Zuppa di Cozze – Mussels in tomato sauce

food picture - mussels in tomato sauce - overhead shot

Christmas 2023 is almost here! We’re all thinking about who will be coming over when, what we’ll be cooking and baking, and what we’ll serve.

When Michele and I were growing up, our family celebrated Christmas Eve at our Uncle Nelson’s place with fried smelts and the NYC WPIX Yule log. We also had a big Christmas day family meal at my Aunt Mary’s house, everyone gathered around a big table eating and loudly talking over each other (with an occasional fight thrown in for good measure.) I somewhat shamefully admit that the family and food aspects of Christmas were way more important than the arrival of baby Jesus.

Somewhere along the way, we adopted a full-blown Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve dinner, a classic Italian-American tradition, as our own. I think this sprang from our renewed connection with our family in Italy. While the whole seven-fishes thing is an American “abbondanza” creation, fish is traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Italy.

Also, Sicily is still on my mind after our 3-week trip this fall, I have renewed my appreciation for its unique culture, geography, and foods. That visit has only deepened my appreciation for the land of my maternal grandparents and my Italian relatives still there. I’ve been seeing pictures of Sicily all lit up for Christmas and they are beautiful. When it comes to design, festivals, and lights, no one can do it better than the Italians.

During our Sicily trip, I remember eating wonderful meals and desserts. The real revelation was the amount of seafood we found–and consumed! Except for two meals when we had meat, everything we prepared and ate was from the sea. I presume it’s because all of Sicily’s major towns are right on the water. Fishing boats go out every day (except Sunday), so everything is super fresh. If the weather is bad, there’s no fishing or fish to buy. That’s just the way it works.

food picture - mussels in tomato sauce

Every menu we saw in Sicily included a dish called Zuppa di cozze. I have read that this dish is originally from Naples, but it’s a basic way to highlight basic ingredients to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Anyone can claim a version of this dish as their own if they have access to good-quality mussels and tomatoes. For your Christmas Eve meal, it would work well as a simple shared appetizer or a small second course.

To prepare this dish and capture its essence, be sure to select the best mussels, tomatoes, and bread you can find. It’s so simple, that you’ll taste every ingredient. When you serve it with some toasted or crusty bread, it’s very filling. You could share the dish by placing a serving bowl in the center of the table with small plates and big spoons for the mussels and the tomato broth.

Merry Christmas! Enjoy your family–or chosen family–for whatever celebrations you have planned.

Here’s a link to some of our past Feast of the Seven Fishes dishes for your own table —> Recipes

Buon Natale 🎄🎁🇮🇹🤌🎁


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food picture - mussels in tomato sauce

Zuppa di Cozze – Mussels in tomato sauce

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Here’s a simple recipe to add to your Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner for Christmas Eve. You could add a splash of white wine or some fish or clam broth for some extra flavor.


  • 2 lbs black mussels – ask the fishmonger to check each one to make sure none are cracked or otherwise damaged
  • 1 pinch hot pepper flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half or lightly smashed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 28 oz can good quality imported peeled Italian tomatoes – I have been using Mutti brand
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Toasted bread rounds or otherwise good crusty bread


  1. Clean the mussels with you get home. Inspect each one and remove any obvious surface debris and pull out and “beards” you see from between the shells. Rinse them under cold water and rub them a little like handwashing clothes.
  2. Heat a large sauce pan with a lid over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and gently cook until the garlic begins to brown. Remove and discard the garlic.
  3. Crush the peeled tomatoes and add to the pan along with their juices. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes or so breaking up the tomatoes and reduce till you get a somewhat thick sauce. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. (The cooking juice and the salt from the mussels will bring you that final taste and salt of the sea.)
  4. Add the mussels and well distribute in the pan. Cover and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook the mussels until the all open. About 10 mins.
  5. Serve the mussels  along with all the tomato sauce in bowls or serve family right out of the cooking dish. Serve with bread. Discard any muscles that don’t open.

Join the Conversation

  1. Isabella Dusi says:

    Hi Joe and Hi Michele,
    ah…zuppa di cozze….so simple and delicious. Brings back extraordinary memories of the San Quirico trattoria, it was always our favourite, and guess what, I am going to be making this at Christmas – again!
    love your posts, so full of passion and love for our beloved Italy, its people and its food.

    1. Isabella.. Thanks very much. I hope you enjoy your Christmas

  2. Gaetana Kogas says:

    How many people is this recipe for? 4?
    Thank you!

    1. Joe Author says:

      Hi there.. this could serve 4 along with bread and a salad. However, I could easily eat a whole bowl of cozze all by myself . Thanks. Joe

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