The Pugliese are passionate mussel eaters and have dozens of different treatments for these bivalves.
The Mediterranean mussel has a more delicate flavor and a creamier texture than our common Atlantic blue mussels, but both work beautifully in this dish.
2 pounds small-to-medium mussels, scrubbed, with beards removed
Dry white wine (optional)
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino or Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425°. Discard any mussels that are gaping, keeping only those that are firmly closed. Place the mussels in a deep skillet with 3 tablespoons of water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently. As the mussels open, transfer them to a large platter with a slotted spoon.
When all the mussels are cooked, strain the liquid in the pan through a sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth. (You should have 1/4 cup of liquid; if not, make up the balance with a little dry white wine.) Remove the mussels from their shells, reserving 1 half shell for each mussel; set the shells on a baking sheet and fill each with a mussel.
In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, grated cheese and oregano. Evenly sprinkle the crumbs over the mussels, then drizzle with the olive oil and the strained mussel liquid.
Bake the mussels in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the tops are brown and crisp. Serve hot or at room temperature. (Do not reheat or the mussels will toughen.)