I have a taste for mussels (cozze in Italian). Those clever little bivalve mollusks that carry the brine of the sea in each bite. I’m longing for them to spring open and for me to mop up the flavor of the cooking sauce with a loaf of crusty bread.
Italians have been cultivating mussels since about 1000 AD and in the port cities of Puglia they have been a major economic industry for centuries. Cozze ripene or stuffed mussels are a popular regional dish made with a breadcrumb cheese mixture cooked in a tomato sauce. Another regional favorite, Pugliese tiella, an oven-baked dish that combines mussels with rice and potatoes, takes its name from the earthenware pot (tiella, also known as a tegame,) in which they are cooked. In Liguria mussels are infused with white wine, extra virgin olive oil, parsley and onions and served over tagliatelle pasta. The mussels – wine – garlic- pasta combination can take on variety of permutations. The classic Italian American seafood stew cioppino shares its ingredients with several savory tomato based regional Italian variations. All are perfect for a warm, satisfying wintertime meal you can cozze up to.
*note to self – restaurant in Milan devoted to just mussels called La Cozzeria behind Porta Romana Metro station – must try
According to more than one Italian culinary aficionado and our Italian nonni, the magic of Italy is in the water, pasta water that is. The residual water known as l’acqua di cottura (the cooking water), used to boil the pasta is a key ingredient common to all pasta dishes. The cooking water helps the sauce adhere to the pasta better, adds moisture and makes the pasta creamy without adding too much oil or grease.
Mettere un pò d’acqua di cottura nella padella.
from la cucina di Lalla
To make this magical moment happen always reserve a cup or so of your cooked pasta water and add (stirring vigorously) into the pan of almost cooked pasta. The ingredients used to make the pasta are given up to the water and the starch emulsifies with the seasonings and added water to create a beautiful rich sauce known in Italy as a cremina.
Some sources say that mascarpone would be nowhere without tiramisu. Conversely a tiramisu made without mascarpone would be lessened in flavor and texture. According to Italian Food Forever, a tiramisu is by definition “a rich creamy mascarpone layered dessert made with brandy and coffee infused savoiardi cookies and dusted with rich dark chocolate”. You may find different types of liquor used in tiramisu recipes but mascarpone cheese stands alone as the cheese of choice in a true tiramisu.
Although I cannot imagine a tiramisu without mascarpone, according to a Bing search with 989,000 results, tiramisu without mascarpone is entirely acceptable. Recipes for tiramisu without mascarpone are all over the internet with substitutions like cream cheese, ricotta, creme patisserie, instant vanilla pudding and silken tofu. If tempted to substitute remember it is the high fat content (between 60% to 75%) of mascarpone that makes tiramisu such an iconic Italian dessert.
Mascarpone’s claim to fame as a fluffy, spreadable cheese originated in Northern Italy and while it is best known for its presence in tiramisù, its creamy texture and delicate flavor is perfect as a versatile ingredient in everything from entrées to desserts.
This written shot of espresso is paired with a simple tiramisu recipe that showcases mascarpone’s true claim to fame.