When I first came to Puglia I found a great restaurant with tables looking out to sea. The father of the owner sat in a corner of the terrace, cleaning mussels all day, while on nearby tables happy customers worked their way through huge plates of Spaghetti alle Cozze, Fritto Misto and antipasti including Cozze Gratinate – stuffed mussels.
The restaurant is sadly no longer there but mussel consumption in Monopoli, where I live, is still a serious business. Although the fish stalls have moved from the daily market, as new EU regulations make it difficult to sell fish outdoors, the two different mussel vendors have been allowed to stay as they sell from kiosks which are closed on three sides with a roof. Such is the demand that they both open every morning six days a week.
Shortly after I first moved here I had the audacity to serve Cozze Gratinate at a dinner party with local guests. When I told people what I was cooking there were more than a few raised eyebrows! I was nervous to say the least, but I need not have worried. After tucking in, one of the guests said ‘My god, it takes an Englishwoman to come to Puglia to show us how to cook mussels!’ Praise indeed, but I can’t really take any of the credit – the recipe is my mother’s ….. It is sometimes hard to find ginger in Puglia but I always try – it makes all the difference to the final taste.
Diane Seed’s recipe for Cozze Gratinate
1 kilo mussels in their shell
40 g breadcrumbs
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, optional, not traditional,
1 lemon cut into wedges
Grated peel one lemon
Chopped fresh parsley
30 ml olive oil
Finely chop the parsley, garlic (and ginger) and mix together with the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and lemon peel. Scrub the mussels, removing the “beard” and any encrustments and put them with a little water into a large covered pan. Heat fiercely so that the shells open and discard any mussels that have failed to open. Put two mussels into one half shell (I don’t do this if the mussels are large, which they often are here) and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Add a few drops of oil and place the shells on a baking tray in a hot oven for a few minutes until they are golden brown. Serve with wedges of lemon so that each person can squeeze on the amount of juice they prefer.