Thank goodness for the world wide web, that wonderful treasure trove of regional recipes we may have never heard of otherwise! If you’re like us and cannot afford to spend as much time roaming the world in search of wonderful gems of home cooking prowess as you’d like to – or if you happen to have a parrot who doesn’t approve of his parents spending too much time away from home – we’ve got great news for you! You needn’t go any further than your computer, laptop, iPad or even mobile phone! OK, you may still have to appease said parrot chewing furiously at your mouse cord or iPad cover trying to get your undivided attention, but your efforts can often be rewarded with some amazing finds.
The quest for today’s featured dish started innocently enough. All we were looking for, really, was something interesting involving mussels. We also happened to have an ever growing collection of potatoes in the pantry, thanks to our fruit and veggie boxes. We knew that those two combine pretty well, but this wasn’t a pre-requisite in our recipe search. So, when we stumbled upon this recipe from Gourmet Traveller, we knew we had to try it.
As the name suggests, Tiella Pugliese hails from the south-eastern Italian region of Puglia, and is essentially a layered rice, potato and mussels casserole, sometimes enhanced by the addition of other seasonal vegetables such as zucchini or mushrooms. We loved it for its rustic simplicity, undoubtedly calling for the best quality ingredients one can find. We haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Puglia before but, as we were preparing the ingredients, we couldn’t help but dream about doing the same in a lovely kitchen amidst the white washed walls of a medieval city overlooking the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea :-)
The name refers to the very pretty terracotta dish this is traditionally cooked in. If you don’t happen to have one handy, you may try to justify this shortcoming of your kitchen as the perfect reason for an urgent trip to Italy – or you could simply use whatever dish you think will be capable of doing the job J Based on the many pictures we have seen, it is generally baked in a round dish but, since we didn’t have one deep enough to hold all ingredients (when choosing the appropriate cooking vessel, you will need to bear in mind the extra liquid required for the rice), we discovered that a plain rectangular ceramic dish worked reasonably well.
There are quite a few steps involved in this recipe, so it’s not advisable to try this on a hectic night when you’ve only got 30 minutes to prepare dinner. Otherwise, it was really fun putting it together and we were all very pleased with the outcome.
This is what you will need:
2 kg live mussels, well rinsed, scrubbed, beards removed
250 ml white wine
300 g Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
8 – 10 medium sized waxy potatoes, peeled, sliced lengthwise about 3 mm thick
5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, roughly chopped
3 medium sized onions, peeled, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
100 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
The first step is to cook the mussels. Once you’ve cleaned and rinsed them really well, bring the wine to the boil in a large pot. Add the mussels, cover and cook for approximately 5 minutes or until most of the mussels have opened. Remove the mussels from the pot and set them aside to cool. Reserve as much of the cooking liquid as you can, as we will use this as the stock for our rice casserole.
We know there are at least two different schools of thought regarding what to do with unopened cooked mussel shells. Old school thinking says you should discard them as it means those mussels are past their prime and you shouldn’t risk eating them. New school thinking says there’s nothing wrong with the unopened ones, and you’d only be wasting perfect food by throwing them away. Not possessing enough scientific knowledge to back either theory, we’ll leave it up to you to decide the fate of your unopened mussels. We discarded ours. Anyway, the idea here is that, when cool enough to handle, you should remove most of them from their shells. Remember to keep about 15 (or more depending on the size of your baking dish) where you have only removed the top shell as we will use them to decorate the finished dish.
The next step is to measure the correct amount of liquid according to type of rice you are using. Ours was 3 parts liquid to 1 part rice and the liquid reserved from cooking the mussels was just enough to satisfy this requirement. If you find you need more, we suggest adding some fish stock instead of plain water to enhance the flavour. Bring this to the boil and then keep simmering until you are ready to use it.
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
Separate the onion slices into rings, then use these to cover the base of your baking dish. As mentioned above, the shape of the dish doesn’t really matter as long as you choose one suitable for the quantity of ingredients.
Next, place a layer of potatoes on top of the onion rings, once again ensuring that you have covered the entire surface of the dish. Top the potatoes with half of the chopped tomatoes – this time you won’t have enough to cover the whole dish, that’s OK.
Drizzle everything with 2 tbsp of olive oil, season with some sea salt and a generous amount of freshly cracked pepper, scatter half the chopped parsley, then top with half of the grated parmesan.
Place the shelled mussels on top of the parmesan layer, then cover everything with rice and the remainder of tomatoes.
Season again and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil.
Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself because your traditional pugliese dish has nearly been completed – we’re up to the final layer now :-)
So – arrange the remainder of potato slices as neatly as you can. Arrange the half-shelled mussels (shell side down) among the potatoes to form a nice pattern according to the shape of your dish.
Pour the simmering stock, ensuring the entire mixture is covered.
Sprinkle with the remaining parsley, then scatter the remainder of the parmesan.
Bake uncovered for approximately 60 – 70 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked. You may have to check the rice, but this can be easily done as some of it will be exposed in the little gaps between the mussel shells and potato slices. If the mixture is drying out too soon, keep some boiling water handy and top up as necessary.
This makes about 6 generous servings and it pairs beautifully well with a crisp green salad.