Recipe: Mussels with Whole Wheat Linguine, Swiss Chard, and Smoked Chili
This past weekend I bought the most beautiful mussels from Phil Karlin, the number-one fish man at the New York Greenmarkets. They were tiny, glistening black, all shut tight, and they cooked up amazingly sweet and creamy. I’ve been getting local Long Island fish from Mr. Karlin for many years, and his seasonal catch has spoiled me. Nothing else seems fresh enough. His calamari? It’s slippery, firm, and caught that morning. His whole fish (I’ll take whatever he has on any given day) is a pleasure to clean—even the guts are pristine (he sells some pre-cleaned fish, but I actually enjoy the grisly labor).
I had these gorgeous little mussels in my kitchen, and I knew I wanted to show them off. Not only are mussels incredibly delicious, but they’re a low-calorie, low-fat, high-protein food, just about perfect. I love pasta with any type of shellfish, but since I’ve been trying to limit my intake of refined carbohydrates, I’ve switched more often than not to whole wheat pasta. Sound dreary? Not at all, as it turns out. You just have to rethink your sauces a little, making them piu forte. My solution for the mussels was to add bitter greens and a hint of spicy smoke, both flavors able to stand up to the whole wheat taste and texture, balancing the dish nicely.
I discovered a really good whole wheat pasta at my supermarket, made by Racconto. The taste is quite wheaty (but in a good way). It stays firm but cooks up flexible, not rigid like some whole wheat brands.
I would consider this a one-dish meal. If you want something after, a small green salad should really be about all. I try not to eat bread when I’m having pasta, but a glass or two of good Italian wine—well, that’s another story. Try a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, an elegant white from Le Marche.
Mussels with Whole Wheat Linguine, Swiss Chard, and Smoked Chili
(Serves 2 as a main course)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 small spring onion, thinly sliced, using some of the tender green stem
2 cloves fresh spring garlic, thinly sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard, the center stalks removed, the leaves sliced thinly
1/8 teaspoon smoked dried red chili (I used Spanish Pimenton de la Vera)
1/8 teaspoon hot dried red chili flakes (Aleppo is a good choice for medium heat)
1 1/2 pound mussels, well cleaned
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 pound whole wheat linguine
Set up a pot of pasta cooking water over high heat. When it’s boiling, add a generous amount of salt.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the pancetta, and let it get crisp. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté a minute to release their flavors. Add the Swiss chard, season with salt and the smoked and hot chilis, and sauté until it wilts, about 3 or 4 minutes.
Drop the linguine into the pot.
Place the mussels in a deep skillet. Add the white wine and chicken broth, and cook, over high heat, stirring often, until all the mussels open. This should take about 4 or 5 minutes. Pour the mussels, with all their cooking broth, into the skillet with the chard, and give it a quick stir. Taste for salt, adding a bit more if needed (mussels vary in their saltiness).
When the linguine is al dente, drain it well, and pour it out onto a large, deep serving platter (a deep platter as opposed to a more traditional pasta bowl is preferable so that all the shells can spread out in a pretty way). Pour on the mussel sauce. Drizzle on a little fresh olive oil, and toss. Serve right away.