Mussels Stuffed with Mortadella

Mussels Stuffed with Mortadella
David Loftus
Provided by:
total prep
I was sitting at an outdoor table at a café in Vernazza, one of the five spectacular little beach towns that make up the Cinque Terre, a rugged stretch of coast in north-western Italy, when I first tried this dish. My wineglass was full. The mussels were steamy and smelled of basil and tomatoes. Even better, each one had a little secret inside, a stuffing of ground veal and mortadella--like an elegant surf and turf. I was so taken with them that I asked if I could watch the chef make them. At dawn the next morning, I was in his kitchen. He spoke no English. I spoke no Italian. I got to cleaning mussels (I wasn't just going to sit there), then watched him do each step. I like to think my version is pretty close to his. Because today, when I make this dish, simply sopping up the briny, winy sauce with charred bread transports me back to Vernazza.

Recipe courtesy of A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories by April Bloomfield/Ecco, 2012.

Ingredients

  • FOR THE STUFFED MUSSELS:
  • 10 ounces pork or veal shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • One 5-ounce chunk mortadella, cut into 1-ince pieces
  • 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs (see note)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  • About 3 dozen large Prince Edward Island mussels, cleaned and prepped
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • Three 28-ounce cans peeled whole tomatoes, drained, trimmed, and squished with your hands
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a few glugs for finishing
  • 7 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 or 2 Dutch or other spicy long red chili, thinly sliced (including seeds)
  • Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  • A small handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:
  • Meat grinder or meat grinder attachment of a stand mixer

Directions

  • Note: When I call for bread crumbs, I mean stale bread (two days or so old) pulsed in a food processor until it's coarse (about the size of lentils) or fine (slightly larger than grains of sand), depending on the recipe. It you don't have stale bread, you can replicate the texture by popping the bread into a low oven for a bit, until it's slightly dried out but hasn't colored.

  • Grinding your own meat: For meatballs, you want to use light, airy, delicate ground meat, which is why I like to grind it myself. Often the ground meat you see on supermarket shelves is already overmixed, paste like and sticky. You can use either a dedicated meat grinder or the attachment for your stand mixer. Before I form my meatballs, I like to roll a tester and fry it in a pan to check the seasoning (and because it makes a nice little snack).

  • Make the stuffing: put the pork or veal, mortadella, bread crumbs, and salt into a medium bowl and mix together thoroughly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and pop it into the freezer until the top layer goes a bit crunchy, about 1 hour.
  • Using a meat grinder (or the grinder attachment of a stand mixer), grind the meat through a large die into a bowl. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and pop it into the freezer again until the top layer goes a bit crunchy, this time only 30 or so minutes.
  • Grind the mixture again through the small die.
  • Stuff the mussels: For each mussel, grab a generous tablespoon of the ground meat mixture, depending on the size of the mussels, and add it to one of the shell halves. Gently squeeze the shell until it’s almost shut, then push any filling that oozes out back into the ground meat mixture. It’s fine, though, if a bit of meat sticks to the outside of the shells--in fact, that’ll help flavor the sauce. as you fill the mussels, place them in a big bowl. When you're done, you’ll have a bowlful of almost-closed mussels, the pink filling peeking out through a crack in the black shells. (You might end up with a little extra stuffing, which you'll want to save and, perhaps, fry up the next day to eat with eggs.) Set the bowl of stuffed mussels aside while you start the sauce, or cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to a day.
  • Make the sauce: Reserve 3 cups of the squished tomatoes, and puree the rest in a food processor.
  • Pour the oil into an 8- to 9-quart dutch oven or other pot large enough to hold the mussels in no more than two layers and turn the heat to medium-high. When the oil shimmers, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until it turns a deep golden-brown color and smells nutty and sweet, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the wine, then add the squished tomatoes, tomato puree, chili, the reserved mussel liquor, 1 cup of water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Let the liquid come to a simmer and tweak the heat to maintain a gentle simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Cook the mussels: Add the mussels to the pot in one or two tightly packed layers. Don’t just toss them in willy-nilly--if you do, the filling will fall out when you scoop them out later. Give them a gentle press down with your hands or a spoon.
  • Give the pot a gentle shake and cover the pot, tweaking the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
  • Cook for about 25 minutes, then uncover the pot and give it a light shake. Spoon some of the liquid over the top of the mussels and replace the lid. Cook for 15 minutes more, shaking occasionally, turn off the heat, and let the mussels sit, lid still on, for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Remove a mussel and open it. You should be able to easily pluck out the mussel meat and filling in one piece. taste the sauce and add a little salt, if you'd like. gently stir in the basil and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Bring the pot to the table along with large, shallow bowls and the grilled rustic bread.