Puglia’s cuisine left such an impression on me that here I go picking out a recipe with a name that I don’t know how to pronounce. The ingredients are simple, and taieddhra refers to the pan (teglia) used for this oven-baked meal of potatoes, rice and mussels. Cooking taieddhra is a matter of personal taste: I’ve found recipes varying from province to province and cook to cook. Should it be with or without zucchini? That’s up to the cook, but I believe zucchini are a definite must in the version from Bari province. Intent on getting it right on the first go, I’ve enlisted the help of a few grandmas via YouTube who say to…
• At the bottom you need to put garlic, onions, parsley, tomatoes, salt and oil.
• Then you put the potatoes, tomatoes, pepper and parsley.
• Then you put a handful of rice…
• And the rice goes inside the mussels.
• And zucchini, you see…
• Plenty of zucchini.
• Certain old folks put eggs in the middle.
• Let’s say we make three layers.
• You add the water and then you cook it.
• And see what you eat! The teglia…potatoes, rice and mussels!
• I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but mine is very good.
• The way I make it, it’s out of this world.
• Is it ready? [Very ready] Well then!
3 large potatoes, sliced into approximately ¼-inch thick rounds
1 small white onion, sliced into thin rings or wedges
2 medium tomatoes, rough chop
generous handful of chopped italian parsley
1 large clove garlic, minced and stirred into the parsley
1½ pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and halved (reserve juices and discard remaining shells)
1 cup carnaroli rice, soaked briefly for 10 minutes (opt.)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano
olive oil, salt, pepper and a handful of bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 390°F. Amounts will ultimately depend on the size of the baking dish as it needs to be deep enough to comfortably hold 3 layers (veggies/mussels/veggies) – I used a 9½-inch pot. Some recipes ask that you pre-soak the rice but I personally found the texture to be a bit overdone after the cooking time was up. Timing can also vary – count on at least 45 minutes to an hour until the dish is finished. Between the MotH and myself, a quarter of the pot remained after we had our fill. This makes a great Sunday lunch!
1st layer: Drizzle olive oil to coat the pan. Scatter onions in a layer on the bottom, then add half of the potatoes and 1/3 of the tomatoes. Sprinkle 1/3 of the parsley-garlic mixture over all then 1/3 of the parmigiano. Season lightly with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
2nd layer: Place mussels in their half shells in a tight layer over the vegetables and sprinkle the rice over the top to cover. Add half of the remaining tomatoes and half of the parsley, plus a third of the parmigiano and season lightly with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
3rd layer: Layer in the remaining potatoes, tomatoes, parsley, parmigiano, salt and lastly the bread crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Pour the reserved mussel juices along the side of the pan (so as not to disturb the layers) and add enough water in the same way so that it comes to just within the level of the top layer; about 2 cups. Baked, uncovered, until liquids have been absorbed and potatoes are tender; approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
Opening mussels does take some careful skill (and nerve!) and what worked best for me was to hold the curved side in my palm and insert the tip of a paring knife about 1/4 inch from the top where the shells connect. Once the knife is securely in, run it around the perimeter of the mussel to open completely. By a stroke of luck I didn’t hurt myself on any one of them.