In Italy we call all shellfish frutti di mare: sea fruits. The term is both poetically descriptive and revealing of the pleasure Italians take in the fruit of their many seas. I remember my father going nearly every day to meet the fishing boats; the brightness in his eyes as he spread a mound of glossy black mussels or jumping live shrimp on the kitchen table was the same as when he brought home ripe, honeyed peaches from the farm or a basketful of berries from a walk in the woods. Shellfish is ideally suited to the temperament of the Italian cook, who thrives on fresh ingredients straightforwardly prepared. There is little you can do to shellfish to make it taste any better than it did when it came out of the sea. In this sauce very little cooking takes place, just enough to merge the flavors of the garlic, tomato, mussel juice, parsley, and hot pepper that punctuate the delectable mildness of the unmanipulated mussel meat. The mussels themselves go into the pan for that moment or two necessary to warm them. The ideal vehicle for this, as for most seafood sauces, is thin spaghetti, whose reduced surface does not obtrude yet whose firmness—when cooked al dente—is sufficient to carry the sauce.
© 1986 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.