This is a quick and simple dish that packs in a lot of flavor, from the brine of the mussels to the floral quality of the herbs and the salinity of the wine. The herbs bring a lot to this dish and so it is worth using fresh if you can get them (at a minimum try to get at least one fresh). While it is important to have a mix of green herbs, you can easily substitute ones you like best. In addition to the three listed below, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and even scallions work fine.
2 lbs. mussels (preferably small Maine mussels, Whole Foods often carried Moosabecs which are tasty and usually well-cleaned) NOTE: The mussels should be stored in a bowl sitting on a small bag of ice in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can ask the market to give you a bag of ice when you get the mussels.
2 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 ½ T. fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 ½ t. dried thyme)
1-2 T. fresh basil (or 1-2 t. dried)
4-5 chives blades snipped or chopped into small pieces
¾ c. dry white wine (for a slightly different take, you can substitute beer)
2 T. unsalted butter
freshly ground pepper
freshly grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese, best quality you can find
½ to ⅔ lb.of dried linguine
- Wash the exterior of the mussels well and pull off any beards (fibers coming out from where the shell closes) and return to the bowl in the refrigerator. Throw away any mussels that do not fully close within a few seconds when tapped on the counter as they are already dead and should not be eaten.
- Bring a well-salted pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
- While the water is heating, finely mince the garlic, chop the fresh thyme (if using), and snip or cut the chives.
- Place a deep pot or large fry pan with a tight fitting lid over medium low heat. Add the olive oil and then the garlic. Allow the garlic to sauté for a minute or two, but do not let it brown.
- When the pasta water reaches a rolling boil, add the linguine and cook for the recommended amount of time on the package (usually 10-12 minutes).
- Add the white wine to the pot/fry pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Allow to come up to a simmer to cook off some of the alcohol.
- Add the mussels to the wine and garlic and immediately cover the pot/pan.
- While the mussels are cooking, roll up and thinly slice the basil leaves (chiffonade). This is done after the other herbs because the leaves will begin to discolor soon after they are cut.
- Cook the mussels for 3-5 minutes until all (or almost all) have opened. Immediately turn off and remove the pan from the heat.
- Add the butter and the herbs to the mussels and toss well. Discard any mussels that did not open.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain well, and divide among serving bowls.
- Top the pasta with mussels using tongs, leaving the bulk of the sauce still in the pot/pan.
- Once all the mussels have been removed, carefully tilt the pan and using a ladle or spoon pour the sauce over the mussels and pasta, leaving behind any residual grit (there shouldn’t be much).
- Top the dish with freshly ground pepper and grated cheese to taste. (The cheese will melt into the sauce and enrich it.)