Tiella Barese

Tiella Barese is a one course meal of baked mussels, rice and potatoes. As the name says, this is a recipe from Bari, the capital of the Apulia region.

I am just back from a wonderful trip there, though I was not in Bari but in stunning Lecce and the lovely town of Martina Franca. We ate very well everywhere, even in a country like Italy with so many great regional cuisines, the cuisine of Apulia has to be one of the best..

Tiella is a dialect word for Italian “tigella” or pot, so the name refers to the dish it is cooked in. It is one of my top favourite recipes and one reason is that it is both great comfort food eaten warm and also really good eaten at room temperature – in Bari it is often eaten on the beach, they say the sea air makes it taste particularly good.

There is nothing complicated or technically difficult in the process, which I am going to describe and comment on through the photos. At the end you will find the recipe listing the quantities and describing the method.

These are almost of the ingredients: rice, potatoes, parsley, garlic, peeled plum tomatoes – in summer I use fresh tomatoes.

And the fresh mussels of course!

Just in case you are not familiar with how to check over your mussels to make sure they are fresh, here’s a short video clip:

This time I steamed the mussels open after picking them over and then scrubbing them and removing the beards – cue for another “how to” video clip. I’ve chosen one in Italian for fun – have no fear it is subtitled in English:

I placed my clean mussels in a wide deep pan with a tight fitting glass lid over moderate heat. You have to watch carefully as they give off a lot of liquid which can foam up and overflow – turn the heat down in that case. They don’t all open at the same time so I removed the open ones and carried on steaming the rest. Once they were all done, I removed the empty half of the shell, looking out for any shells which had not opened and discarding them. This time they all opened up, but any that stay shut must also be discarded and not eaten.

I think the dish is better still if you have the patience to open the mussels up still raw, saving the juices as you go, but it is really fine this way too. The juices, fresh or cooked, are an important ingredient. To cook the rice you use the juices, carefully strained to remove all traces of sand and shell fragments. They perfume the dish with the scent of the sea.

Once you’ve done the mussels, a little more preparation:

Before mincing the parsley with the garlic you need to make sure you remove what Italians call the ” soul” of the garlic – that’s the little green shoot that starts to grow once the garlic is past its first freshness.

Finely minced garlic/parsley done, you next slice the peeled potatoes thinly:

And now you’re ready to start assembling the dish for baking. I used a terracotta casserole, which works beautifully, but you can use any suitable baking dish provided it has some depth for your layers. Do remember the rice will swell as it cooks and absorbs the liquid, so allow space for that: your dish must not be filled to the brim when it goes in the oven.

While some Tiella recipes call for a sliced onion, others omit the garlic altogether. When you use onion, the fairly thinly sliced rings go on the very bottom. I realised when it came to cooking that I didn’t have any onion in the house and as it was snowing I did not fancy going out so I went ahead without it.

On the bottom I drizzled olive oil, then a little chopped peeled plum tomato, a little of the parsley / garlic mix, a little salt and pepper and a layer of potatoes. I use the thicker slices and all the end bits for this bottom layer, saving the best and thinnest slices for the top.

In the photo above you can see an ingredient that was missing from the first photo, a nice piece of well-aged Pecorino cheese. This goes on next.

Yes, seafood and cheese! The big Italian prohibition of cheese with fish and seafood applies only to pasta and risotto, it does not apply to other dishes and cheese is often used, though sparingly, in fish stuffings and for baked fish or seafood dishes.

Next some of the mussels:

And then some rice – the idea is that each shell gets filled with tasty rice so you then get the rice/mussel combination in a single mouthful, sitting in its own little “spoon”. I would not dream of completely shelling the mussels as some (non-Italian) cooks do, I think it totally spoils the fun!

A little sprinkling of parsley/garlic, a little salt – only a very little as the mussels juices are likely to be salty –  and pepper, a little tomato and then more mussels – if your pan is wider than mine, you can put them all in a single layer but for the shape of mine two layers was better.

More parsley/garlic, tomato, touch of salt, pepper:

And more rice, actually I over did it a bit here, less rice in each half shell, as in the bottom layer, would have cooked better:

And since I had some left still, I sprinkled it on, so more parsley, garlic, tomato and seasoning:

Isn’t it beautiful?

