In Southern Italy, plump succulent mussels are combined with chickpeas and potatoes and served with rice or pasta or as a thick soup. This combination makes an ideal pasta salad when including seashell-shaped pasta called conchiglie. Serve it slightly warm for the fullest flavor or lightly chilled. Cleaned fresh mussels are readily available in many grocery stores and markets; however, for speedy preparation, there are some excellent frozen mussels in their shells. If you can find them, try New Zealand green-lipped mussels, famous for their excellent flavor.
8 servings as an antipasto or 4 servings as a main dish. Cooking time is 20 minutes.
Cooking the Mussels:
Oil or dry white wine for bottom of pan to prevent burning
3 pounds (1.30 kg) raw mussels, scrubbed, de-bearded (about 60 to 65 large mussels)
Conchiglie Pasta Salad:
2 cups diced potatoes (1 pound or 454 g, or 2 large potatoes cut into 1/2-inch (13-mm) dice)
12 ounces (340 g) dried conchiglie or shell-shaped pasta
2 cups boiled chickpeas (1 15.5-ounce can or 440 g))
2 cups (12 ounces or 340 g) fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes, split in half
Salt to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice or strained mussel broth
Ground red cayenne pepper to taste, optional
Fresh parsley or coriander, minced
Lemon or lime zest, freshly grated
Garlic, minced or grated
1. Cooking the Mussels: Select a casserole or pot with cover for cooking the mussels: Pour in enough oil or white wine to barely coat the bottom so the casserole or pot doesn't burn. Discard any raw mussels with open shells. Place the scrubbed mussels inside in an even thick layer. Cover. Turn the heat to high and cook for a few minutes or until the shells open. Immediately turn off the heat and cool down. Remove the cover and discard any mussels that remain unopened. Using a small-sized fork, remove the cooked mussels from their shells and reserve them in a large serving bowl. Discard the shells. If using the delicious fresh mussel broth for the dressing or another recipe, strain it through a coffee filter or paper towel before using to catch any grains of sand. Cover well and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Preparing the Salad: Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the diced raw potatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the conchiglie pasta and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (Conchiglie pasta usually cooks in 12 to 13 minutes but refer to the packaging for instructions.) 2 minutes before the pasta reaches the al dente stage and is done, add the boiled chickpeas. Test to confirm the pasta is al dente and the potatoes are cooked but firm then drain well. Add them to the cooked mussels in the bowl. Add the tomatoes, season to taste, and gently toss.
3. Salad Dressing: Make the gremolata by combining any quantity of parsley or coriander, lemon or lime zest, and garlic that you like. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently, and then sprinkle gremolata on top and serve.