Cozze e Cannellini
Mussels and White Beans
|Lerici and the Gulf of the Poets|
|Lerici Harbor and Via Amerigo Vespucci beneath the Castle.|
|Lerici, Mercato del Pesce and Frutti di Mare stand.|
Orecchiette con Cozze, Cannellini & Pomodoro
Of the dozens of ways to prepare mussels, this is one of our favorites - and one of the easiest, too.
|Orecchiette with Mussels, Cannellini & Tomato|
2 pounds of mussels
6 oz. orecchiette dried pasta
14 oz. can of quality cannellini, drained & rinsed
3 or 4 plum tomatoes
1 fresh onion chopped, about 2 tbsp.
Scrub the mussels and remove the beards if necessary. Heat a tbsp. of olive oil in a wide pan, add the mussels. Add a few hot peppers and a slug of dry white wine and cook over brisk heat until the mussels open, about 5 minutes, depending on their size. Strain the broth in the pan into a small bowl. Take ¾ of the mussels out of their shells and put them in the broth, keep a few good looking ones in their shells for garnish.
Cook the orecchiette until just done (they’ll cook a little more in the sauce). Peel the tomatoes and chop them coarsely.
Heat a wide pan, add 2 tbsp of oil, and put in the onion. Cook briefly, then add the beans, add the tomatoes, some chopped parsley, and most of the broth in the bowl, reserving the mussels. Cook for about 5 minutes, adjust the salt as necessary, add all the mussels. Add in the orecchiette and stir a few times.
The mussels of La Spezia are widely available in northwest Italy. However, your local mussels will do very well. Look for mussels of ordinary, even smallish size for a rich taste. Avoid the very large meaty mussels that are so enjoyable in other dishes, as the taste is less concentrated. In Italy be on the look-out for a pescheria (fishmonger) that will clean the mussels for you by abrasion in a clever tumbling-basket device.
Aquaculture began in the La Spezia area in 1887 when a couple of biology professors demonstrated the suitability of the the Gulf for raising bivalves. The first activity attempted was raising oysters but after decades of convoluted commercial activity, the humbler cozze proved the winners. The Gulf certainly is suitable, for the purity of the waters are fiercely defended by residents, fishermen, and the government alike. Indeed, the cherished Bandiera Blu, a flag awarded to indicate the cleanest bathing areas, has been awarded to the beaches of nearby Lerici for 13 consecutive years. If you are disappointed that we are not devoting several more paragraphs to mussel production and history, relief can be found along with photos at the Cooperative's Italian language site: Mitilicolturi Spezzini.
For more information about exploring Lerici, read one of our most popular articles, Castle to Castle Along the Gulf of the Poets
* The mussels are not purified due to pollution, but because of their nature. All bivalves feed by filtering large amounts of seawater, and this can lead to the concentration of naturally-occurring micro-organisms and toxins in its digestive system. The Cooperative has large pools where the mussels luxuriate in water that has been treated with oxygen (ozone) and ultraviolet rays until their purity is verified with testing.