Now for the lid, which needs to be both pretty and tight, its function is to seal in the liquids – soon to be poured in – that need to stay trapped so that the rice and potatoes cook well

This is the point where you add the liquid. What I do is taste the strained mussel juice to check out how salty it is and then I dilute it with plain water so as to make sure the final dish is not too salty. I pour the water in carefully at the perimeter of the casserole, slightly pushing aside one of the potato slices. The water needs to come up to the level of the potatoes, well just below them, it must not come up above them.

And then, to make sure of a really good seal, as well as to get a crisp and tasty topping, more grated Pecorino cheese:

A generous drizzle of good extravirgin olive oi – and by the way Apulia is the biggest olive oil producer in Italy, I use Apulia D.O.P. olive oil for my daily cooking, it’s perfectly delicious!

And now it is time for it to go in the oven, covered with a double layer of cooking foil, and it stays in there for about 45 minutes. Take the alu-foil lid of for the last 5 -10 minutes so that the top browns and crisps. And when it is ready it should smell like heaven and look like this:

When you take the alu-foil lid off have a little peek to see if the rice is well cooked – if not drizzle in a little more liquid down the side and leave it to cook, covered, for another 10 minutes or so, removing the foil again for a few final minutes. The finished dish should not have any liquid left in it but it should be moist, not dry.

When the 10 minutes are up, you are ready to serve the beautiful, aromatic and very satisfying dish, it keeps well and can be eaten cold but the topping is not great cold, so serve up all of that up when eating it warm, dividing it between the diners. Buon Appetito!

And this is what i suggest for a refreshing finish, fresh seasonal fruit:

Recipe for Tiella Barese


Fresh mussels, a kilo (2,2 lbs), the larger the bettter

You can use courgettes (zucchini) instead for a vegetarian variation that is also traditional in Apulia

Potatoes, 500g (1.1 lbs)

A can of whole peeled plum tomatoes

Rice, Originario is best though Arborio is fine, 250 – 300g (a generous half pound)

Some people rinse, soak and then drain before using but I have found there is no need to do this

Well aged Pecorino cheese e.g. Romano  – or you can substitute dry breadcrumbs

Many sprigs of flat leaf Italian parsley

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

Optional: an onion, a clove of garlic


Check the mussels over and discard any which are open or have broken shells. Scrub and scrape the shells and remove the beards. Ideally open them raw, saving the juice, or else steam open over moderately high heat in a pan with a tight fitting lid. Strain the juices through muslin or a very fine mesh sieve and reserve.

Peel and slice the potatoes. If using the onion, peel and slice fairly thin. If using the garlic, peel and remove the shoot. Strip parsley leaves from the stem then mince very fine together with the garlic clove. Drain a few of the peeled plum tomatoes and chop small, removing any bits of peel that may still be attached.

Start to build up the layers in your casserole or baking dish. On the bottom, drizzle olive oil and place the sliced onion if using. Otherwise scatter a little tomato, parsley and garlic, and season lightly with salt and pepper. On top of this make a layer of potatoes and grate over some Pecorino cheese.

Now place the mussels in their half shells on top, in one or more layers. On each layer of mussels distribute some of the parsley mix and some chopped tomatoes and season lightly.

Top the casserole or dish with a tight “lid” of overlapping potato slices, then make a little space at the side and through this pour in the mussel juice – diluted with water according to how salty it is – very carefully to come up to the level of the potatoes. Once done, sprinkle grated Pecorino generously over the top

Drizzle the top with olive oil and cover with a double layer of aluminium foil. Bake in an oven pre heated to 180°C/ 350° F for 45 – 60 minutes, removing the foil for the last 5 – 10 minutes so that the top becomes golden brown and crisp.

Leave to rest about 10 minutes outside the oven before serving. The best way to eat this dish – which is not well suited to serving in polite company! – is with a fork in one hand to get at the potatoes and any rice that has fallen outside of the shells, while with the other hand you pick up the half shells to eat up the rice and mussel mixture directly from the shell. Hope you make it and enjoy it!