French in a Flash: Creamy Saffron Mussel and Spinach Pasta Recipe

French in a Flash

Quick and easy recipes that prove that great French food doesn't require a tall hat and a fancy kitchen.

French in a Flash: Creamy Saffron Mussel and Spinach Pasta Recipe

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

This pasta is based on a creamy saffron mussel soup I learned to prepare at cooking school in Paris. It was salty from the briny liqueur the mussels leach out into the pot, luscious and sweet from the cream, and heady and intoxicating from the scent of the saffron, which always reminds me of a genie jumping from a perfume bottle. It tasted like a million dollars.

What I love about doing this as a pasta dish is how rich it feels while actually being a bit on the cheap. The pasta cost me $2, the mussels $6, organic spinach about $2, and, pro-rated, the saffron about $3. Everything else I had in my fridge, so it comes to around $3.25 a person for a seafood pasta with saffron—a small fortune at most restaurants, if they are enterprising enough to sell it in the first place. And if you have to buy the wine, so be it: something to wash this down with!

I write a lot of recipes—I just did the math and just my columns require 156 a year—so when I find one that I really, truly, madly love, I want to tell you that I really, truly, madly love it. I am making this as a side dish on Christmas day, to serve with herb- and citrus-stuffed grilled whole fish. This caters to the many pescatarians in my family, but I don't think I will miss the roast.

Have the happiest of holidays!

  • Yield:4
  • Active time: 15 minutes
  • Total time:15 minutes, plus 1 hour for soaking mussels


  • 2 pounds mussels
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound casarecce pasta (fusilli is a good substitute)
  • 4 ounces baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 very large shallots, sliced (or 3 small shallots, about 1/4 cup total)
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock, preferably organic
  • 3/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream


  1. 1.

    Place the mussels in large bowl full of water and ice. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, and let mussels sit for 1 hour to purge. Rinse mussels in cold running water, pull off any beards and discard, and set mussels aside.

  2. 2.

    Bring large pot of water to a boil, and salt it well. Add pasta, and cook until al dente. Add spinach to hot water with pasta at last second, stir once to submerge, then drain.

  3. 3.

    Meanwhile, in wide braising pan, heat oil and butter over medium heat until melted. Add shallots and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Sweat, stirring often with wooden spoon, until shallots are soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add white wine, and simmer for 1 minute. Add chicken stock and saffron, cover and increase heat to high, and bring liquid to a boil.

  4. 4.

    Add mussels to pot, and lower heat to medium. Cover and simmer until all mussels have opened, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Add drained pasta and spinach, and return to low heat, stirring for 1 minute, until pasta has absorbed some of the sauce and color of the saffron. Remove mussels from shells and stir back into pasta if desired. Serve immediately.