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Mussel, Potato, and Rice Gratin

Entertaining a big group for dinner? Make this mussel, potato, and rice gratin from the new book about Italian peasant cooking, Cucina Povera.

mussel, potato, and rice gratin

Mussel, potato, and rice gratin. Excerpted from Cucina Povera by Giulia Scarpaleggia (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2023. Photographs by Tomasso Galli.

In her new cookbook, Cucina Povera, Giulia Scarpaleggia explores "The Italian way of transforming humble ingredients into unforgettable meals," as the subtitle puts it. Here, she explains the process of creating an Apulian dish of mussels, potato, and rice gratin (Tiella di patate, riso, e cozze). Pick up the book for her inspiring recipes as well as for her husband Tommaso Galli's evocative photography.

Cucina Povera book
Excerpted from Cucina Povera by Giulia Scarpaleggia (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2023. Photographs by Tomasso Galli.

This Apulian gratin of mussels, potatoes, and rice breaks an unwritten rule of Italian gastronomy: never mix cheese and seafood. The two might sound like a clashing of flavors, but here they combine to create a well-orchestrated symphony, a hearty, filling dish that is perfect for big families or large gatherings with friends.

The tiella, which originated during the sixteenth-century Spanish domination, reveals its Iberian influence. It also bears a resemblance to paella, as the ingredients lists of both dishes include rice, brought to Europe by the Arabs and introduced to Apulia by the Spaniards, along with mussels, onions, and tomatoes.

Mussel, Potato, and Rice Gratin

Mussel, Potato, and Rice Gratin

Recipe by Giulia Scarpaleggia
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Prep time


Cooking time




  • 3 3 ½ pounds/1.6 kg mussels

  • 1 cup 1 /240 ml extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 2 white onions, thinly sliced

  • 2 pounds 2 /1 kg Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch-thick/5 cm slices

  • 1 pound 1 /455 g cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

  • 2 tablespoons 2 minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 2 cloves 2 garlic, minced

  • 3 1/2 ounces 3 1/2 /100 g Pecorino Romano, grated

  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground

  • black pepper

  • 1 cup 1 /200 g Arborio rice


  • Rinse the mussels and scrub them under cold running water. Remove the beard from each one by grabbing it with your fingers and pulling it toward the hinge of the shell, then discard.
  • Discard any open mussels. Using an oyster shucking knife or a dull thin, short knife, open the mussels: Working over a bowl, hold each mussel firmly, using a towel to protect your hand, and slide a knife in between the two halves of the shell. Run the knife around the inside of the shell to cut through the hinge muscle. Once you hear a clack, the mussel can be easily opened; let the mussel liquor drain into the bowl. Remove and discard the empty top shell and leave the mussel in the bottom shell. As you go, arrange the open mussels, still in their bottom shells, on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Drizzle ¼ cup/60 ml of the olive oil over the bottom of a 12-inch/30 cm round casserole. Scatter half of the onions over the bottom of the pan, then top with half of the potatoes. Distribute half of the cherry tomatoes on top and sprinkle them with half of the parsley and garlic. Sprinkle one-third of the grated Pecorino Romano over, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with another ¼ cup/60 ml oil.
  • Arrange the mussels, in their shells, on top of the cherry tomatoes in an even layer; reserve a dozen mussels for the final layer. Scatter the rice over the mussels, making sure to fill their shells. Sprinkle with half of the remaining pecorino, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with another ¼ cup/60 ml oil.
  • Top the rice with the remaining potatoes, then arrange the remaining cherry tomatoes and the reserved mussels on top. Scatter the onions ove the tomatoes and sprinkle with the remaining parsley and garlic. Finish with the remaining pecorino and drizzle with the remaining ¼ cup/60 ml oil.
  • Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.
  • Strain the mussel liquor through a fine-mesh sieve and pour it into the pan. Then add as much salted water as needed to just reach the top layer of potatoes. Use this proportion for the salted water: 1 teaspoon/5 g fine sea salt per 4 cups/1 L water. Do not add too much water, or it will create a watery gratin. There is enough if when you gently press the last layer of onions, you see liquid surfacing.
  • Place the pan over medium heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover the pan with aluminum foil, transfer to the oven, and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 30 more minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the potatoes are golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and let stand for at least 2 hours before serving, so that all the flavors can mingle. Reheat gently in a low oven before serving, or enjoy at room temperature.
  • Any leftovers can be left in the fridge for a day.


  • The original recipe for tiella calls for opening the new mussels and reserving their liquid to cook the gratin. If you do not feel confident with a shucking knife, steam the mussels with a teaspoon of olive oil in a covered pot over medium heat just until they open; a couple of minutes will be enough; you don’t want to overcook them. Remove the mussels from the pot and pull off and discard the top shells; pass the liquid that has collected in the pot through a fine-mesh strainer and use as directed.
  • Excerpted from Cucina Povera by Giulia Scarpaleggia (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2023. Photographs by Tomasso Galli

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