On my recent trip to Crete with Bill and Christine, they remarked that my menu choices at tavernas were not things they would usually select, and they appreciated the novelty of being introduced to some different things. Mussels marinara is one of those dishes.
I ordered mussels marinara at a taverna called Achilleas in Chania. I think we were all expecting to see the mussels in the shell — but the delight is that this dish called for mussel meats — saving us the pick-and-eat process and gifting us the enjoyment of meaty mouthfuls of yumminess.
I knew I had to bring this one back to my own kitchen so I made a video right away.
The flavor pallet of this mussels marinara recipe is like an Italian sausage grinder with peppers, onions and sauce like the street-food from a ball park or parking lot outside a summer concert. The fennel, sage and onions invoke that aromatic impression and the mussels, instead of that old pork sausage, make this dish more healthy and still plenty satisfying.
The visual is the beautiful orange meat in a light sauce, the onions and bright green peppers falling around it in equal amounts, highlighted with white chunks of cheese. I think the mussels marinara sauce should be light red and clinging, but you might like it more soupy so you can experiment with or without the reserved broth. This pairs well with crusty breads, a real greek salad, and another seafood or vegetable main dish.
I’ve prepared this recipe for lactose-intolerant friends, omitting the feta cheese, and it is still wonderfully delicious!
Cooking and cleaning the mussels ahead of time works well for this recipe if you want to break up the prep work. Mussel meats will keep, refrigerated, for a few days, but freshest is always best. Keep the meats separate from the broth so that they don’t get soggy.
Try these links for some more seafood recipes from the Mediterranean:
Baked Cod with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Olives – also by Gerry Leblanc
Grilled Swordfish with Lemon Parsley Topping (Greece)
Pan-Fried Scallops with Hand-Chopped Pesto
Mussels Marinara with Fennel (Greece)
- 3 pounds fresh live mussels in the shell
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 bunch fresh parsley
- 1 large white onion
- 2 large green peppers
- 2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
- 2 tsp fresh sage, chopped
- 2 tbsp dried fennel seed
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces tomato/pasta sauce
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 dash cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- Sea salt, to taste
- Inspect mussels and discard any that are open or do not close when squeezed. Place in large stock pot with white wine, garlic and parsley (leave whole). Bring to a boil, then cover immediately and reduce to medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered while you do the other prep work.
- Dice the onion. Slice the pepper into strips after removing seeds and stem. Chop the oregano and sage.
- Grind the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle (you could pound them or use a food processor). The seeds should be fully crushed with no whole seeds remaining.
- Remove the mussel meats from the shells and hold them aside. Remove any beards that are noticeable. Discard the shells and parsley stalks, but reserve the broth for later.
- Add the olive oil to a large skillet on medium heat. Sauté the onion till browned at the edges then add peppers and the ground fennel. Sauté another 5 minutes, then add the sage and sauté another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the mussel meats and the oregano to the sauté and toss so that the flavors mix - about 1 - 2 minutes, then add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. If you like a thinner sauce, add some of the mussel broth at this time. Stir together, add the hot pepper and paprika, then reduce to a simmer till heated through.
- Once the sauce bubbles, remove from heat and allow to cool 2 - 3 minutes before transferring to a serving dish and tossing in the crumbled feta cheese. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve family style.
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