Spinach, mussels and orzo

Spinach, mussels and orzo


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This recipe requires a little bit of work but it is worth it. It is somewhere between a pasta dish and soup. The orzo slurps up the salty liquor from the mussels and brings together the irony spinach and sweet shellfish. This is a bright and pretty dish that delivers on flavour as well as looks.

Alternative suggestions: to take this recipe in a different direction and have a richer version, replace the tomatoes with 100ml cream, which should be added when you combine the spinach and mussels together. In this instance, do not use the fennel seeds or chilli and replace the marjoram at the end with more parsley.

Begin by preparing the mussels. Any mussels that are open or damaged should be discarded. Give them a good rinse in a sink full of water.
Heat 30ml of olive oil in a large saucepan that can take the mussels in one layer. If you don’t have a large enough pan then do this in batches. Bash one of the cloves of garlic to crush it slightly and add it to the pan along with the parsley stalks
Once they are crackling and spitting, add the mussels and white wine and cover with a lid. Cook hard for a few minutes. Once the mussels have opened, drain them but be sure to collect all of their liquor
If any mussels have failed to open then discard them. Pick the meat from the mussels and chop half relatively finely, leaving the other half whole. Place them in a bowl and pour over the mussel liquor through a sieve. Do not pour out the last tablespoon or so as this is usually somewhat gritty
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Plunge the spinach in and boil for 2 minutes until cooked, then drain
Once the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess liquid and chop finely
Crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar. They don’t need to be completely crushed to a powder – it’s quite nice when you occasionally bite into a piece of fennel seed
Now comes the slightly faffy part of the recipe. I like to braise the mussels and spinach separately so that they each get to absorb the garlicky goodness alone before meeting each other
Finely chop the remaining garlic. Heat 60ml of olive oil in a saucepan and add half of the garlic. Once it fizzes, add the chopped spinach along with half the fennel seeds. Stir around well and season with salt and pepper. Do this judiciously as the mussels are naturally salty. Allow any excess water from the spinach to boil off. You want to be left with an oily and unctuous pan of spinach. Place the spinach in a bowl to one side
Wash out your saucepan and heat with the rest of the olive oil. Add the remaining garlic and chopped parsley. When they start fizzing vigorously, add the mussels but not the liquor yet. Stir around and add the remaining fennel seeds and chilli flakes. Cook for a few minutes so the flavours all mingle
From your tin of tomatoes, pluck out 3 tomatoes and crush them in your hands over the mussels. Do not add any of the liquid from the tin. This small addition of tomato adds some acidity and depth to the dish. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes, then pour over the mussel liquor and bring to a simmer
Add the spinach to the mussel pan and mix well together. Allow to bubble for a minute or two. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the orzo according to the packet instructions
Once cooked, drain and add to the spinach and mussels, along with the marjoram. Stir well and taste. If it still needs some acidity (this will depend on your tomatoes) then squeeze in the lemon quarter. Finally drizzle over good olive oil and serve
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