26 October 2010

Tagliatelle with Mussels from Snadder & Snaskum

I am Nordic Nibbler and I am a cookbookaholic. There, I've said it. Rarely can I browse Amazon without falling spectacularly off the wagon, and I am now on first name terms with the UPS guy. Does anyone else get that giddy sense of excitement as you carefully prise open the cardboard box, guffaw at the mildly ridiculous air-filled plastic packing pillows, and then smile at the heady scent of freshly printed books? No? Maybe it's just me then.

One of my latest purchases was Theo Randall's fantastic book, Pasta. For those that don't know, Randall shot to prominence as head chef of the legendary River Café in London's Hammersmith where he worked for 17 years. This iconic restaurant has probably done more to introduce sublime Italian home cooking to the UK than any other. Its alumni include Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and April Bloomfield (of Spotted Pig fame), and it is still seen as the benchmark for Italian cooking in the UK. In 2006 Randall set up his own restaurant at the rather anonymous Intercontinental Hotel in London's Park Lane, where you can taste his food today.

As its name suggests, the book is an ode to pasta, comprising of over a hundred recipes for dried and fresh pasta. The book is divided by main ingredients: seafood, meat, cheese, mushrooms, etc. It's a very accessible and easy-reading book and is packed with useful tips on preparing and cooking pasta.

Given that I had just bought some mussels, a recipe that stood out for me was one for tagliatelle with mussels and saffron. This is an amazingly simple dish to make but, as always with simple dishes, the key is to use the very best quality ingredients you can get your hands on. If you like, you can make your own fresh pasta, but I don't think it's necessary here - I love the al dente chewiness and bounce of dried pasta, and my favourite brand is De Cecco.

The star of this dish, though, is the mussels, and here I'm using something rather special: Norwegian mussels from the fantastically named Snadder & Snaskum which are farmed in the Verrasundet Fjord, not far from the West Coast town of Trondheim. I first came across these at my local fishmonger and then again at the recent Matstreif Food Festival in Oslo. They are quite simply some of the best mussels I have every tasted. They look so beautiful - vibrant, iridescent blue shells, like glistening lapis lazuli gemstones. They have won awards as Norway's best mussels and I can clearly see why. The cold, salt water currents of the Verrasundet Fjord provide ideal growing conditions for mussels. The result is a mussel with plump, soft meat that has a sweet and slightly salty taste to it. They are just superb specimens, and real showcase for the quality of seafood Norway has to offer.

The combination of wine, cream, saffron and shellfish is always a winner, and this dish is no exception. This recipe would make a perfect light lunch, or late supper. It would also be ideal in smaller portions as a starter.

Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 1kg fresh mussels
  • 250g tagliatelle (fresh or dried)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • a pinch of dried chili flakes
  • a glass of dry white wine
  • a pinch of saffron strands
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 75ml double cream
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Scrub the mussels and remove the frilly 'beards', discarding any mussels that don't close when lightly tapped
  2. Put the oil, garlic, and chili into a large sauce pan and cook for 1 minute
  3. Turn the heat up and add the mussels and cover with a tight fitting lid
  4. Cook the mussels for 2 minutes then remove the lid and add the white wine
  5. Cover and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the mussels have opened
  6. Drain the mussels, keeping the cooking liquid, and remove from their shells, discarding any closed mussels
  7. Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling salted water until 'al dente'
  8. While the pasta is cooking, put the cooking liquid from the mussels, saffron, and cream into a saucepan and simmer gently for 3 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly
  9. Add the mussels and parsley to the sauce and warm through for a few seconds, taste and adjust the seasoning 
  10. Drain the tagliatelle and toss the pasta in the sauce (you can add a few spoonfuls of the cooking water from the pasta to loosen the sauce if needed)
  11. Serve in warmed bowls, perhaps with a glass of wine - anything cold and white would be appropriate here

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