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Mussels Marinara in Red Sauce (Zuppa di Mussels)

Finished mussels marinara with parsley and toasted bread.
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Mussels Marinara in red sauce is quick, easy and full of fresh seafood flavor! Fresh mussels are gently simmered in tomatoes and white wine infused with lots of garlic, fresh parsley and bit of anchovy for extra savoriness. It’s a restaurant quality dish that can be made at home in just thirty minutes. Read on for more!

Finished mussels marinara with parsley and toasted bread.

If you’re craving an Italian seafood dish but don’t want to spend a fortune on restaurant food, these Italian Mussels Marinara are the answer!

Some of my other top favorites in the seafood category include Shrimp Oreganata in White Wine Butter, Spaghetti and Crabs and Spicy Sautéed Calamari.

Also known as “zuppa di cozze” and “zuppa di mussels”, this saucy mussels recipe is one of the most simple, yet impressive, seafood dishes that you can make at home, as well as being one of the most popular dishes at “red sauce” Italian American restaurants, like Clams Posillipo in Red Sauce.

Zuppa” generally refers to a hearty soup in Italian and, while this dish is not a soup, per se, this seafood recipe does cross over a bit into the brothy category with all its tomato-scented, brothy sauce-filled shells and flavorful juices that can (and often are) eaten with a spoon. Just sayin’ . . .

Finished mussels marinara with parsley garnish.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Quick and Easy (One Pan)–These sautéed mussels in red sauce come together in about 30 minutes. And, it really is an easy technique to master. Once you make them for the first time, you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t tried your hand a making mussels for all your appetizers and dinners sooner!
  • Mussels are Versatile–While I love my zuppa di mussels in marinara, this same technique for cooking mussels can be applied to so many different flavor profiles–whatever your taste buds desire! I also love to make French mussels meuniere with shallots and a touch of cream, Thai-inspired mussels with coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass, and Provençal-style mussels with saffron and fennel. Master this cooking technique and the world is your mussel!
  • Inexpensive and Restaurant Worthy! As easy as this dish is, it is so darn impressive. It is just the right blend of ingredients + technique resulting in a flavor powerhouse. And, as far as seafood dishes go, mussels are relatively inexpensive, yet such a treat!

If you enjoy seafood, I hope you give this quick and easy recipe a try. And, don’t forget the rustic bread as you’ll surely want to fare la scarpetta with this dish. Mangia bene!

Ingredients for Mussels Marinara.

Ingredients for Mussels Marinara

⁠Here are the ingredients we will be using in this zuppa di mussels recipe:

  • Mussels: Use black mussels without any cracks in the shell. Most mussels that are sold commercially are cultivated/farmed and therefore are much easier to clean. Mussels are sold live because once they die, they spoil very quickly. At the grocery store or fish market, look for mussels that are sold on ice and that have wet-looking, shiny shells. (A dull shell is an indication that the mussel might have died.) Ideally, cook the mussels the same day that they are purchased or within one day. See Frequently Asked Questions below for details on cleaning and storing mussels at home.
  • Tomatoes: I generally prefer to use whole canned tomatoes and then hand crush them as they are less processed than other types. However, you can also use diced or even crushed tomatoes (if you prefer a smoother sauce) in this recipe. Also, choose a high-quality canned tomato, such as a San Marzano tomato, for this recipe. As there are so few ingredients, their quality really matters. A prepared marinara sauce can also be used in this recipe.
  • Anchovies: Anchovies add lots of umami (savoriness) to the sautéed mussels marinara. They are meant to enhance the overall flavor of the sauce in a subtle way and to not overpower it. You can omit them, if desired.
  • Wine: Choose a light and dry white wine for this recipe, such as a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. The wine adds an extra layer of depth and complexity, brings a layer of acidity to the dish, and rounds out the overall flavor of the sauce. If you prefer to not use alcohol, though, you can leave it out and perhaps add a splash of fresh lemon juice at the end.
  • Garlic and Fresh Parsley: Both are important aromatics in the recipe. If you don’t have any fresh parsley, I recommend just omitting it and not substituting dried parsley. Parsley also adds a nice brightness to the dish as a final garnish as it pairs nicely, in general, with seafood. Use fresh basil if you prefer that to the parsley.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Used to sauté the aromatics and adds full flavor to the finished dish.

