Linguini with Mussels and Wild Fennel

My pursuit of the best dried pasta continues. In my last post in this series, Pasta della Settimana, I mentioned the importance of bronze dies in the manufacturing process. This method of extrusion has a distinct effect on the taste as well as on the ability of the cooked pasta to hold sauce. Compared to stainless steel or teflon dies, pasta made in this way has a rougher surface and an improved taste. The words ‘Trifilatura al Bronzo‘ is  a label used on retail packages to indicate this production method.

While trying to keep to a budget, bearing in mind that a weekly pasta meal is often considered a cheap option for many families, especially those with hungry teenagers, I shall keep my various pasta recommendations to under AU$5 per 500 g packet, an arbitrary line in the sand. There are many cheaper alternatives around and some are very good. You need to taste a few different varieties to distinguish the difference. It seems a crying shame to make a lovely slow cooked and expensive beef ragu, or an indulgent seafood marinara sauce, only to plonk it on the top of some tasteless industrial pasta.  So this week, my pasta brand is heading up a notch in price to AU$4.75 for a 500 g packet. The Gentile brand of pasta comes highly recommended by my helpful friend at the Mediterranean Wholesalers, a bloke who doesn’t mind a chat about food, travel and recipes. Gentile pasta is made in Gragnano, a commune famous for pasta making, located between the Amalfi coast and Naples, in Campania, Italia.

Gentile pasta from Gragnano.

“Gragnano’s main street was laid out expressly to capture the mountain breeze mixed with sea air back when pasta makers hung spaghetti on drying rods like laundry. More recently heaters are used to dry the pasta at low temperatures (approximately 122 degrees Fahrenheit) for two days and it is shaped with bronze to give it a rough texture, producing a pasta with nuttier aroma and chewier mouth feel.” ¹

The Orecchiette Napoltiane made by Gentile di Gragnano is quite different in shape from that of Puglia.

The history of pasta manufacture in Gragnano makes interesting reading in itself, and there are a few short films set in the various pasta factories of Gragnano, the better ones noted below. Italian online magazines also love to list their top 10 brands of manufactured pasta: Gentile pasta often features in the top 5 artigianale paste, after Masciarelli and Felicetti and Pastificio dei Campi. The first two brands are available in Melbourne but at a price!

Mise en place: Gentile pasta, wild fenel and chilli.

My recipe for Pasta of the Week uses Gentile Linguine. Of course you can use any other linguine that comes your way. I am enjoying working through Gentile’s range and can’t wait to try their famous Fusilli, the flagship of Gentile’s production, made by workers who roll up each noodle with a knitting needle below their forearms, giving it a helical shape which is then made even more appealing by the diversity of each individual fusillo.

Linguini con Cozze e Finocchietto, Linguini with Mussels and Wild Fennel Fronds. Ingredients for 2 people.

  • 200 g Gentile ( or other brand) Linguini
  • 1/2 kilo of fresh mussels, de-bearded and cleaned
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 finely chopped fresh chilli
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • a dash or two of white wine
  • some grinds of white pepper
  • 2 branches of wild fennel.

Method. In a wide and deep frying pan, such as a non- stick wok, add one tablespoon of olive oil, one peeled garlic clove, and a slurp or two of dry white wine. Add the cleaned mussels and cover with a lid, heating on medium until the mussels open. Take out the mussels and reduce the liquid a little. Strain the liquid into a small jug, leaving behind the grit.

Remove the mussels from their shells, leaving two in the shells for decoration. Chop the mussel meat but not too finely. Depending on the size of your mussels, aim to chop each one into quarters.

Cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water, but only cook for half of the suggested time.

In the wide frying pan used previously, heat 1 tablespoon of EV olive oil, then add one finely chopped garlic and chilli, being careful not to overcook them. Immediately scoop out the pasta from the pot, and add to the pan. Don’t worry about the water clinging to the strands- this adds to the sauce. Now add some of reserved mussel juice and stir well. The pasta needs to cook for another five minutes in this way, a little like making a risotto. Add more mussel juice and also some of the starchy pasta cooking water. After five minutes, the pasta should be cooked to al dente and some rich sauce will have formed. Test the pasta for doneness. Add the chopped mussel meat and the chopped wild fennel fronds, to the pasta, along with a few grinds of white pepper. Toss gently. Serve, adding the reserved mussels in the shell for decoration along with some more fennel fronds. Mmmm Bellissimo.

Pranzo per due.

Notes.

¹ Gragnano wiki

I am indebted to a recipe found on Speck and the City,  but have made various changes along the way. This site is rather more adventurous than most Italian cooking sites and worth a good look.

The following little videos are set around Gragnano. One with George Depardieu visiting the Gentile pasta factory with some very annoying French dubbing over the Italian. Turn the sound off and enjoy watching George and the Fusillare. The second shows some fascinating ancient mills of Gragnano. I know where I’m off to on my next trip to Italy.

