Mussels carbonara is a delectable twist on the classic pasta dish, combining the delicate yet distinct flavor of the seafood with creamy carbonara sauce.
This easy-to-make recipe is perfect for seafood lovers and pasta enthusiasts alike. The elevated version of the Italian carbonara is heartier and, dare I say, more flavorful than the original. Proteins like chicken and shrimp often join the flavor-developing pancetta or bacon to make carbonara more of a meal, but mussels switch up the usual flavor profile. Instead of the signature porky background flavor, there’s a slight brininess and sweetness from the mussels, accompanied by garlic and parmesan. Their natural flavor is really allowed to shine here.
Why You’ll Love Mussels Carbonara
Rich and creamy – The luscious creaminess of the carbonara sauce pairs perfectly with the delicate seafood flavors. The sauce, made from eggs, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese, coats the pasta and seafood, creating a luxurious and satisfying texture.
A fun twist on a classic – Mussels change up the usual flavor profile of carbonara. Traditional carbonara is salty, rich, and aromatic with a savory pork flavor, while mussels carbonara is very different. Instead, it has salty-sweet nuances, and adding basil brings mild, peppery notes with sweet minty undertones.
Simple ingredients – Mussels, pasta, eggs, cheese, and garlic encompass the primary components.
A great introduction to mussels – If you’ve never tried mussels, mussels carbonara is a lovely way to get introduced. The other elements of the pasta are very complementary, and the recipe shows just how easy mussels are to work with.
Elegant – The contrast of the black shells against the pale yellow pasta is quite eye-catching, while the pops of green from the basil take the presentation over the top. For the best presentation, plate the pasta and then nestle the mussels within the pasta. This method only takes an extra minute and is the easiest way to plate mussels carbonara.
All in all, there is a lot to love about this seafood carbonara.
Mussels Carbonara Ingredients Notes
To create this mouthwatering seafood carbonara, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Pasta: Spaghetti or linguine is traditionally used, but feel free to use your favorite pasta. Ensure it is cooked al dente for the ideal texture.
- Mussels: Opt for fresh mussels with tightly closed shells, void of chips or cracks. A strong indicator of freshness is the scent. Mussels should smell briny like the sea, not fishy, rotten, or otherwise unpleasant.
- Olive oil: Use high-quality olive oil with a flavor you enjoy. The oil is used to sauté the garlic to build an aromatic base.
- Garlic: This aromatic adds depth and flavor to the dish. Sauté until softened and fragrant.
- Eggs: Use room-temperature eggs for the creamy carbonara sauce. Whisk the eggs with Parmesan cheese.
- Parmesan cheese: Parmesan adds a salty, nutty bite but has a relatively neutral flavor. Traditional carbonara uses aged pecorino, which is tangy. Although delicious, parmesan works better with mussels.
The complete ingredients list with amounts is in the recipe card below.
How to Make Mussels Carbonara
To make this delicious seafood carbonara:
- Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of water to a boil, season the pasta water, then cook the pasta according to the packaging instructions. Reserve some of the starchy pasta water.
- Sauté the garlic: Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté two garlic cloves over medium heat to build an aromatic base for the sauce.
- Combine the egg and cheese: Whisk them together until smooth and creamy, then set aside.
- Carbonara time: After reducing the heat to medium-low, add the drained pasta to the pan with the oil and garlic, then add the egg mixture and toss to combine.
- Cook the mussels: Toss the remaining garlic in a pan, then add the mussels and a cup of water. Cook until the shells open up. Discard any mussels that do not open. Unopen shells mean the mussels died before they went into the pan. Freshness is crucial to this seafood, so you want to throw them away.
- Plate and serve: Plate the pasta, garnish with basil, and serve.
Variations, Substitutions, and Cooking Tips
Customize with vegetables – Feel free to add vegetables like peas, asparagus, or spinach to add more nutritional value and color to the dish.
Use different cheese – If you prefer, go the traditional route with pecorino romano or try grana Padano for a slightly different flavor profile. The latter has a nutty taste accompanied by a subtle saltiness. Avoid overcooking – Be cautious not to overcook the mussels, as they can become rubbery and develop a very unpleasant taste. Cook until the shells open, then take the pan off the heat. Some carry-over cooking takes place, meaning they will continue to cook while in the hot pasta.
- 8 oz pasta, I use spaghetti or linguini
- 1 cups reserved pasta cooking liquid
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, divided, minced
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 2 basil leaves
- 10 mussels, cleaned
- Boil a pot of water and season with 2 tsp salt. Add the uncooked pasta and cook according to box instructions.
- Once cooked, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain and set aside.
- In a large pan, add the olive oil and half of the garlic and warm over a medium heat.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and parmesan.
- Add the cooked pasta to the pan along with the egg mixture and toss together (be sure to keep the temp around medium-low to ensure that you don't end up with scrambled eggs).
- Once the pasta is ready, set aside and add 2 more cloves of minced garlic to the pan and warm, then add the mussels along with 1 cup reserved water.
- Heat over a medium temp for about 5 minutes until all of the mussels have opened.
- Add the fresh basil leaves and serve.
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