Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mussels with Tomatoes & Artichokes on Pasta

Mussels are bivalve mollusks that are a close relative of the clam. Unlike its clam cousin, mussels have sort of an elongated, asymmetrical shell and are usually black or dark blue in color. They can be found in either freshwater or saltwater habitats, attached to a solid surface (eg. a rock) by means of a strong thread-like structure called a byssal thread or better known as a "beard." Mussels are widely cultivated around the world, from Canada (blue mussels) to China to Spain and New Zealand (green-lipped mussels).

Mussels are commonly used in many cuisines around the world. For this dish, I've gone down the Italian path, cooking the mussels in whole peeled tomatoes, basil, artichokes and mushrooms. And since I have some chickpeas lying around, I decided to add them in as well. First, the mussels. When you buy them, make sure that you pick out those that are tightly shut, which means that they are still alive. Dead mussels can be toxic and you should throw out the opened and dry ones. Also, you would need to remove the "beard" if the mussels have not been de-bearded beforehand.

Start off by cooking chopped garlic and onions in a pan. Next, add the artichokes, chickpeas and mushrooms. Cover the pan and let these ingredients cook for a couple of minutes. Now you can add the peeled whole tomatoes (cut them up first before adding), fresh basil and half a cup of water. Season with salt and pepper and let it cook for a few minutes. Finally, you can now add the washed mussels into the pan. Stir them into the yummy sauce and cover the pan to let them cook. Like all bivalves, the mussels will open up when they are done cooking, releasing their delicious essence into the sauce. While all these things are going on, cook some pasta until al dente and serve it with the mussels. Garnish with scallions or chopped parsley.

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