This is a delicious, hearty and always satisfying combination: plump mussels from Taranto’s port and earthy, creamy legumes in a flavourful, fragrant broth, and you can find it in all of Taranto’s typical trattorie. The brothy sauce makes this something halfway between a pasta and a soup, and it is always served with a spoon. Instead of borlotti (cranberry) beans, you can also use cannellini beans or even potatoes, peeled, diced into 1cm cubes and boiled together with the pasta.
Ditalini con Cozze e Fagioli
Ditalini Pasta with Mussels and Beans
1kg live mussels in their shells, beards and any exterior grit removed
240g ditalini pasta (or other very small soup pasta)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ onion, thinly sliced
125ml dry white wine
1 large ripe tomato, diced
200g cooked borlotti (cranberry) beans, drained
1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
handful of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves finely chopped
Check over the mussels and discard any that are cracked or open and won’t close when gently prodded. Make sure the mussels are cleaned well in fresh water and, if necessary, scrub with steel wool. To open the mussels, heat them in a wide, shallow, dry frying pan over a medium-high heat. Cover, and shake the pan occasionally to help the mussels move around (the ones on the bottom will find it harder to open fully than the ones on top). After about 1-2 minutes, check them and, with a pair of tongs, begin pulling out the mussels that have already opened and transfer these to a large bowl. Continue until all the mussels have opened (any that are still tightly shut can be discarded). Turn off the heat.
Strain the precious mussel liquid left in the pan – either using a very fine-mesh sieve or a regular sieve lined with a paper towel and set over a bowl – and pull out the meat from the shells (reserving some whole mussels to garnish), discarding the shells.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet (minus 1 minute of cooking time).
Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan over a low heat and gently fry the garlic and onion for about 5 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and sizzling but not coloured. Pour in the wine and increase the heat to medium. Add the tomato and simmer for a further 5 minutes (if you’re using a tomato that you think is probably not as ripe as one that you would find in sun-drenched Puglia, let it cook for 10 minutes, and add a splash of water if you find the liquid is reducing too much).
Add the beans, the mussel meat and their liquid and taste for seasoning (this is important to do only after you add the liquid from the mussels as it can be quite salty). Add the chilli, if using, and some freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes, then toss over the parsley as you take it off the heat.
Drain the pasta (reserving some of the cooking liquid if you feel you didn’t have enough mussel cooking liquid) and serve with the rather soupy sauce (add a splash of the pasta cooking liquid if necessary) of mussels and beans and a drizzle of olive oil. It should be eaten with a spoon.
Extracted from Tortellini at Midnight by Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant, approx €30.50). Photography © Lauren Bamford.