As eighteen out of Italy’s twenty regions have a coastline, fish and seafood have been a major part of the Italian diet for thousands of years. Mussels especially are widely farmed and eaten, there are endless recipes for mussels throughout almost every region of Italy. The regions of Southern Italy especially love mussels, they are eaten in pasta, risotto, on pizza or in dishes such as fish stews and soups.
Mussels themselves are found both wild and farmed in regions such as Veneto, Calabria and Puglia. Between the heel and sole of the Italian boot lies the Gulf of Taranto, locally known as “Mar Piccolo” (the little sea). Between spring and autumn this stretch of relatively warm water is ideal for farming mussels and oysters. Here ropes and hung for platforms or boats anchored in the water, these ropes are where the mussels cling and feed. Each of these nylon ropes can hold between 200 and 400 pounds (100 to 200 kilograms) of mussels. The sea tide swills minerals and algae around the ropes and after 12 to 14 months of feeding they are ready to be pulled in. The production of farmed mussels is stringently controlled by Italian hygiene and environmental authorities who regularly check and sample the quality of both the mussels that grow and the waters they are farmed in.
In this recipe I have combined mussels with a delicious Italian salami called N’duja. N’duja is a soft, course salami from the Tropea region of Calabria. Calabrian’s love spice, and N’djuja itself is made using lots of chilli, and its natural antiseptic qualities, to cure a mixture of pork fat and shoulder meat which cures to a still soft spreadable texture (unlike most salami).
I love this recipe as mussels work really well with the fiery heat of the N’duja, which is mellowed slightly by the addition of tomatoes. You can use less N’duja if your not keen on spicy foods, or you could use even more if you’re brave.
2 tbsp olive oil
100g N’duja (less if you prefer not too spicy)
1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
200ml dry white wine
1.75kg mussels, cleaned
Small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
(1). In a sauté pan or saucepan large enough to accommodate the mussels, heat the oil, add the n’duja and cook over a medium heat until the nduja melts into the oil. This will take about a minute minutes.
(2). Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they have reduced and thickened to a sauce, then add the wine and simmer for four minutes until the alcohol has evaporated and it has reduced once more to a sauce consistency.
(3). Add the mussels to the pan, mix everything together, add the parsley and cover with a lid. Cook over a high heat until the mussels have just opened – they will be ready in about four minutes. Discard any that have not opened. Season to taste. Serve immediately.