mussels in cozze umbro: muscles eating mussels.


A job interview: the display of intellectual muscle and wit in order to pay rent and school. An event where you feel tension for hours earlier and drained about 5 minutes afterward. So what happens when I feel tension? I have the urge to cook. And what did I want to cook within minutes after my interview? Mussels. 

A big bowl of steaming mussels, in a spicy, thick, and chunky tomato-garlic sauce, with a piece of bread on the side - tender white fluffy-ness on the inside and thick flaking golden-brown crust on the outside.
They have been used for thousands of years as food, throughout the world. In china they are cooked in broth, in turkey they are fried, in France they are served with bread, in Italy they are eaten with pastas, and in Spain you will commonly see them in a seafood Paella, or large rice dish spiced with saffron. I have always thought that there is something classy about eating mussels, like your palette is more refined than others. I used to place them on the same level as escargot. But really, mussels are one of the most affordable seafood out there (though most of the world's supply comes from China, so I question their toxicity levels), and one of the most versatile - they can be steamed, boiled, fried, or smoked. Heck, in some places in Europe, mussels are eaten with french fries (when I found out that fact, all allure of the small creatures died).
Mussels need to be alive before they are cooked. I know that may seem cruel to some out there but they can make someone quite ill if dead ones are consumed. And because of their instinctive reaction to all surrounding threats, you can tell they are alive because they close when scooped up to be thrown into a boiling pot, or just tapped on the side. I would also consider them one of the wisest of the shellfish due to their beard - the stringy, shag-carpet-esc fuzz (the byssus) that surrounds the shell's opening. You can just scrub it, or yank it off (its a touch little piece of the mussel) before cooking. The small shellfish are extremely good for you, providing loads of protein, vitamin B12, selenium, and zinc. 

The different colours of mussel meat don't matter - that's actually how you can tell their sex. Pale white meat is a male and yellowish rust meat is a female. There isn't any difference between the two. Either are just as good. And good for you. How can you go wrong?

I forgot to buy bread for this dish, so I whipped up some quick biscuits. They work just as well as 'trenchers' (to use the old medieval, much more fun, way of eating) for this meal.

Mussels in Cozze Umbro (Italian Tomato Sauce)

1 tbs. olive oil
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 onion (chopped)
1/4 c. white wine 
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
1/2 c. mushrooms (sliced)
1/2 c. fresh basil (chopped)
2 dozen fresh mussels (with the beards removed and shells scrubbed)
parsley (chopped) (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil in a pan on the stove over medium. When hot, throw in the garlic and onion. Saute for several minutes until brown and caramelized.  Deglaze with the white wine, simmer for a minute or so until the liquid reduces a bit.

2. Add the can of tomatoes, red pepper, oregano, salt, and pepper. Let simmer 5 minutes until all the flavors meld. Add the mushrooms and basil and cook for another 3 (until the mushrooms are almost done).

3. Add the mussels. Cook on medium-high, constantly stirring so the bottom of the pan doesn't burn, for 4-5 minutes, until the mussels open to reveal the meat.  

Garnish with parsley and scoop up delicious mouthfuls with bread or biscuits. 

Classic Baking Soda Biscuits
(adapted from Arm and Hammer Baking Soda Recipes)

2 c.  all-purpose flour  

½ tsp. baking Soda 

½ tsp. salt 

¼ cup margerine or butter  

¾ cup buttermilk* 

1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Mix together flour, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Cut in the margarine until the mix looks like coarse meal.   


2. Make a well in the centre of flour mix - add all the buttermilk at one time. Stir to make a dough and turn onto lightly floured board. Knead for about 30 seconds.

3. Pat or roll to ½ inch (1.5cm) thickness and cut with floured biscuit cutter. Or, divide the dough into 12, roll each into a ball, and pat so the top is flat when placed on the baking sheet. Put all the buscuis on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until lightly browned - about 12 minutes. 

Serve these biscuits with the mussels. If there are any left over, try them with a dab of butter and a smidgen of jam - its delightful.  
* Remember my way of making buttermilk from an earlier post?