This healthy pasta dinner is nice entry dish into the wonderful, and nutritious, world of mussels. It’s made made with green-lipped mussels, fresh herbs, garlic, and a tin of Italian tomatoes. If you’re new to preparing mussels, they might appear a bit intimating in the kitchen. However, don’t fear—they’re unassuming culinary and nutrition heroes! At-home cooking instructions below.
Black and blue mussels are arguably the most well-known and consumed mussel variety. But there is another, indigenous to New Zealand, known as green-lipped mussels. Not only do they taste great, but they’re the ultimate under-promise-over-deliverer.
They’re cheap-as-chips for animal protein (at the time of purchase, a bagful of 20 cost me a little under $4NZD🤙). They’re a culinary dream, cooking speedily and taking on flavours well. They’re also sustainable, among the animal protein sources with the lowest carbon footprint *swoon*.
Best yet, they boast a rock-solid nutrition profile. They’re rich in protein, as well as minerals, especially iron. Per ½ cup serve, they deliver a significant 7.5 mg of heme-iron (a well-absorbed form). Pretty brag worthy!
This pasta with mussels is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrition and culinary superstar. My Baba (grandmother), a stellar home cook, taught it to me, with this recipe one of my favourites of hers🍝 .
The key ingredients for this pasta with mussels include:
Green-Lipped Mussels. Readily available across seafood counters in NZ supermarkets. When buying, look for live mussels with tightly closed shells, that smell fresh but a little briny. Otherwise, if they’re a smidge open, give the shell a good tap with your fingernail – it should close. Beware of cracked shells as they may be older or have been mishandled.
Tinned chopped tomatoes. The basis of our glorious Mediterranean-inspired sauce. We’ll use this to toss through the pasta for epic flavour!
Extra virgin olive oil. Affectionally known as EVOO and a pantry staple. EVOO is the highest quality, least processed, most flavourful and nutritious of olive oil types. It has rich grassy colour, and peppery flavour – perfect to oomph the Mediterranean flavours.
Spaghetti. A long, thin, solid, cylindrical pasta. You could use regular or wholegrain – the wholegrain variety will offer more fibre and minerals.
Runny honey. A smidge of honey cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, creating an overall more balanced sauce.
This pasta also features brown onion, capsicum, fresh herbs, bay leaf and garlic salt to build delicious flavour.
Kitchen Tips: Storage and Troubleshooting
How long can you wait before cooking mussels? They’re best if you can cook them close to when you buy them, but they’ll be fine for a few days in the fridge.
How do you store them in the fridge? They must be kept alive – store in the refrigerator, in an open container covered with a very damp cloth to keep moist and protected. They need to breathe, so an open container is essential.
Are your mussels not opening when cooking? Discard them. They may pose food safety risks.
Nutrition & Culinary Q&A
What’s the difference between black mussels and green mussels? If you look at mussels side-by-side you’d immediately spot differences in colour and size. Under the shell, they vary in taste and texture too.
Colour. Green mussels have a distinctive dark green shell with brown and yellow streaks, and a beautiful bold green lip around the top. Black mussels are shiny black or dark grey.
Size. Green mussels are noticeably larger, almost twice the size of black. This means more meat and nutrients per mussel.
Flavour and texture. Green mussels are chewier and meatier than black mussels and milder in taste – they don’t overpower a dish. Black mussels have a more intense seafood flavour, but are softer and more tender.
Availability. Black mussels are more globally abundant, with NZ mussels only farmed in certain parts of the world.
Do mussels have omega-3? Yes! Certain shellfish – like mussels – are good sources of omega-3, a type of essential fat (essential as in we can’t produce it ourselves, and so we must get it from the food we eat).
While mussels don’t contain as much omega-3 as oily fish, research has shown that regularly featuring them on the menu is a valuable way to boost omega-3 intake(1).
Place fresh mussels in a sink filled with salty water – salty like the sea! This will keep them closed and fresh while you clean them.
Peel onions and finely slice. Slice capsicum in half, deseed and roughly slice.
Cover the bottom of a large soup pot with olive oil measure. Heat oil over a medium-low heat.
Add onion and bay leaf, and sauté for a few minutes. Add capsicum, along with garlic salt. Sauté until onions are soft – don’t let it burn!
Add tinned tomatoes. Rinse tin with a few Tbsp of water (to collect all the tomato juice) and add to pot. Add honey. Bring to boil, mix well and simmer for 15 minutes. As it cooks, make sure to regularly mix and scrap the bottom of the pasta sauce pot with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. After 15 minutes, remove from heat, roughly tear herbs and add to the pot.
While the sauce is cooking, start to clean the mussels, removing barnacles or impurities. To do this, scrap the outside of the shells with the tip of a paring knife to remove any impurities – holding your thumb on the tip of your knife blade will give you good control. Make sure to remove the beard, which is the mass of elastic threads poking out the side (easiest done with the pointy mussel side away from you) – to do this, using a knife, carefully grab hold of the beard between your fingers and blade and pull towards you. Once cleaned, place mussels into a nearby bowl filled with salty water, to keep them closed.
Once the mussels are clean, take directly from the salted water and add to the finished sauce – mix well after the addition of a few, and repeat.
Place the soup pot lid back on, turn onto medium heat, giving it a mix every few minutes making sure to scrap the bottom, until the mussels open – this will take only five or so minutes. The mussels will introduce more water to the dish – don’t worry about this, it will add lovely flavour! Once opened, they’re cooked.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Boil water in a stove pot. Add a Tbsp of both salt and olive oil. Cook spaghetti to packet directions until al dente (cooked with a bit of a bite – the pasta sauce will keep cooking it!). Drain pasta.
To serve, remove mussels from sauce and place into a large serving dish. Toss pasta with the sauce – taste test, and adjust salt if needed. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
Serve with mussels topped over pasta (either in their shells or remove), or keep mussels separate on a side plate.
Gluten-free? Use gluten-free pasta.Egg-free? Check to see your pasta is egg-free.