Albany Symphony Orchestra, I went to Citone's - a small 'mom & pop' Italian restaurant - and something made me order the spaghetti with mussels in a spicy marinara sauce. It was love at first bite.
When Mark and I traveled to Brussels - famous for their «moules frites,» we somehow stumbled into one of the most famous of places to get mussels: Chez Léon. I look at their site and, while it looks a bit touristy, I must say I have never had mussels to equal theirs.
Avventura, a Canadian production that lasted but a season on our PBS station. The only thing I have done to change the sauce is reduce the fat used in the very beginning. The key to this sauce is its simplicity - tomatoes, onion, basil and hot pepper flakes.
Spaghetti with Mussels Marinara
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 28-ounce can Italian puréed tomatoes
1 small onion or 1 large shallot, peeled and quartered
10 basil leaves, cut into strips
12 ounces dried spaghetti
1/2 cup white wine
2 pounds cultivated mussels, scrubbed and debearded
Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the pepper flakes. Cook 30 seconds and then add the puréed tomatoes, the onion quarters and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 20 minutes. (Tomatoes will spatter!) Add the sliced basil leaves, stir well and cook for 10 more minutes. Adjust seasoning and keep warm.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook spaghetti until al dente - about 10-11 minutes.
While pasta is cooking, bring wine to a boil in a large pot. Discard any mussels that are broken or open. Add the remaining mussels and cover tightly, shaking the pan every once in a while. After about 4 minutes, the mussels should all be open. Discard any that didn't open. Set aside and keep warm.
Drain spaghetti and place in a large bowl. Add sauce to coat and divide spaghetti among 4 pasta bowls. Divide mussels among the bowls and serve immediately. (Discard cooking wine or freeze to add to homemade fish stock.)