Cozze Alla Tarantina (Spicy Mussel Soup)

Fish markets fascinate me! It is something that happened to me since I was a kid, spending my summers on the coast of Tuscany with my family. There is something very rigorous about the way fishermen display their pray, about the way they solicit shoppers, and the way they loudly negotiate or call for your attention. The key element to me is that whatever you come across at a fish market that exists close to any coastal region is the fact that what you are buying is “prey”! Every day is different, every catch becomes a fisherman’s story, something to romanticize about it… a sort of “added value” to your meal.

When I was young I used to hit the market with my father for different reasons: we would look for bait to use for fishing, we would buy the occasional Tuna Steaks to toss on the grill, but mostly we would purchase “poor fish” to make soups or pasta sauces whenever we could not fish enough on our own.

As a half-Jewish kid living in a Kosher house my fascination with the fish market was not completely shared with my father. His perception of the environment we were was very different than mine; he always was looking for something specific, or at least items that would fit into his religious parameters, I always gravitated toward all the food I knew I could not have… At least, not yet! Clams, Shrimps, Mussels, Lobsters and my favorite, the Octopus, probably one of the most interesting living creatures to me still to this day.

As I reached my culinary emancipation, and started purchasing and cooking the food that I wanted without feeling too guilty about it, a whole universe of flavors presented itself to me. As much as I like staring at big catches orderly displayed over a bed of ice at the market, I still though have a passion for more humble species of fish… the ones I can see when I snorkel in the Tirrenic Sea, the little ones that holds the flavors of the slightly saltier Mediterranean Sea. My point being: I like Tuna and Swordfish steaks on the grill, dressed with simple extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, but I adore the way I can taste the ocean when I press a steamed clam between my tongue and my palate.

The following recipe is one of my favorite ways to celebrate life in the sea, and the once forbidden flavors that are now for me unrenounceable.


Prep Time: 10 mins/ Cook Time: 10 mins/ Serves: 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced into chunks
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ pounds cherry tomatoes, some quartered, the rest sliced in half
¾ cup dry white wine
3 pounds mussels, scrubbed well and debearded
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Grilled Bread, recipe follows

Heat a charcoal grill to medium high heat.


Add oil to a large heavy Dutch oven over the grill grates. Once hot, add garlic and crushed red pepper, and stir until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and then stir in the cherry tomatoes. Stir until some tomatoes begin to burst and you begin to smell their sweetness, about 5 minutes.


Stir in the white wine and once it begins to simmer, add the mussels and cover with a lid. Cook for about 6-8 minutes, just until the mussels open. Do not overcook or they’ll be tough and chewy and no longer taste like the sea. Discard the mussels that do not open while cooking.


Divide into soup bowls and sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with some more extra virgin olive oil. Serve with grilled bread.