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Zuppa di Cozze Come la Fanno a Bosa – Sardinian Mussels Soup

View of Bosa, Sardinia along the River Temo from Serravalle's Castle (Malaspina), by Raffaele Sergi, Wikimedia Commons, accessed 19 December 2011

Knowing where a dish comes from is important. When one meets a new friend, the first questions are always “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?”. For our categorizing species, to be able to ascribe a location and a function to a person or a thing is the first step to understanding and appreciating. Bosa is a town on the northwestern coast of Sardinia, the streets of which I’ve explored through the wonders of the Internet, though I’ve never been there. Should I eventually arrive in Bosa in the flesh, I’ll certainly be looking for this wonderful soup, but for now it is at least a place which lives in my imagination, and its flavours live on my tongue.

This is a recipe which, after adaptation from Marcella Hazan, has appeared on Epicurious. I was suspicious of the recipe, its timings, and the order of its execution, so I offer it here with my own adaptations. Finely grated sheep’s milk cheese is the key to the immense savouriness of the broth. It may be possible to substitute Parmigiano Reggiano for the Fiore Sardo or Pecorino Romano, but the result would be inferior. Apparently some Sardinian cooks will use couscous instead of breadcrumbs. I have not yet tried this, but I think it would yield a quite different texture.

This recipe will serve two with salad (we had it last night with sautéed Cavolo Nero), bread, and all the trimmings, or four as a primi piatti.


1 kilo live mussels

1/3 cup olive oil

1 heaping T chopped garlic (or more!)

1 small bunch chopped parsley

1/2 tsp dried chilies

2 T fine, dry, unflavoured breadcrumbs (mine is always homemade from totally dry stale bread. It sits in a jar waiting to be used.)

1/3 C finely grated Fiore Sardo or Pecorino Romano (or another hard sheep’s milk cheese)

1 glass dry white wine

1 400g can good quality canned plum tomatoes (Hazan recommends San Marzano tomatoes.)

Grilled crusty bread, a slice per serving


Clean and debeard the mussels. Here is a video that shows you how:

Heat the olive oil over a moderate flame in a 6 litre saucepan, and add the garlic. Stir occasionally until it becomes golden. Add the parsley, chilies, and breadcrumbs, and then shortly thereafter the wine.

When the wine is bubbling, add the mussels and stir them into the broth. When the mussels have started to open, add the grated cheese and then the tomatoes. Continue to cook until all the mussels have opened.

Either place a slice or two of grilled or toasted bread at the bottom of each bowl, or simply serve a pile of fresh bread along with the soup. It will be required for mopping the plate.


Pasta with Tuna and Capers

This is a quick dish that I use in emergencies or when I’m exhausted. It’s a very easy dish that’s hard to mess up if you’re very tired, and the lemon and capers have a refreshing effect.


Pasta (any will do, though this is nice on linguine)

2 tins good quality tuna steak in either oil or water

2 T capers, with a tiny bit of brine

Juice of a lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

Grated Parmesan

Fresh grated black pepper


Cook the pasta in plenty of well salted water. Oil needs never to be included in pasta water and may even be detrimental.

Mix the tuna, capers, lemon, and a glug of olive oil in a bowl, taking care not to break up the tuna too much. Spoon this mixture over the top of the pasta (no, it doesn’t need to be heated) and sprinkle with Parmesan and pepper.

I often add fresh diced tomatoes and/or fresh chopped parsley to this.

Steamed Mussels with Cavolo Nero and Bacon

This time of year mussels aren’t at their best – but how can one do without them? This recipe allows a couple of other big ingredients to have their say alongside the mussels in a really meaningful way, so the very best mussels aren’t necessary. If you’ve got fantastic mussels Moules Mariniere is the appropriate treatment. When are mussels at their best? In autumn and winter when they are fat and sweet.


1kg mussels, washed and debearded

250g bacon lardons

400g cavolo nero, very roughly chopped

1 small bunch of parsley, chopped

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

a glass of white wine

2 large shallots, thinly sliced

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced


Fry the bacon until crisp in a large, deep stockpot. When the bacon is nearly finished, scatter in the garlic and allow it to brown and crisp just a bit. Remove promptly to a bowl and introduce the shallots, celery and wine. Once these come to the boil, throw in alternating handfuls of mussels, kale, and parsley, cover, and steam until the mussels have opened. At the last, add the garlic and bacon back to the pot and stir through.

Serve with plenty of good bread.

