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Apulian Cooking
Simulata with mussels A delicious dish in which the delicate taste of semola combines with the intensity of the mussels flavored with garlic and oil.
There are numerous variations
by Dario Ersetti
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Simulata with mussels. Photo by Dario Ersetti

Wheat was the first seed sown by man and almost certainly flour cooked in water was the first dish in the history of gastronomy. Puglia’s “simulata”, a polenta made from durum wheat semola that goes well with meat or fish, may have been born, or reborn, in the medieval period, when gruels of mixed flours were the staple diet of the common people and were served on slices of bread (when available) used as plates. Today in the North of Italy, but also in Austria and Istria, a soup of semolino in broth is still used, replaced in some areas by maize flour. 

Simulata has a very delicate taste and can replace traditional maize polenta in all recipes, with even better results in most cases.   

One traditional Apulian recipe sees it combined with mussels. It is a dish that, like many others, can be considered antipasto, first course, main course, or a complete meal. It may have started out as a complete meal but when deciding the quantities of ingredients, we made a “modern” choice and considered it an antipasto.

 

The recipe

 

Ingredients:

 

100 g of durum wheat semola

500 g of mussels

30 g of extravirgin olive oil

- 1 clove of garlic

- salt

 

Allow the thoroughly scrubbed mussels to open in a pan in which the clove of garlic has been lightly browned in the oil.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the durum wheat flour into half a liter of boiling salted water, whisking constantly. Cook for about twenty minutes continuing to stir with a wooden spoon until you get a soft polenta.

Remove the mussels from their shells and serve them, empty, with the simulata, with their juices and the oil from the pan. To maintain the medieval atmosphere, the dish can be eaten with your fingers, using the shells as a spoon for the simulata.

This dish could be accompanied by Bombino Nero, one of the best rosé wines, which is perfectly suited to the strong flavor of the mussels with oil and garlic.

 

Some more information:

 

A poorer version of the recipe envisages muersi instead of mussels. Muersi are a great resource of Apulian cooking. They are cubes of durum wheat bread fried in oil, which, with their texture, the flavor of the oil and the delicate aftertaste of semola, give an added nuance to any dish. They are usually found in the classic dish cecamariti with pulses and greens, but also on the simulata and, strangely for the Apulian tradition, with boiled rice.

As far as semola is concerned, one can choose between double-milled semola, semola or semolone, the three of grades of coarseness in which this ingredient can be found. For this recipe semolone is best. Industrial millers also supply semolino, which comes in two grades: coarse (with grains of about 1.5 mm in diameter), corresponding to semolone, and fine (with grains of about 0.3 mm), corresponding to semola.

A more recent recipe from Taranto is ndromese de granone and black mussels, using maize flour instead of durum wheat flour. The mussels are mixed with the polenta while cooking and not served on top of the polenta. 

‘Ndromese is polenta made from any kind of flour, while “granone” is maize.

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