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Spaghetti coi moscioli — spaghetti with mussels Portonovo-style

Le Marche is a region that presents contrasts, above all between the sea and the inland hinterland, a country of soft rolling hills that lead up to the Apennines, with isolated fortress-topped villages that look across to each other. Inland foods similarly contrast with the cucina di mare of the coast - here in the hills more robust foods such as smoked trout, coniglio in porchetta (rabbit stewed with garlic and wild fennel) and rich ragù di anatra (duck sauce to have over homemade egg noodles) are accompanied by similarly warming, richly flavoured red wines such as Rosso Cònero made from the characterful Montepulciano grape.

Meanwhile, back by the sea, moscioli - the local name for mussels (cozze in Italian) - are cultivated in the protected bay of Portonovo and harvested and served in any number of simple trattoria, tables by the beach, the sea literally lapping at your feet.

This typical preparation for spaghetti coi moscioli is easy to make here at home. I love the fresh Exe mussels that are now being cultivated by Topsham fisherman Gerald Ridgeway (tel 01392 876167). Derek Thorman also has excellent mussels (his mobile fish van is here in Topsham Tue, Thur, Fri, Sat) as does David Kerley at The Fish Shed at Darts Farm. So there's no excuse not to try this.

The pasta and shellfish, bathed in a slightly piccante tomato-and-mussel broth/sauce, is most perfectly partnered with an equally forthright and full flavoured white wine from the region such Giuditta Politi's Loretello Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.

Spaghetti coi moscioli - spaghetti with mussels Portonovo-style
Serves 4

1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 red chili pepper, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tin chopped organic tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 kg live mussels
2 glasses dry white wine
1 lb spaghetti

Scrub and clean the mussels, discarding any that do not close when given a sharp tap. Rinse well. Take about half the chopped onion, garlic and chili and add to a pot together with the dry white wine. Bring to the boil. Throw in the mussels, cover and steam for 4-5 minutes, until all the mussels have opened. Set aside, reserving the cooking liquid. When cool, remove the mussels from their shells, reserving 8 or so to garnish.

In a saucepan, heat the oil over a medium flame and sauté the remaining onion, garlic and chili for 5 minutes, taking care not to burn. Add the tinned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Towards the end of cooking, add a few ladels of the mussel cooking liquid to make a thinnish but flavourful sauce. Add the cooked mussels five minutes before serving and keep warm.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Mix well with the tomato-and-mussel sauce, and serve, garnishing each bowl with a few mussels in the shell.

Wine: Loretello Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi of course. Nothing else will do!


Copyright Marc Millon 2005-2009 All rights reserved
Images copyright Kim Millon 2005-2009 All rights reserved

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