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Cozze Ripieni (Ligurian Stuffed Mussels) | Sortachef

Cozze Ripieni (Ligurian Stuffed Mussels)

Our green door with its dodgy lock opened onto a path with cobbles worn smooth by bathers going down to the sea. Mornings, we made the hike down to claim our Ligurian beachfront with colored towels and plastic buckets. Later, when the air had cooled, we made our way up the path to join the promenade.

Every evening along the road leading to Tellaro there was a steady stream of people who nodded and gestured and laughed and gazed at the vistas between the houses that looked onto the beautiful Golfo dei Poeti – the Bay of Poets. ‘Buona Sera,’ we’d say, nodding in imitation of the gracious Italian way. ‘Buona Sera,’ they’d say back, and with beneficent nods they smiled down on the children.

For the Bullhogs, that promenade invariably led to a discussion of food and where to dine. One of the dueling pizzerias, located a stone’s throw from each other? By turns, we tried them both. The ‘Osteriche’? A little pricey, but we went on one of our last evenings and had a lovely meal. One of the places in Tellaro? We eventually took in  several.

All of these restaurants had one thing in common: Cozze Ripiene.

As an appetizer, these stuffed mussels are at home with anything from woodfired pizza or lasagna with béchamel to a fresh fillet of sole or the locally famous langoustine lobster. They can be served plain or dressed up with a tomato sauce and a garnish. And they are truly wonderful – as any great Italian dish is – with their bold combination of flavors. Here’s my take on them: a little more coarsely chopped than the Italian ones, and without what I always suspected was a veal undertone. 

Note: The Mediterranean mussels that were available last week didn’t seem very fresh, so I opted for some very nice Penn Cove mussels from Seattle’s University Fish. The mussels are smaller, but sweet and tasty! 

 

Cozze Ripieni 

Makes 18 to 24 stuffed shells, depending on the size of the mussels

 

½ pound fresh mussels

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 Tablespoons water

 

2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto

2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach leaves

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

4 rounded Tablespoons Italian breadcrumbs

2 rounded Tablespoons freshly ground Grana Padano or parmesan cheese

1 large egg, beaten

 

More breadcrumbs and parmesan to top

24 of the best shell halves, saved and rinsed after cooking

 

Cook the mussels: Put an 8” thick-bottomed (not Teflon coated) sauté pan over medium-high flame for 3 minutes to heat up. Put in the oil, throw in the clean mussels and then  2 Tablespoons of water, clamp on the lid and cook for exactly one minute. Leave the lid on, remove from the heat, and let sit for one more minute. (Don’t cook any longer, or your mussels will turn rubbery.)

Remove the mussels, which by now have opened fully, to a plate, and strain the broth through a tea strainer and into a small bowl or ramekin to be used later.

Take the meat of the mussels from the shells and go through the mussels, carefully removing the bearded bit without pulling the mussels apart (you may have to cut it with a paring knife).

Quick-fry the Prosciutto: Separate the thin pieces of prosciutto and chop coarsely. Put the pan back on to heat and fry the prosciutto for about 30 seconds, just until curled up, but not browned. Remove to a cutting board.

Sauté the spinach and garlic: Remove as many stems as possible from a good handful of spinach leaves and stuff a two-cup pyrex measure with as many as will fit; chop the spinach into ¼-inch dice. Finely chop the garlic.

Put the pan back on the burner, bring to medium heat, add the oil and sauté the spinach and garlic quickly, in a minute or less, until mostly cooked but not browned. Turn as necessary and remove from the heat.

Assemble the filling: Put the spinach into a bowl, measure out 4 rounded Tablespoons of breadcrumbs, 2 of grated cheese, and mix together. Lightly beat the egg and pour over the top.

On the cutting board, finely chop together the mussels and the prosciutto, and then put in with the spinach.

Pour the mussel broth over the stuffing mix, and then toss spinach, mussel, prosciutto, egg, crumbs and cheese together with a small fork and a dessert spoon until incorporated. 

Preheat oven to 375º. 

Stuff and bake the shells: Using the dessert spoon, fill each shell until it is rounded on top. Place in one layer into a 9” x 12” pyrex pan. When all the shells are stuffed, sprinkle with additional breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.

Bake for 17 to 18 minutes until the tops are beginning to brown.

Serve hot, and watch your Cozze Ripieni disappear!

Final note: These can be made ahead of time. Do everything but the final baking and refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap.

And if you ever happen to be in Fiascherino, just go through Simonetta’s little green door and up the steps. There are several nice restaurants there that will serve you the authentic version. Be sure to say ‘Buona Sera’ for me!

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At Woodfiredkitchen.com, Sortachef takes you on adventures in the kitchen and beyond, with tales to suit. Many of his offerings are woodfired - a flaming good recipe for pizza, bread, or something different. All recipes are original and tasty. Enjoy!
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