SFOpera - A Taste of Wagner: The Recipe for Muscoli Ripieni (Stuffed Mussels)

A Taste of Wagner: The Recipe for Muscoli Ripieni (Stuffed Mussels)

Muscoli Ripieni (Stuffed Mussels)

Because Richard Wagner meticulously documented most every incident in his life, we know that he began writing the music for the Ring cycle in La Spezia on the Italian Riviera in the summer of 1853. After a rough night at sea, he landed in the port of La Spezia near where fishermen brought their daily catch, and was transported to a locanda on Via del Prione 45. With his lingering seasickness and the noisy animation of the busy town, Wagner fell into a deep sleep, and he tells us, “I thought I was falling down in a whirlpool—this abyss into which I was falling—and I awakened having heard the opening chords of Das Rheingold.” These powerful E-flat chords that suggest the churning of the Rhine River were the launching point for the compositional labors that would occupy Wagner for more than 25 years as he wrote the extraordinary music for his epic tetralogy.

Wagner was vegetarian for some of his life but was also known to not turn the offer of a good meal, especially in Italy. He surely was nourished in La Spezia by the town’s most famous dish, local mussels stuffed with mortadella, cheese, and herbs, finished in tomato sauce. This food of genius is the perfect pairing for a night of watching or listening to The Ring of the Nibelung (Der Ring des Nibelungen).

Muscoli Ripieni (Stuffed Mussels)

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 small white roll of bread
2 pounds/450 grams mussels
3-½ ounces/110 grams mortadella, minced
2 sprigs fresh Italian (flat) parsley
1 pinch fresh thyme
1 pinch fresh marjoram
2 cloves garlic, with the green heart removed, minced
3-½ ounces/110 grams freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 ounce/30 grams freshly grated Pecorino
1 large egg
4 tablespoons/60 ml Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
¾ pound/approximately 350 grams peeled tomatoes (canned or fresh)
3 ounces/85 ml/ ½ glass dry white Ligurian wine such as Cinqueterre, Vermentino, or Pigato (or Tuscan Vernaccia di San Gimignano)
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Break the roll in half and pull out all of the bread within. Save the crust for some other cooking use, such as making crumbs. Soak the bread in enough milk so that the bread is thoroughly moistened but not overwhelmed. Scrub all the mussels thoroughly, removing the “beards” and anything else attached to the shells. Carefully, using a sharp knife, open about two-thirds of the mussels, making sure you do not open the shells too wide. Place them in a colander so that any liquid will drain out. Then place enough water to cover the bottom of a flat pan with high sides that has a lid. Add the one-third of the mussels that you have not opened manually. Cover and cook over medium heat for 4 minutes, or until the mussels have opened and the meat is cooked. If any mussels do not open, discard them. Once done, remove the mussels from the shells and mince finely. Place the chopped mussels in a mixing bowl, add the mortadella, moistened bread (which you have broken up by hand), parsley, thyme, marjoram, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, egg, salt, and pepper. Gently combine all of the ingredients until they are thoroughly blended. Stuff each of the uncooked mussels (those in the colander) with some of the filling, forcing down slightly each mussel as you put filling in the shell. Then close the shell and set aside. Take a large pan with high sides (perhaps the one you used previously) and heat the olive oil over a low flame. Add the onion slices and cook them until they are translucent. Then add the tomatoes and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until they begin to concentrate a bit as the excess liquid evaporates. While the tomatoes cook, you may add a little more salt and pepper if you wish. After cooking the tomatoes, remove the pan from the heat and carefully place each stuffed mussel in so the mussels are not piled one on top of another. Add the white wine. Cover the pan with the lid and cook over low to medium heat for about 30 minutes. The shells will open, and the filling will be cooked through. Serve with some of the tomato sauce, which should be sopped up with some good bread once you have eaten the mussels.  Serve with a glass of the wine you used in the recipes.

This recipe is adapted from Fred Plotkin’s book Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera, available on Amazon. Say hello to author Fred Plotkin on Twitter or through his website.

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