“Sicilians love a bowl of beautiful pasta. Simple is the key word here: they take two or three ingredients, flash them in the pan with the pasta and bang, it delivers every time. There are two essential elements to Sicilian food: it has to be local and it has to be in season. That’s why this dish would only be cooked in the warmer months, when cherry tomatoes are at their best. This recipe comes from Mary Taylor Simeti, who has lived in Palermo for about 50 years and is much loved here because she wrote the first cookbook about Sicilian food in English.″ Ainsley Harriott, Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food






Skill level

Average: 3.3 (43 votes)


  • 1 kg live local black mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 10 black olives, pitted
  • 250 g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small bunch basil
  • 320 g spaghetti
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup chopped parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • grated pecorino, optional, to serve

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over high heat. When hot, add the mussels, cover and cook, shaking the pan regularly, for 2-3 minutes or until the mussels just open. Remove from the heat and pour into a colander placed over a bowl. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from about three-quarters of the mussels. Reserve the cooking liquor and the remaining mussels in the shells.

Return the frying pan to medium heat. Add the remaining oil and the anchovy and stir for 1-2 minutes or until the anchovy has ‘melted’. Add the olives, cherry tomatoes and some of the basil stalks with the leaves attached. Simmer for 5-6 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened a little and the flavours have combined.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large saucepan of lightly salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and return to the pan. Stir in the tomato mixture, mussel meat, garlic and parsley, then add enough mussel cooking liquor to bind the sauce and give it a good punch of mussel flavour. Gently stir in the mussels in their shells, then remove the basil stalks (they have done their job) and tear in a good handful of fresh basil leaves. Season to taste but remember the mussel cooking liquor can be salty, then serve scattered with pecorino, if desired. 


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