A working Venice lunch – Rialto mussels

Sometimes when I’m busy here the day flashes past so quickly I barely notice until it’s time to go home, footsore and weary and try to think through what I’ve been seeing. Other times I’m more based around the apartment, living off panini bought in mostly. But there’s one meal I will always treat myself to. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and it’s doable by anyone with a single pan and a hob.

It’s mussels in white wine with cream and shallots. Probably more French than Italian, but who cares? The key lies in the ingredients — fresh, local, seasonal. That matters more in Italian cooking than herbs and technique it seems to me.

First off, the ingredients. Some decent bread rolls, in this case from the supermarket Conad, butter, shallots (not onions, you need the sweetness) and white wine. I’m just round the corner from Danilo, the vineyard with a retail shop in Dorsoduro. Their Pinot Grigio or Chardonnary is great for this and light drinking too, and at less than €4 for two litres out of the cask a bargain as well.

As for the mussels… it’s always going to be the Rialto if I can get there. You will find other fish stalls dotted throughout the city, some of them very good. But I like the experience of the Rialto, the life, the choice, the fact you can eye up the produce on different stalls so easily before committing yourself.

Mussels here cost between €3 and €4 a kilo, half the price of many place back home if you can find them. If you’ve never bought them before the things to look for are shiny shells that are closed. If they’re open they’d dead or dying.  Half a kilo per person should be sufficient but I didn’t have the heart to ask for that so I bought a kilo anyway.

Now to the recipe. What you need is…

  • Mussels
  • White wine
  • Shallots
  • Butter
  • Pepper
  • Cream

OK you could skip the cream and then this would be mussels in white wine. But I like that and Italian supermarkets do these little packets of UHT panna which are great for cooking.

First, get a chunk of butter and chop up some shallots.

Then saute them slowly in the one pan you’re going to use. And I mean slowly. The shallot should go soft and sweet, not burn.

Now clean your mussels. This is dead easy. A quick wash and scrub of the shells if necessary (it wasn’t with mine, they were so clean). Then pull out the ‘beard’, the bit of seaweed that once attached the mussel to its rope. That’s the sticky out bit here.

Beard removal

Then you should end up with a nice load of clean, closed, shiny mussels.

Reward yourself with a glug.

Chuck the clean mussels in the pan with the softened shallots.

Keep stirring them around then add some wine, not a huge amount (I over did it here), just enough so that the heat is rising. You’ll probably need to up the temperature.

Now keep moving the mussels round with the spoon. When they start to open, throw in the cream. Don’t overcook mussels. If you finish with some that haven’t opened that means you’ve done it right.

In a a minute or two you should end up with this. Lovely mussels and a creamy soup for dunking.

Ignore the ones that haven’t opened and enjoy the rest. It really is a very simple home lunch or supper, and one I’d cook back in England if it was easy to find good quality fresh mussels there.

One dish and a plate for the shells. Couldn’t be simpler. Have to say when I came to clean those Rialto mussels not a single one had a cracked shell or was open, nor was there any mud on the outside. The quality was outstanding, but that’s the amazing Rialto for you.

And the cost? Maybe €5 at the most.