Impepata di Cozze (mussels with black pepper)
A’mpepata e’ cozze, as they call this dish in Naples, is in my opinion one of the great unsung heroes of Mediterranean cuisine. Considered cucina povera or the “cuisine of the poor” these molluscs were snubbed by the Godfather of Italian cuisine Pellegrino Artusi and were not mentioned at all in his writings.
It is true that this is a recipe of the people. The waters around here were and still are full of mussels, and they were always plentiful, so much so that in summer kiosks would line the sea front and this dish, simple yet delicious, would be made, bought and sold. To this day, many restaurants in Naples are well known for their take on this dish, and it has been revisited in many ways. The very best in my opinion is no revision at all… the original sometimes truly is best, and the strong fish flavour of the mussels combines perfectly with the sharp black pepper, fresh parsley and tangy lemon. Give me a dish of these and nice glass of dry white on a warm summer afternoon by the sea and you make me a very happy woman!
You will need:
A lot of fresh mussels. A good kilo for 2 people. I would add more for good measure but then I REALLY like this dish.
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped roughly
The juice of 1 lemon
Loads and loads of black pepper
1. You want to make sure the mussels are clean. If you are lucky, the fishmonger will do it for you, if not be prepared to spend a good half hour removing the “beard” from the molluscs and scraping the muck off. This does happen to be a good chance to get rid of any broken mussels though.
2. Heat the oil in the bottom of a large deep saucepan. Add the garlic and when it starts to brown throw the mussels in and quickly close the lid. Don’t worry, so much water will come off them nothing will burn.
3. After five minutes you can throw in the lemon juice, parsley and pepper, tossing to mix. You may note I don’t add any salt to this recipe, this is because I tend to find the mussels salty enough as they are.
4. After another five minutes (10 minutes cooking time in total) dump all of the mussels in a bowl or two. I ate a kilo myself tonight… but that’s all I had, honest!
Make sure not to pry open and eat any mussels that haven’t opened themselves. If they didn’t open during cooking they were already dead and may well have been off, so any closed ones should be thrown away untouched.
I enjoy sitting and eating these with my fingers like a complete heathen and scooping up the delicious salty, peppery, lemony liquid with one of the empty mussel shells. Feel free to use a spoon, but I don’t think it tastes as good that way…
With love, from Italy