pasta con le cozze

Grandma Lina cooks priceless pasta with mussels


I was born in Crotone, Calabria, South Italy and I used to spend a part of my summer there every year.

My favorite moment was and is still my arrival, when I finally see my grandma, Lina. Regardless of what time I get there, a dish of pasta with mussels is already waiting for me before I can park the car and hug her.

The table is always set in the same way: the same checkered tablecloth, the same blue floral plate.

Here for the whole experience

In a Michelin star restaurant, the bill is expensive because you pay for the genuine, original ingredients used, but you also pay for the whole experience. Well, eating at my grandma’s is pretty much the same.

Mussels are always fresh, my grandad Raffaele wakes up early in the morning to go to the fish market and choose them one by one. When he comes back home, he carefully cleans out the mussels using seawater. He takes fresh garlic from his godfather, he buys fresh parsley at the farmers’ market. He grows red hot chili peppers on his balcony, he uses extra virgin olive oil which has been made in a local olive oil mill.

How can you try to repeat this at home?

Grandma’s pasta with mussels: oily, tasty, spicy, juicy

However, they are “just” spaghetti: Nonno doesn’t like linguini and the pasta is often not al dente because he prefers it soft. The mussels are spongy and sweet, their juice is fragrant though. Grandma puts a part of the juice as a first dressing, then she adds more to every single portion.
The biggest one goes to an eventual guest.

Grandma’s pasta with mussels is oily, but not too much.

Grandma’s pasta is tasty, but not aggressive.

You can taste the parsley, but it’s not intrusive.

It’s slightly spicy, it’s juicy. You have to get all dirty if you really want to enjoy it.

I usually eat all the pasta and leave some of the mussels so that I can eat them alone.

At that precise moment, I understand that every single forkful has been different.

I feel I’m back home, I feel I’m close to the seaside.

Grandma's pasta with mussels in Calabria Southern Italy


Even though we keep saying it’s hardly impossible to copy grandma’s pasta with mussels, let’s give it a try following this recipe taken from her own experience.


  • 1 kg of mussels (but grandpa Raffaele would buy 2 kilos)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil (to taste)
  • Parsley (same story)
  • 5-6 Pachino tomatoes (either cut in small pieces or whole)
  • 1 Calabrian red hot chili pepper
  • 500gr spaghetti n10 (but grandpa Raffaele would say to cook at least 700gr)
  • 1 checkered tablecloth
  • 4 blue floral plates


Let’s start with the mussels. If unlike grandpa Raffaele you can’t choose them one by one and clean them out with seawater, make sure to accurately scratch their shells or buy a box of mussels that have already been cleaned.

You then need a low but large pan, and possibly its corresponding lid. Pour a little bit of olive oil into the pan and add the red hot chili pepper, the garlic cloves cut in half, and ground parsley. When the oil starts to fry, put the mussels inside the pan and put the lid on top. Remember that the mussels are ready only when they start to open!

At the point when the mussels start to open, Grandma Lina takes every mussel out of its shell and throws the shells away. If any mussels have remained closed, throw these as well (DO NOT OPEN THEM FOR ANY REASON!). Grandma Lina then puts the mussels with no shell back in the sauce and leaves them in the pan without cooking them further. This way they will take on all the juices from the pan and release their flavorful taste.

Next, it’s time to take a pot filled with water in order to cook the spaghetti. Bring the water to a boil, add salt and put the pasta in. You can use the time suggested by the pasta package or try it yourself (always better, especially if you want it al dente). When the pasta is ready, reserve one cup of hot pasta water before draining it.

We need this to incorporate the pasta with the mussel sauce.
In fact, it’s now time to mix the pasta with part of the sauce. Place the drained pasta on a large serving plate. Add the reserved hot pasta water and the mussels with the sauce from the pan. A
dd all the sauce until the last drop, mixing the pasta together to complete the dish.

Serve, enjoy, and try to feel like you’re in Southern Italy.

Buon appetito!

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Simone Franco
Simone Franco
Articles: 28

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