January 12, 2012

Fettucini with Mussels and Saffron Cream Sauce

When I visited Cinque Terre, the magical set of villages on the coast of the Italian Riviera, when studying abroad in Italy a few years ago, I learned a lot of things. I learned that grape vines can be planted into nearly vertical hills. I learned that German tourists can kick back 3 pints of beer for breakfast. I learned that focaccia, if properly commercialized, could be used to solve Italy's financial crisis (it's just that good). I also learned that seafood pasta - which can be found everywhere in Cinque Terre - is the answer to "what is a simple and elegant dinner for make for guests tonight?"

The charming houses of Cinque Terre; Hearty octopus pasta in Cinque Terre.
That was precisely the question I found myself asking when making dinner with my friends Alex, Lily, Claire and Alex's mom Patty when I was home on break last week. It was Alex's last night home on break (he's the one I catered with, check out the About Me page for an awesome picture of us wearing chef's hats in middle school), and we wanted to make something new, simple and interesting. Flipping through the pages of The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles by Cooks Illustrated, I came across a pasta recipe with mussels and saffron. The recipe is straightforward and the whole thing comes together as the pasta is boiling. Mussels are great first step if you're hesitant to cook fish or seafood - you know they're done as soon as they open (that was easy!). This dish feels elegant and complex - sure to impress the guests - without any guess work or much prep at all. Buon appetito!

Recipe below.

Fettucini with Mussels and Saffron Cream Sauce
Adapted from The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles by Cooks Illustrated
Serves 4

-1 1/2 pounds black mussels, rinsed and beards removed
-1/2 cup white wine
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
-1 pound fettucini, linguine or other long, thin pasta

1. Bring the mussels and wine to a boil in a deep, covered saute pan on high heat. Boil, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels begin to open, about 3-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a bowl and set aside. Strain the liquid in the pan through a paper-towel lined sieve or strainer into a large bowl. Set aside.

2. Clean the skillet and return to the stove. Heat on medium heat, add the olive and when hot, add the garlic and saffron until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add the strained mussel broth and cream and bring to a boil. Add the mussels back in and cook, covering the pan and shaking occasionally, until all the mussels have opened, 1 to 2 minutes more. Stir in chives and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Meanwhile, bring water for the pasta to a boil. Salt well and add the pasta and cook to al dente. Drain pasta, return it to the pot, and toss with the mussels and sauce. Serve at once.