Find a complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions in the recipe below.⁠

Prepped and cleanes ingredients for Mussels Marinara.

Mussels Marinara Step-by-Step, Pro-Tips included!

Here are the main steps for making this zuppa di cozze recipe:

  • Prep and gather all ingredients according to specifications above. Then, clean the mussels: Inspect each mussel, remove any obvious surface debris with your hands or a potato brush, and pull out any “beards” (small hairy mass) that you see between the shells. Discard any mussels that are cracked or don’t close when tapped. Rinse them under cold water.
    • PRO-TIP: If you are not cooking the mussels immediately once purchased, the best way to store them (for one day only) is on a bed of ice (with some ice on top as well) in a colander inside a bowl, uncovered. When ready to use, take them out of the refrigerator and clean them.
Raw mussels stored on ice in in a colander in a bowl in the refrigerator.
Cleaned mussels in bowl.
  • Combine the olive oil, chopped garlic cloves, anchovies and crushed red pepper in a large skillet over medium low heat and cook until the garlic starts to soften and brown and the anchovies have dissolved, about 4 to 5 minutes.

  • Add half the chopped parsley after two minutes. Stir occasionally.
Garlic, anchovy, crushed red pepper and olive oil in pan.
Parsley added to pan with garlic mixture.
  • Pour the wine in the pan and scrape up any brown bits. Then, add the tomatoes, salt and black pepper and stir until well-combined. (Note that the mussels will add additional saltiness to the dish.)
    • PRO-TIP: Choose a high-quality canned tomato, such as a San Marzano tomato, for this recipe. As there are so few ingredients, their quality really matters.

  • Bring the tomato mixture to a simmer and simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes or so to reduce and thicken the sauce and allow the alcohol taste to cook off.
    • PRO-TIP: Return the mussels to the refrigerator after cleaning without any ice while the tomato sauce is cooking.
White wine being added to garlic parsley mixture for mussels in red sauce.
Tomato mixture simmering for zuppa di cozze.
  • Then, carefully add the cleaned mussels to the simmering tomato sauce. Stir gently and distribute them evenly across the surface of the pan. Cover, lower the heat to medium low and let them steam, shaking the pan and gently stirring a few times as they cook.

  • The mussels are cooked once they open! Transfer mussels to a bowl one-by-one as they open, and replace the cover as the remaining cook.
    • PRO-TIP: Discard any mussels that did not open. It may take around 10 minutes for all the mussels to open/cook.

Mussels just added to pan of tomato sauce for Italian mussels in red sauce.
Mussels cooking in marinara sauce.
  • Once all the mussels have cooked, either return all the mussels back to the pan, gently stirring a few times to disperse the tomato sauce throughout, or transfer the mussels to a serving bowl, pouring the tomato sauce over them.
  • Sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley and serve immediately.
    • PRO-TIP:  Don’t forget the crusty bread to sop up all the wonderful sauce and juices!
A few mussels finishing up cooking in marinara sauce with bowl of cooked mussels in background.
Finished mussels marinara.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about mussels in red sauce:

How do you clean mussels?

Almost all mussels sold commercially are cultivated and, therefore, much easier to clean than wild-harvested ones. They usually come fairly clean and already debearded and just need a few good rinses in cold water.
 
Having said this, to clean mussels, first inspect each mussel and remove any obvious surface debris with your hands or a potato brush. Then, if the mussels contain a beard (a small hairy clump of fibers attached to the mussel shell that looks like a little rope hanging off), simply grasp the “beard” with your fingers or a paper towel and yank downwards towards the hinge of the shell. The “beard” should come off easily. If not, just snip it off with kitchen scissors.
 
Discard any mussels that are cracked or don’t close when tapped. Rinse them under cold water, but do not store them immersed in water. (See the next question for how to store mussels at home.)
 
Click here for some additional information about cleaning mussels.

How do you store uncooked mussels at home?

