This easy mussels marinara recipe is a delicious and affordable restaurant dinner at home! Ready in about 30 minutes, this classic Italian seafood dish can be served as an appetizer or a main dish over pasta.
🍝 Mussels in marinara sauce
Seafood dishes like mussels marinara actually look fancier than the effort it takes to make them! If you have ever ordered this meal at an expensive Italian restaurant, you will be surprised how quick it is to actually make it in your own kitchen.
Mussels are simmered in simple tomato sauce that is flavored with red wine and garlic then served over linguine or spaghetti pasta with a garnish of fresh basil. This simple dish is ready in 30 minutes and just as perfect for a weeknight family dinner as it is for a romantic dinner for two.
With its flavorful bold taste, no one has to know that mussels marinara is not only inexpensive to make but is also a relatively easy shellfish to source at just about any local store you shop for groceries. It’s a win all around for the best mussels recipe!
After you have mastered this fine dining recipe at home, you may want to try your hand at some other seafood favorites such as shrimp and scallop scampi, linguine frutti di mare, or air fryer calamari!
🍅 Ingredient notes
- Mussels - Fresh cultivated mussels are best in this recipe for mussels marinara. Make sure to discard any broken or open shells, especially ones that don’t close when pressed together. See below for tips on how to clean mussels.
- Pasta - Linguine is my preferred choice of pasta as its long, flat yet narrow shape allows you to easily get some noodles, sauce, and mussels in one bite. Spaghetti or bucatini are other great options!
- Tomatoes - I like used canned crushed tomatoes for this sauce. Whole peeled tomatoes would make a chunkier sauce. Jarred marinara sauce or even homemade Italian gravy would be excellent, for a thicker sauce.
- Wine - A dry red wine such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon, or pinot noir is great for this. It doesn't need to be anything terribly expensive, but something that you would want to drink.
📋 Substitutions and variations
- Seafood - Clams would also be a delicious option in this seafood dish.
- Wine - If you would like to make this without wine you can use broth instead or dry white wine could be used as well for a lighter sauce. Chardonnay or sauvignon blanc would work great.
- Spicy - Increase the amount of red pepper flakes to make Fra Diavolo mussels which simply means spicy tomato sauce.
- Gluten-free - Serve with gluten-free pasta of choice.
🔪 Step by step instructions
First, start cooking your pasta in boiling salted water in a large pot on the stovetop over medium-high heat. While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for a few minutes until the garlic is light golden in color.
Add the crushed tomatoes and red wine and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer until the pasta is done cooking.
When the linguine is cooked to al dente, reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water for the sauce and drain the remaining liquid.
Add the pasta cooking water to the sauce, along with the mussels. Cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes until the mussels completely open. Once again, discard unopened mussels or broken mussels.
Toss the mussels and marinara sauce with the linguine and then serve topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil, if desired.
If you ever don't recognize a tool or skill that I mention, be sure to look it up in our Glossary of Cooking Terms and Definitions for more information.
⭐ Expert tips
- Store fresh mussels in a bowl covered with a damp cloth or paper towel in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Do not store them enclosed in a container or bag as your mussels will die.
- If any mussel shells do not open while cooking, discard them as they are most likely dead and not good to eat.
- Gently simmer your mussels in marinara rather than placing them in a boiling sauce, this will ensure that they will not overcook.
👩🏻🍳 How to clean mussels
Cleaning mussels may be the hardest part of this mussels marinara recipe! Here are some basic steps to cleaning.
- First, you will need to rinse them in cool water and remove any debris.
- Next, find and test any mussels with an open shell. Tap the shell against the sink and if it closes, it’s alive and able to be used. If it stays open, discard that one. Any mussel shells that are chipped or cracked should be discarded as well.
- Last, remove any beards. That is the clump of fibers attached to the shell. It can easily be pulled off with your fingers and if you don’t see any that is okay. Many mussels come debearded already.
💭 Frequently asked questions
Fresh will always taste better, so avoid frozen if you want the best texture and taste. Head to the seafood section in your grocery store and look for cultured mussels (also called cultivated) from a vendor you are familiar with or have purchased from before. Mussels are easily recognized by their blue and black colored shells. If you have a fresh fish market near you, even better! That will be the freshest and highest quality mussels available.
🥘 Alternative cooking methods
Instant Pot - Quickly saute your garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil in saute mode. Place the remaining ingredients in the pot, close the lid, and set the valve to sealing. Cook on high for 3 minutes and quick release the pressure.
🍽 Serving suggestions
This mussels in marinara sauce is a cozy Italian dinner but you may want to serve it with a few light sides. Here are a few favorites!
- Roasted grapes and olives are a great appetizer to serve with or while making this dish. Cue the romantic dinner music!
- Italian celery salad with Parmesan is light, crunchy, and quick to make.
- Any crusty baguette is delicious with this recipe, but this Italian cheese bread really makes the meal over the top good.
🥡 Storage suggestions
Mussels marinara is best served immediately after making. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. To reheat, skip the microwave and simmer in a saucepan on low heat
🍝 More easy Italian recipes
If you loved this easy mussels marinara recipe, check out these other easy Italian recipes that I know you will love too!
Easy Mussels Marinara Recipe
- 1 pound linguine
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup dry red wine merlot, cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir
- 1 pound fresh mussels cleaned (see note below)
- freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish, if desired
- chopped fresh basil leaves for garnish, if desired
- First, start cooking the linguine in large pot of salted water on the stovetop over medium high heat.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat on the stovetop.
- Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and saute for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is just lightly browned.
- Add in the crushed tomatoes and red wine and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium low and allow the sauce to simmer while the pasta finishes cooking.
- When the linguine is al dente, reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the remaining liquid from it.
- Add the reserved pasta cooking water into the sauce along with the mussels and stir gently to combine.
- Cover the pan with a lid and allow the mussels to simmer for 8-10 minutes until they are completely opened out. If any mussels do not open, discard them.
- Remove the lid and toss the mussels and sauce with the drained linguine.
- Serve the pasta and mussels sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil, if desired.
- Store fresh mussels in a bowl covered with a damp cloth or paper towel in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Do not store them enclosed in a container or bag.
- Gently simmer the mussels so they will not overcook.
How to Clean Mussels
- First, rinse them in cool water and remove any debris.
- Next, find and test any mussels with an open shell. Tap the shell against the sink and if it closes, it’s alive and able to be used. If it stays open, discard. Discard any mussels with broken or chipped shells.
- Last, remove any beards or clump of fibers attached to the shell. Some mussels will not have them.
Substitutions and Variations
- Seafood - Clams can be used in place of mussels.
- Pasta - Spaghetti or bucatini are other pasta that can be used.
- Tomatoes - Whole peeled tomatoes can be used for a chunkier, rustic sauce. Jarred marinara sauce or Italian gravy can be used for a thicker sauce.
- Wine - Broth can be substituted for wine or a dry white wine can be used for a lighter sauce. Chardonnay or sauvignon blanc would work great.
- Spicy - Increase the amount of red pepper flakes to make Fra Diavolo mussels.
- Gluten-free - Serve with gluten-free pasta of choice.