Tommy's Mussel Pasta
Updated: Apr 6
"The crowd went crazy as Tommy hit the stage"
The Who (1969)
With seasonal mussels firmly on the Bute Street Seafoodie mind, I couldn't help noticing a post on Instagram by the Cornish Fishmonger for a recipe called "Tommy's Mussel Pasta". A quick flick through the ingredients list was enough in itself to sell it to me. A reduced tomato sauce flavoured with thyme and some winey mussel broth and finished with a generous sprinkling of parsley. Can't go wrong. In fact I made this dish two nights running after I had come across the recipe, and I have made it since.
Although there's no reason not to use tinned tomatoes in your sauces (the tomatoes are tinned at the peak of their ripeness and in fact are nutritionally comparable to their fresh originals - see here, for example), it's not something I tend to do often, preferring as I do to make my own fresh tomato bases. However on this occasion I intentionally make an exception and along with the original recipe I go with the tinned variety. The reason for this calculated departure from my norm is a matter of seasonality. Mussels are at their best in autumn and through the winter when home-grown tomatoes are barely available. This is, after all, the original reason for canning and preserving produce, so that it can be used when it is out of season.
Tommy's recipe doesn't specify which pasta to use but I've always had an inclination to make a certain pasta dish with a certain type of pasta, usually with a close second type in reserve. For whatever reason I felt that this particular dish was suited to spaghetti, with linguine as the suitable sub. But that's just me.
I've no idea who Tommy is but, pinball wizard or otherwise, he sure makes a great mussel pasta! Supple wrist?
I've written the recipe as if I had been given the ingredient list and no method and asked to make mussel pasta. The result is almost identical to Tommy's recipe. I have added a touch more garlic and incorporated it into the tomato sauce, but that's just because I fancied a slightly more intense garlic contribution.
The key thing for me when using tinned tomatoes as a pasta sauce is to make sure it is fully reduced - a splash of water can always be used to thin an over-reduced tomato sauce, and it is quite typical for a bit of water from the pasta cooking pot to be incorporated into the dish in the final stages. And as in Tommy's recipe, I do recommend a pinch or so of sugar (balsamic vinegar is also a good enrichment) to help reinforce the tomatoes' sweetness, the quantity required being both a matter of taste and the brand of tomatoes.
For convenience, most of this dish can be made in advance. Simply proceed with steps 1 and 2 ahead of time, then the dish can be completed in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Just make sure the tomato sauce is heated to serving temperature by the time the pasta is ready.
Tommy's Mussel Pasta
Ingredients (Serves 2)
700g mussels, cleaned
85g spaghetti per person (or quantity according to appetite)
2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, roughly chopped
80ml white wine
A good glug of extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
225g tinned tomatoes (a standard half tin), mashed to a coarse paste
Dried chilli flakes, quantity to taste but at least a pinch
Pinch (or more) of sugar, quantity to taste
1-2 tsp chopped thyme leaves (or ½ tsp dried thyme)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Put half of the garlic, the shallot and wine in a large saucepan for which you have a lid and bring to the boil over a high heat. Tip in the mussels, put the lid on and give the pan a shake. Cook the mussels for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels have all just opened. Strain the mussels into a colander set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. Leave the mussels until cool enough for the meats to be removed, but leave a few remaining in their shells for presentation, if desired.
In a sauté pan or deep frying pan, heat the olive oil and very gently fry the other half of the garlic for a minute. Add the mashed tomatoes, dried chilli flakes, the sugar, thyme leaves and the mussel liquor, leaving behind any grit at the bottom. Raise the heat and bubble this sauce down to a thick consistency that will coat the pasta tightly. When it is ready, season to taste with salt (may not be required due to the natural salinity of the mussel liquor), pepper and any additional sugar, and turn out the heat and leave until just before serving time.
Boil the pasta in heavily-salted, rapidly-boiling water for the required time. A couple of minutes before the pasta is ready return the sauce to the heat and add the mussel meats and half the parsley just to warm through. If the sauce is very reduced add a splash of the pasta cooking water to thin it a little.
When the pasta is ready use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the pan of sauce, allowing some of the cooking water to incorporate into the sauce. Combine well then divide into two pasta bowls and sprinkle over the remaining chopped parsley, drizzle with olive oil and serve.
"Tommy's Mussel Pasta", The Cornish Fishmonger, Instagram post, accessed 13 October 2020
The Cornish Fishmonger, website accessed 13 October 2020
"Tommy's Mussel Pasta", thecornishfishmonger.co.uk, accessed 13 October 2020
"Food Fight: Fresh Tomatoes v. Canned Tomatoes" futurefit.co.uk, accessed 13 October 2020