Spaghetti with mussels, fennel and ouzo

spaghetti mussels ouzo

Dive into a pasta dish which tastes of the hot midday sun and sea! The Mediterranean anise flavours of ouzo and fennel perfectly complement the fresh seafood. Simple yet elegant, wherever you happen to be!

A pasta dish with seafood and the quintessential Greek aniseed aroma of ouzo, is bound to bring to mind thoughts of long lazy summer lunches, the turquoise Aegean sea and a simple wooden table in a taverna at the water’s edge.  The flavours of the mussels combined with the ouzo is a match made in heaven that promises to bring the Mediterranean right into your own kitchen!


The recipe:

This is a moderately easy/medium level of difficulty recipe that will take you around half an hour. The only tricky bit is cleaning the mussels. The main reason to use fresh mussels – and therefore have to rather tediously clean them – is to take advantage of the seawater that has remained in their shells which will give a really intense seafood flavour to your sauce. Otherwise, you could use frozen mussels in the sauce, without any other substantial difference in flavour.

The question of how hot you want the dish we leave to you. The way we make it, it’s just spicy, but you can add hot pepper or tabasco to make it hotter. Don’t overdo it though or the delicate seafood flavour is lost.

Ingredients for 4

500 gr. Spaghetti
1.5 kg. mussels in their shells (or 350 gr. frozen mussels without shells)
½-1 head of fennel, finely sliced
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 green pointed pepper, sliced
1 garlic clove , finely chopped or crushed
¼ fresh chili pepper, very finely chopped or ½ tsp. of chili flakes
3-4 star anise
6-8 cardamum (optional)
300 gr. chopped tomatoes (in a carton)
10-15 cherry tomatoes of different colours, sliced in half
3 tsp. flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
50 ml. ouzo
40 ml. Greek virgin olive oil
salt, pepper


1. Prepare the mussels
Clean the mussel shells and remove their ‘beards’. Put them into a large saucepan with 1 cm of boiling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes so the mussels open flavouring the pan with any seawater which was inside them. Remove the mussels and place in a bowl.
Strain the water into a bowl to remove any sand, and then pour it into the saucepan in which you are going to boil the pasta, holding back approx. 150 ml. which will be added to the sauce later.


2. Start preparing the sauce
In a large pan, start by sautéing the peppers, garlic, onion and the fennel in the olive oil.
Add the star anise cardamum and chili flakes and stir
After five minutes, when the vegetables have started to soften, add the 150ml. water from the mussels, then the cherry and chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper and stir. Allow the sauce to simmer and gradually reduce.


3. Prepare the pasta
Add enough water to the saucepan which already has the mussels water in it to cook the pasta. Bring to the boil and wait until the sauce is almost ready to add salt and the pasta.


4. Finish the sauce
Remove most of the mussels from their shells, keeping just 10 -15 in their shells for decoration, and add them to the sauce. Pour in the ouzo and flambé.


Combine the pasta with the sauce and add the parsley.


Bring the pan to the table and serve, making sure to scoop up the vegetables that tend to stay in the base of the pan.


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I was born in Athens, Greece in 1959. I have lived in New York, Amsterdam, Paris and of course Athens and have travelled extensively. I have three daughters and live with my Welsh partner, Sophie, dividing our time between Athens and Wales. After 30 years as a marketing and advertising strategy specialist, I started Cucina Caruso, my cookery blog in Greece, as a hobby in my late 50’s, focusing on contemporary Mediterranean cuisine. The blog became such a huge success, that it is one of the very few internationally that became a pop-up restaurant in Athens and on the island of Tinos. Having created a top gastronomy brand in Greece, I am now part-time advertiser and full-time blogger/chef/culinary consultant! My interest in cookery derived from my love of good food, having been raised by my maternal grandmother from Smyrna who filled my childhood with Eastern Mediterranean flavours, colours and stories. From her I inherited an innate appreciation for Greek and French cooking and finely balanced tastes with intensity and character. From my paternal grandmother, I inherited the name Caruso and an appreciation of Italian food culture, which achieves rich flavours with just a few fine ingredients. I adore great home-cooked Greek and Mediterranean food, which is both healthy and tasty! However, I have always believed that its rich heritage of traditional recipes has room for improvement, especially in terms of technique. In this international Cucina Caruso blog, I will introduce you to my fresh, contemporary approach to exceptional traditional Mediterranean recipes which have already been embraced by my Greek audience and can now be appreciated all over the world!

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