When the temperature starts to get colder, turning on the oven always seems like a sort of blessing to me and staying in the kitchen -the warmest room in the house- becomes almost mandatory. Today, to heat up the house, I'll be making some delicious gratin mussels with tomato sauce, breadcrumbs and parmesan.
I went to the market quite early but, in total honesty, didn't want to spend too much so my choice immediately fell on mussels. Incredible how much taste one can get out from these black shells, and only for a couple of euros (2,60 per kilo in Rialto)! Mussels are also extremely versatile and combine perfectly with lots of ingredients (one of my favourite combinations is with legumes).
When I steam them in the pan with some garlic and chilli, I always keep the cooking water aside and use it either for a risotto or a soup. If you aren't planning to use the liquid immediately, just let it cool, put it in a small plastic bag and store it in the freezer. There is absolutely no need to add salt, as the mussels already have plenty of flavour and saltiness.
With regard to the topping, I like to use parmesan. I know that some people are against combining fish with cheese, but personally... I like it! You can use breadcrumbs or, for a crunchier texture, replace them with crushed taralli or breadsticks. Combine with the grated parmesan and top... simply heaven!
The oven will do the rest, just remember to grill for the last five minutes.
The mussels you see in the pictures are small because they are nostrani (locally sourced). At the Rialto market you usually find these ones, from the lagoon, or Spanish mussels, much bigger but, in my opinion, less tasty. What I can suggest, in whatever part of the world you are, buy locally sourced whenever possible and make sure your product is caught from sustainable fisheries.
GRATIN MUSSELS WITH TOMATO SAUCE, BREADCRUMBS AND PARMESAN
INGREDIENTS (Serves 2)
700 gr of fresh mussels
200 ml tomato sauce
1 small fresh chilli pepper
2 cloves of garlic
parsley to garnish
extra virgin olive oil
1) Crush a clove of garlic, slice half fresh chilli, remove seeds and chop.
2) Heat a pan, add a few drops of olive oil, the garlic and chilli and finally the tomato sauce. Remove garlic and cook at low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while.
3) In the meantime rinse the mussels under fresh water, remove beards and then steam in a heated pan with some oil and garlic and cook until all the mussels open. When ready, put in bowl and let cool.
4) Now pre-heat the oven at 200° and grease some parchment paper.
5) Remove the upper part of the shell from the mussels and place on the parchment paper.
6) Grate some parmesan, prepare the breadcrumbs and combine. Keep aside.
7) At this point the sauce is ready, so cover every mussel with about 2 tea spoons of tomato sauce, the mix of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan, a few drops of olive oil and bake for about 15 minutes. Grill for the last 5.
6) When ready, garnish with some parsley and serve.