My mother was pregnant with me the day her father took her to visit the kitchen of the cargo ship where he was working as the crew cook.

They went down the narrow stairs to get to the underwater level kitchen.

My mother, being a weak-stomach person, got immediately sick with the smell of paint, petrol, salt, moisture and fried onions that characterizes the belly of cargo ships. She didn’t say anything, but the pale colour of her cheeks spoke for her.

She resisted, more because of her innate curiosity than of the willingness to not upset her father. So they entered the small room that my grandfather used to keep clean, tidy and rich with the wonderful pans of food he was able to create with the little money budgeted for the crew.

It was Sunday, and my grandfather had gotten a little more money to shop on Saturday and make a better meal for the feast day.

Besides a nice pasta with squid and a cake with custard and liquor to make the sailors happy, he prepared a glorious soup with mixed seafood: a “bed” of inexpensive mussels, upon which a profusion of different shells that was appealing to the eyes and provoked the appetite. Long “cannolicchi“, shiny brown “datteri“, big and red “fasolari“, stripped “tartufi“, tasty and smooth “telline“, round “vongole“, funny “chioccioline” were there with their colours and good smells. My mother forgot her sickness for a short while, captured by the artistic presentation rather than the desire to eat.

But what her father could read in her eyes was just a “voglia”, an uncontrolled desire to eat that magnificent soup. He could not give her any, as it was just enough for the crew. He first got worried, then actually terrified by his thought that his beloved daughter was taken by the “will” of mussels: the baby she was bringing in her belly could be born with a “will” of mussels – a thick, black, hard spot on the skin, which, especially in the case of a girl, would have been more than ugly.

He explained with patience that he could not give her the soup to taste, but told her how to cook it. My mother had not the heart to say she was not hungry at all, as she did not understand the worries of her father: she thought he was just proud of his own recipe. So she pursurvered inside the belly of the ship to listen to the recipe of the mollusk soup, while her belly was in trouble with sea sickness and because of me starting to kick.

So, what I’m offering today, is not actually a recipe of my own invention, but as I heard it from my grandfather’s voice through my mother’s belly in the belly of the ship.

Mollusc Soap

Ingredients for 6 people:

1 Kg mussels

500 gr (cherry stone ) clams, 2 inch large

300 sea truffles

300 gr cannolicchi (long shells)

400 gr big red clams (cappe chione or fasolari)

1 Kg peeled tomatoes

500 gr sliced Tuscan bread (unsalted)

olive oil, garlic, parsley, hot chilli


Put the different kinds of clams, but not the mussels, in a big bowl full of salted water to clear.

Clean, brush, rinse the mussels and take off the “beard” from the shells. Open the mussels putting them in a pan with some olive oil, garlic and parsley on the heat, covered with a lid. They will be ready in less then 5 minutes. Filter their water through a cotton cloth and keep it apart.

Beat the clams one by one on a cutting board, to be sure they do not contain mud, then rinse them very well. Rinse all the shells.

Steam the shells (sea truffles, sea dates and big red clams); saute’ the clams in the same way as the mussels, then filter and reserve their water.

Prepare a tomato sauce: brown some chopped garlic cloves and hot chili in olive oil; add the tomatoes crushed by hand and salt. This sauce is done in a few minutes. Turn it off before adding the mussels and clams water into it.

Chop some parsley and keep it apart.

Slice the bread, grill it and rub a garlic clove on each slices.

Put the bread in the single dishes – 2-3 slices each guest; put first the mussels, then the other shells in a nice way – opened forward up – ; pour a cup of tomato sauce upon each dish of shells; sprinkle fresh chopped parsley and serve.

Marcella Ansaldo invite you to visit her web site: or to contact her at


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