Get ready to indulge in a mouthwatering dish straight from the heart of Campania – Peppered Mussels, also known as ‘Mpepata ‘e Cozze’ in Neapolitan! This quick, easy and oh-so-delicious recipe is a Southern Italian favourite that you don’t want to miss. Just make sure to clean your mussels thoroughly or better yet, ask your fishmonger to do it for you.
About this Recipe
By: Silvana Lanzetta
Whenever I eat peppered mussels (impepata di cozze), it instantly brings me back to my childhood. I don’t even remember the first time I had them, but I do remember the pure joy of finding them served for lunch at home or during family gatherings.
Unfortunately, at some point during my childhood, my mum stopped making them. When I begged for them, she told me that she didn’t buy mussels anymore because there was a risk of getting hepatitis A. I was devastated. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I didn’t care – I just wanted my beloved mussels.
But, luckily, our seas have been cleaned up, and now we can enjoy eating shellfish again. The first time I saw fresh mussels in my local London supermarket, I didn’t think twice, and bought them right away. And, of course, I prepared them as peppered mussels.
At the time, my daughter was only two years old. I gave her a mussel to see how she would react, and guess what? She loved them! She ate them so quickly and requested more so fast, I didn’t even have time to deshell them. It was a truly heartwarming moment that brought me back to my own childhood memories of this delicious dish.
- Verdicchio di Matelica DOC
- Ischia DOC White
- Offida Passerina DOCG
- Offida Pecorino DOCG
Characteristics of the paired wines
- Colour: White
- Wine type: Still wine
- Sweetness: dry
- Stricture: lean
Ferdinando I of Bourbon King of Naples
Image source Wikimedia Commons
Let me tell you about the fascinating origins of the peppered mussels dish. The story starts with Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, who was the king of Naples from 1759 to 1816, but with a few interruptions here and there. He was also known as Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Ferdinand III of Sicily. He had quite a few nicknames, such as Re Lazzarone (King Idle) or Re Nasone (King Big Nose). So, as you can see, he who was one became triune, especially when it came to eating!
King Ferdinand the Glutton
Ferdinand was a bottomless pit, and his gluttony was the cause of continuous and disastrous indigestions and colics. Indeed, he had a particular fondness for seafood, and even he would often fish for them himself. He would venture out to the Patria and Fusaro lakes for the most valuable catches, and he would also fish on the rocks of Posillipo and Marechiaro for the most common ones. In fact, he was so passionate about seafood that he even sold some of his catch at higher prices.
The King and the Dominican Friar
Ferdinand, who was very religious and wouldn’t want to transgress his obligations as a good Christian, was advised by the Dominican friar Gregorio Maria Rocco to limit his gluttony during Holy Week.
Ferdinand was a lover of the quiet life and didn’t want to create any unnecessary conflict. However, a whole week of even limited abstinence was too much of a test for a glutton like him. So, he came up with a compromise solution – he ordered his cooks to “impoverish” his sumptuous dishes for that week. One of the dishes he had created himself was cozzeche dint’ ‘a connola, which translates to “mussels in the cradle.” It was a recipe made with mussels he went to fish on the rocks of Posillipo. The mussels were stuffed inside a large Sorrento tomato, covered with breadcrumbs, capers, garlic, and parsley, and then baked to perfection.
A More Modest Banquet
But during Holy Thursday, the cooks had to remove the mussels from the rich cradle and place them in a more modest soup. And guess what? The result exceeded all expectations! It was so delicious that it became a hit among the nobles and court officials, their success soon spread beyond the walls of the Palace and reached the bourgeoisie.
But what about the common people? Well, they had to settle for a substitute – snails! That’s right, snails took the place of the more expensive mussels in the identical soup.
Peppered mussels are a good source of protein and healthy fats, with moderate carbohydrates, and are rich in iron, selenium, and vitamin B12. The garlic and parsley in the recipe are beneficial for their antioxidants and potential anti-inflammatory properties. Overall, this recipe can be a nutritious addition to a balanced diet.
- Proteins 29% 29%
- Carbs 10% 10%
- Fats 50% 50%
When it comes to making peppered mussels, one of the most important things is making sure your mussels are super fresh. That means buying them from a fishmonger that you trust – you don’t want to take any chances with seafood that’s not up to par!
After you’ve got your mussels, it’s time to give them a good clean. Mussels can harbour all sorts of parasites on their shells, so it’s important to clean them thoroughly to eliminate the risk of any gastrointestinal problems.
And when you’re cooking your mussels, be sure to keep an eye out for any that don’t open up. If a mussel stays shut after cooking, it means that it was already dead before you started cooking it – and that’s not something you want to eat! So, make sure to discard any unopened mussels to keep your dish as tasty and safe as possible.
I gotta admit, I love garlic just as much as the next person. But when it comes to making peppered mussels, it’s important not to go too crazy with it.
The recipe calls for 2 cloves, which might not seem like a lot – especially if you’re used to adding garlic to everything under the sun! But here’s the thing: Italian cuisine is all about achieving that perfect balance of flavours, and going overboard with garlic can really throw things off.
So trust the recipe, and resist the urge to add more garlic than it calls for. I promise you’ll still get a delicious dish that’s bursting with flavour.
Extra-virgin olive oil
When it comes to making peppered mussels, there’s one ingredient that you absolutely can’t skip: extra-virgin olive oil.
Because this dish is cooked super fast, the extra-virgin olive oil is able to preserve most of its delicious goodness. But here’s the catch: you gotta make sure you’re using a good quality oil. No skimping on this one!
If you’re not sure how to choose a good extra-virgin olive oil, don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. Check out my article on the subject for some helpful tips and tricks. And once you’ve got your hands on a high-quality oil, get ready to take your peppered mussels to the next level.
When it comes to choosing your pepper, go for black and coarsely ground. Trust me, it’ll give you the most flavor possible and really make your dish pop.
Now, as the name suggests, you’re gonna want to add a decent amount of pepper to the mix. But don’t worry, we’re not trying to set your mouth on fire or anything! Just enough to give your mussels a nice little kick and really bring out all those delicious flavors. So go ahead and sprinkle it on, and get ready to enjoy a seriously tasty seafood dish.
- Total Time: 50
- Yield: 4 portions 1x
- 2 kg of very fresh mussels
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 4 tbsps of Extra-virgin olive oil
- A small bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
- Sliced lemon
- Toasted sliced sourdough bread
Make sure to clean the mussels by rinsing them with running water and removing any impurities that are stuck to their shells. For more information on how to properly clean mussels, refer to my article.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over low heat and add the chopped garlic. Be sure to keep the heat low to avoid burning the garlic, and cook for 5 minutes or until fragrant.
Add the mussels to the pan and cover with a lid. Firmly hold the lid with one hand and the pan handle with the other hand, then shake the pan vigorously with an ascending movement until all the mussels are opened, about 5 minutes.
Once all the mussels are opened, sprinkle them generously with freshly ground black pepper and chopped parsley.
Serve the Neapolitan peppery mussels immediately with sliced lemon and toasted bread. Enjoy!
To maintain the flavour and quality of the peppered mussels, it is highly recommended to avoid storing them. Therefore, it’s best to consume them immediately after cooking for the best dining experience.
An easy and popular variation of the traditional peppered mussels recipe is to add chopped tomatoes. To achieve this, simply add 2 or 3 tablespoons of chopped tomatoes to the oil and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes before adding the mussels. This will add a delightful burst of fresh tomato flavour to the dish.
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Fish
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: seafood, mussels, peppercorns, quick cook, easy recipe, Neapolitan food, cucina povera