It’s best to use mussels or any live shellfish on the same day that you purchase them. However, if you are not cooking them immediately once purchased, the best way to store them (for one day only) is on a bed of ice (with some ice on top as well) in a colander inside a bowl, uncovered. (See photo above for reference.) When ready to use, take them out of the refrigerator and clean them. You can return them to the refrigerator after cleaning without any ice while the tomato sauce is cooking.

Can you use fresh tomatoes in this recipe?

Yes, you can definitely use fresh tomatoes instead of canned to make this mussels in red sauce recipe. Fresh tomatoes will take a little more time to thicken, so may need a bit more simmer time. You can also add 1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste to help thicken and increase the tomato flavor.

Finished mussels marinara with parsley and toasted bread.

Serving Suggestions

Serve red mussels in tomato sauce as either an appetizer or an entrée. It’s a great, year-round dish. (Although, I especially like to include this dish on my Christmas Eve menu.)

It can be a light entrée with a mixed green salad or tossed with some linguine pasta. A simple Spaghetti with Aglio e Olio is always a great pairing with this dish! Don’t forget to serve it with a little homemade Italian chili oil for a final kick of heat–it’s worth it!

However I serve these mussels, I always include lots of rustic, crusty bread to soak up all the delicious tomato sauce and juices left on the plate! As the Italian say, “fare la scarpetta”!

Recipe Variations for Mussels Marinara

Here are a few delicious ways to change up this Italian mussels marinara recipe:

  • Puttanesca it: For a briny and salty punch, add some capers, chopped, oil-cured black olives and a pinch of oregano at the beginning of the recipe along with the first amount of parsley and this dish will have the sharp flavors of a pasta alla puttanesca.
  • Increase the Heat! Easily make this dish spicier by either increasing the amount of red pepper flakes or adding some Calabrian chile paste at the beginning of the cooking process (or both) for increased heat. Sautéing a little chopped fresh jalapeño pepper with the garlic is another great way to add some heat. And, of course, don’t forget to drizzle some homemade spicy pepper oil over the finished dish!
  • Bouillabaisse It! Add half a fennel bulb (thinly sliced) with the garlic and sauté until soft, then a pinch of saffron along with the tomatoes and you will get a decidedly Provençal mussel dish in the most delicious way.
  • Add Chickpeas: For increased protein, sometimes I will add one can of drained cooked chickpeas along with the tomatoes.
  • Turn it into a Pasta: Easily turn this recipe into a pasta a pasta by adding some capellini or linguine and serving the mussels marinara over pasta.
  • Add Clams: If you’d like to eat two types of shellfish instead of just one, substitute half (or all) of the mussels with littleneck clams. As clams take longer to open/cook than mussels, cook them first and remove them from the sauce, then cook the mussels.
Piece of crusty bread sopping up mussels marinara pan juices and sauce.
Soaking up all the pan juices and sauce is the best part!

More Italian Seafood Recipes

In Italian cooking, there are lots of recipes with seafood! Here are a few other favorites to check out:

Kitchen Tools & Cookware Needed

To make this Italian mussels seafood appetizer, you will need the following:

Mussel shell on fork filled with pan juices and being used as a spoon.
It’s like 10,000 knives when all you need is a spoon. (Mussel shell innovation.)

More Italian Recipes to Try

I hope that you are enjoying my Italian food blog Mangia With Michele and all of my Italian recipes!

If you’ve tried Mussels Marinara or another recipe here, let me know how it went in the comments below. I love hearing from you!

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Finished mussels marinara with parsley garnish.

Mussels Marinara in Red Sauce (Zuppa di Mussels)

Michele
Mussels Marinara in red sauce is quick, easy and full of fresh seafood flavor! Fresh mussels are gently simmered in tomatoes and white wine infused with lots of garlic, fresh parsley and bit of anchovy for extra savoriness. It’s a restaurant quality dish that can be made at home in just thirty minutes.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course, Appetizer
Cuisine Italian
Servings 2 servings

Ingredients
  

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp chopped or thinly sliced garlic (use more or less, as desired)
  • 3-4 anchovy filets
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, divided
  • 1 cup dry white wine such as pinot grigio
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand (See Notes.)
  • Pinch salt and black pepper
  • 2 pounds black mussels, cleaned (See Notes for details.)