Crab Cakes

I have the best of all excuses for not having posted recently. I have had my kitchen refurbished and furnished with a powerful new range cooker and a wide and deep ceramic sink. I also have installed a kitchen table that seats four, very cozily, in our diminutive London flat. What a magnificent thing to sit around a table, especially after such a long withdrawal. The dust has settled enough now, though, to return to some serious cooking and an old favourite, crab cakes. These may also be made to exquisite and squidgy effect by substituting crab meat with drained canned clams. If only I could buy good canned clams in London. Anyone visiting from the States could pay their way with clams …

Ingredients and method can’t be separated for this recipe – one mustn’t break the flow.

Melt in a skillet:

2 T butter

Stir in and sweat:

1 lg very finely diced shallot

3 finely minced stalks of celery

Add this to a mixture of:

2 eggs, beaten

2 T whole milk or cream

200g white crab meat

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 T chopped parsley

1 tsp paprika

Either drop the mixture into a hot buttered skillet using a small portioning scoop (like an ice cream scoop, only smaller. They’re made for restaurants, available in restaurant supply, and are a worthy investment for the home kitchen) or chill for an hour or two and shape by hand into balls. Fry them hot and quick. They need little accompaniment. Any sauce is superfluous except perhaps to frighten the cakes with a lemon.


The English weather is never extreme, but as a bank of fresh late winter rain rolls in over London, I’m grateful for my warm, cozy kitchen. Cioppino is a dish that trails gratefulness behind it in a long wake – a light in the late winter fog – a dish that holds the profundity of the cold ocean and the promise of bright summer together in embrace. Quintessentially American, this dish is a marriage of Ligurian immigrant cuisine and the early twentieth century bounty of the San Francisco Pacific. It transposes well to any winter kitchen anywhere, though. We had it tonight with a 2009 Cote du Py Morgon, torn chunks of pain de campagne and a simple mesclun salad in a state of near undress coated with walnut oil and and spiked with Maldon salt. Ecstasy.

This recipe serves 6 if restrained, or 3 if given free access to the pot.


4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 medium onions, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried hot pepper flakes (I know, they’re dried spices, but they are only there for the basso profundo)

1 small tin anchovies in oil

1/4 C olive oil

Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1 green bell pepper, finely diced

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2 glasses dry, light red wine

2 400g cans chopped tomatoes (a good brand)

Fill both cans with water and add

500g crab legs

1 kilo mussels

500g firm fish (halibut, tuna, tilapia, whatever)

500g large prawns

1 dozen scallops

1 small bunch parsley, chopped

1 small bunch basil, chopped


Cook the garlic, onions, anchovies, bay, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes and pepper in the oil in a large pot over moderate heat until the onions are translucent. Stir in the bell pepper and tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the wine and bring again to a boil. Add tomatoes and water and simmer for half an hour.

Add crab, scallops, prawns, and fish and bring back to the boil. Then add the mussels and/or clams, parsley and basil and cook until shellfish have opened. Ladle gratefully into wide bowls and consume.

(NB: The sauce is so fragrant that this is a good place to hide fish that isn’t fresh. Not shellfish, though. Shellfish should always be unimpeachably fresh. Please play fast and loose with the seafood in this dish and simply use what is at hand. It should always take about 2-3 kilos of seafood, about a third of which is shellfish.)

Moules Marinière

I serve moules marinière with roasted potatoes instead of frites. The time it takes for the potatoes to roast provides plenty of time to clean and de-beard the mussels and prepare the vegetables for the pot. One kilo of mussels is enough for two people if served with potatoes and a salad.


1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

50g butter

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 regular shallots or one echalion shallot, finely chopped

1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped

400ml dry white wine

Black pepper


Heat the butter in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. Cover and sweat the garlic and shallots in the butter until translucent, but do not allow them to brown. Add the white wine, parsley and black pepper. Cover again and, over high heat, bring to the boil.

Add the mussels, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until the mussels are open. Dish up onto deep plates, pour the liquid over and serve.

Orecchiette Pasta with Tomato and Tuna Sauce

This is a delicious and very quick pasta dish that I tried out last night. Its inspiration was a recipe by Marcella Hazan.

It serves 4 and takes only the time needed to heat the water and cook the pasta.


3 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 400g cans chopped tomatoes (only buy the best)

2 200g cans tuna, partially drained

a knob of butter

500g bag of orecchiette pasta

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

fresh cracked pepper


Get the oil hot and sauté the garlic until it just begins to brown. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the pasta is cooked. Turn off the heat.

Mix the tuna and the butter evenly into the tomato sauce and season with the pepper and parsley.

Toss with the pasta and serve. Parmesan cheese does nothing to enhance this dish – serve it with nothing but a tiny sprinkle of parsley.