds with the tip of the knife and dice each very finely.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a good pinch of salt and drop in the spaghetti, cooking by the instructions but 1 minute short of al dente. -- BUT --

Four minutes before you reach that point, heat a large saucepan until it is smoking hot. Dump in all the mussels and the white wine, put the lid on, and give it a good shake. Continue to cook for 2 more minutes, shaking 1-2 times more in the process. Open the lid and beware being punched in the face by the strong smell of the sea. Discard any mussels that have failed to open (all in all I threw out about 8 mussels, which is no big deal since 1kg is a lot!). Quickly drain the spaghetti, which should be done by now, and toss in with the mussels and basil oil. Add the rest of the lemon juice to taste, as well as salt and pepper as needed (I just added pepper), and the chopped chili peppers.

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