Instructions
 

  • Prep and gather all ingredients according to specifications above. Then, clean the mussels: Inspect each mussel, remove any obvious surface debris with your hands or a potato brush, and pull out any “beards” (small hairy mass) that you see between the shells. (Use a paper towel or cloth if necessary to grab hold of the beard.) Discard any mussels that are cracked or don't close when tapped. Rinse them under cold water. (See Notes below for additional mussel info.)
    (Please see the section above in the blog post for Step-By-Step instructions with photos.)
    2 pounds black mussels,
  • Combine the olive oil, garlic, anchovies and crushed red pepper in a large skillet over medium low heat and cook until the garlic starts to soften and brown and the anchovies have dissolved, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add half the chopped parsley after two minutes. Stir occasionally.
    ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp chopped or thinly sliced garlic, 3-4 anchovy filets, Pinch crushed red pepper, ⅓ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves,
  • Pour the wine in the pan and scrape up any brown bits. Then, add the tomatoes, salt and black pepper and stir until well-combined. (Note that the mussels will add additional saltiness to the dish.)
    1 cup dry white wine, 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes,, Pinch salt and black pepper
  • Bring the tomato mixture to a simmer and simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes or so to reduce and thicken the sauce and allow the alcohol taste to cook off.
  • Then, carefully add the cleaned mussels to the simmering tomato sauce. Stir gently and distribute them evenly across the surface of the pan. Cover, lower the heat to medium low and let them steam, shaking the pan and gently stirring a few times as they cook.
    2 pounds black mussels,
  • The mussels are cooked once they open! Transfer mussels to a bowl one-by-one as they are cooked/opened, and replace the cover as the remaining cook. Discard any mussels that did not open. It may take around 10 minutes for all the mussels to cook.
  • Once all the mussels have cooked, either return all the mussels back to the pan, gently stirring a few times to disperse the tomato sauce throughout, or transfer the mussels to a serving bowl, pouring the tomato sauce over them.
  • Sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley and serve immediately with some crusty bread to sop up all the wonderful sauce and juices! As mussels are a fun interactive meal, consider serving them family-style right in the pot or pan in which they were cooked. Don’t forget to serve with a small bowl for discarded shells. Buon Appetito!

Notes

  • Almost all mussels sold commercially are cultivated and, therefore, much easier to clean than wild-harvested ones. They usually come already debearded and just need a few good rinses in cold water. Occasionally you’ll find one that needs to be debearded. (The “beard” is a clump of fibers attached to the mussel shell and looks like a little rope hanging off.) Simply grasp the “beard” with your fingers or a paper towel and yank downwards towards the hinge of the shell. The “beard” should come off easily. If not, just snip it off with kitchen scissors.
  • It’s best to use mussels or any live shellfish on the same day that you purchase them. However, if you are not cooking them immediately once purchased, the best way to store them (for one day only) is on a bed of ice (with some ice on top as well) in a colander inside a bowl, uncovered. (See photo above for reference.) When ready to use, take them out of the refrigerator and clean them. You can return them to the refrigerator after cleaning without any ice while the tomato sauce is cooking.
  • I generally prefer to use whole canned tomatoes and then hand crush them as they are less processed than other types. However, you can also use diced tomatoes or even crushed (if you prefer a smoother sauce) in this recipe.
  • Also, choose a high-quality canned tomato, such as a San Marzano tomato, for this recipe. As there are so few ingredients, their quality really matters.
  • A prepared marinara sauce can also be used in this recipe.
  • Try not to have any leftovers! Seriously though, mussels marinara is really best enjoyed fresh. If you do have leftovers, reheat them in a small covered skillet with their sauce (or a bit of water if there is no sauce left) over low heat. Do not microwave these leftovers.
 
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1 thought on “Mussels Marinara in Red Sauce (Zuppa di Mussels)

  1. 5 stars
    Great, easy recipe! I was always nervous about cooking mussels until now. Your instructions were very thorough-thank you!

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