32 thoughts on “Linguini with Mussels and Wild Fennel”

  1. I loved the vids but was shocked to see Gerard Depardieu at such an abundant weight and he’s only 70. – he reminded me of Marlon Brando in later years – they both loved eating, drinking and celebrating indulgences. Back to pasta, as you and Mr T witness on your recent visit here I have a pasta making machine that is fully automatic. Toss all the ingredients into it – mix – reverse the cycle and extrude. All very well for fresh pasta but not good for al dente. So, I took it upon myself to dry it out naturally. I made a kilo each of spaghetti, fettuccini and linguini – I hung the strands over wooden coat hangers then attached the hangers to the blades of the over-head fan blades. I set the speed on low and it rotated perfectly – I used the rotation to assist in not only drying the pasta but to keep any hungry tropical bugs from landing. I was so proud of my invention. I left it on over night to ensure I ended up with air-dried pasta. What I awoke to was three kilos of snapped off pasta bits decorating my kitchen and dining room floor furniture and walls. And said pasta had indeed been set upon by squillions of hungry creepy-crawlies. Needless to say I’m now using my dehydrator to avoid another food disaster.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha, I can imagine the mess and the creepy crawlies in the morning. As I was reading this story about the fan, I was thinking to myself- OH NO>You are too funny Peter. I used to work in a pasta factory in Brunswick ( La Tosca) and they had these drying racks in airless rooms to dry the pasta overnight. Never worked so hard in my life.
      I think you could just use your machine for the fresh stuff and buy dried pasta.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are visiting a Continental food wholesaler in Cairns next week who stocks a huge variety of Italian goodies. And after my “pasta disaster” I’ll certainly be restocking my winter larder. We’ve also sourced fresh local blue mussels – very cheap at the mo. Consequently we’ll attempt your recipe on Friday week – our seafood night. I made red dragonfruit, lime, ginger and beetroot jam yesterday. Not sharing!!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful recipe! Instead of working have spent the last half-hour searching for the cheapest on-line Gentile pasta . . . . have not as yet been as ‘lucky’ as you but shall persist to taste the difference! What good practice of my rather paltry Italian and French I shall have later in the night to see the interesting videos on offer: and yes, having seen a number of the Depardieu ‘foodie’ films his physicians must be somewhat worried about where all the delightful food has gone . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. George has always had a tendency to be rather large around the middle. Did you, perchance, watch him in that series on Netflix called Marseilles? Loved that series.
      Not sure about online pasta sources so can’t help you there Eha. Some of the other good brands, albeit cheaper and not ‘artigianale’ are my standbys- de Cecco and Molisana, both using that bronze die method of extraction.

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      1. *smile* Don’t subscribe to Netflix, I am afraid, and have not seen ‘Marseilles’ . . . . am somewhat in a similar position to Ron and Igrocer here also charges around $8 !!! Even more for some shapes + freight . . . But I thoroughly enjoyed your videos (always do!) . . . . French foodie ones I can manage, the Italian ones are a mixture of understanding and guesswork 🙂 ! Please do continue to do the ‘homework’ for us . . . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We love pasta Gentile, but on a pensioners budget only have for special meals. We pay 49kr (AU$7.25) per 500g plus shipping cost. Doesn’t make sense, you guys are so much further away and the cost is less in Oz.
    Great post and story regarding bronze die extruded pasta. The recipe, sounds great and will be put on the list to make when we have our fall harvest of blue mussel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ron, the lower costs may result from our very strong Italo- Australian community and Italian business connections, with the Mediterranean wholesalers in Melbourne leading the way- with organic reggiano parmigiano and other great produce from Italy. That’s the only thing I can think of. I often make a pasta recipe in summer with mussels and tomato, but fancied this gentler treatment for winter. It’s a good time for blue mussels here now. Nice to find another fan of Gentile pasta Ron.

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  4. I am loving your pasta posts and have been on the hunt for new varieties. One of the major supermarkets in Geelong has introduced, as a new line, a small range of the de Cecco brand. Maybe they read your blog 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Andrea, glad you’re enjoying this series. I’m certainly enjoying doing the research and it forces me to try out a few new shapes and different sauces. De Cecco is a great brand, It is still voted as one of the best brands out there in the ‘factory’ varieties. I usually keep at least four shapes of it at a time for everyday cooking. I’ve noticed it’s becoming more available.

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  5. Love the pasta story! I haven’t seen Gentile pasta here but will have to look for it. My compagno gave me a gift you would like. I have not had a chance to try it out yet-it’s so big. He ‘inherited’ a bigoli torchio per la pasta. it is mounted on a bench and has 5 different bronze templates to extrude different shaped pasta. I’ll have to send a photo when I finally get it working. Ciao, Cristina

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, what a gift Cristina, I hope you get the thing going. Sounds right up my alley and a work of art almost. Yes, do send photos or do a post on it. I can;t even imagine what it looks like.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. When I get the opportunity to foodie browse I’ll keep a look out for the good pasta brands you mention. When I was a kid in the country wild fennel was everywhere and I hated the smell of it. Of course, now my tastes have matured alomg with the rest of me, I’d love it but it doesn’t appwar to be coastal, that or it has succumbed along with the blckberries to council weedspraying. The good news is I have a Florence Fennel finally looking like it might flourish in the vege patch.

    Liked by 1 person

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