Classic Italian Stuffed Mussels (Cozze Gratinate)

Stuffed mussels, or “cozze gratinate” in Italian, are one of the great classics of Italian cuisine, especially in the southern regions of the country.

Cozze gratinate can be served as an appetizer or a main course, often accompanied by a glass of crisp, white wine, making it a perfect choice for get-togethers or a luxurious weeknight dinner.

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The recipe for stuffed mussels is quick and easy to make. The process begins with selecting the freshest mussels, which are then carefully cleaned and steamed open.

The secret to this dish lies in the stuffing – a savory mixture that often includes breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs, and cheese, all bound together with a drizzle of olive oil.

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Once the mussels are filled with this aromatic stuffing, they are baked to golden perfection. The result is a balanced combination of textures and flavors – the tender, juicy flesh of the mussels complemented by the crispy, golden topping.

As with any traditional Italian recipe, there are little variations from one location to the other.

Stuffed mussels eaten straight from the shell are irresistible! This is an unexpectedly quick and easy, yet impressive recipe that is always a great success!

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Ingredients

  • Prep Time: 20 Min
  • Cook Time: 10 Min
  • Servings: 4

  • 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of mussels with shells
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 150 g (1 1/4 cups) of breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano
  • 60 g (~1/4 cup) of grated Pecorino cheese

Stuffed Mussels Recipe: Instructions

Clean the Mussels

Step 1) – To prepare this Italian seafood recipe, start by cleaning musselsHow to clean and cook the mussels step 1 (1)

Clean the mussels by scraping off any impurities with the blade of a small knife. Tear off the byssus, that is the bearded part that comes out of the shell. Then, with the help of a stainless steel sponge, clean well their shells. Remove algae and sand residues and encrustations. Discard any broken or hatched mussels.

Then rinse the mussels quickly under running water, to remove all impurities. But do not let them soak in water for long.

Cook the Mussels

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Step 2) – After cleaning the mussels, place them in a very large pan with a clove of garlic. Cover with a lid and cook over high heat until the mussels open. This will only take a few minutes.

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Step 3) – Remove the mussels from the pan and place them in a bowl. Strain the cooking liquid through a very fine sieve into a cup.

Make the Stuffing

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Step 4) – In a bowl, mix together 150 grams (1 1/4 cups) of breadcrumbs, 60 grams (~1/4 cup) of grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and 1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano.

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Step 5) – Add 1 clove of minced or crushed garlic and 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. The mixture should be soft but not too moist.

PLEASE NOTE: It’s not necessary to add salt. The pecorino cheese and the mussels are already very tasty. Later we will also use some of the water from the mussels, which is also very salty.

Bake and Serve

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Step 6) – Place only the shells with the mussels in a baking dish. If the mussels are small, you can put two in the same shell. Then, using a teaspoon, fill the mussels, trying to cover the entire shell. Press the filling down a little, trying to compact it.

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Step 7) – Drizzle the stuffed mussels with a little oil and a few tablespoons of the mussel water you strained out.

PLEASE NOTE: The mussel water gives the dish a particularly intense flavor and also serves to keep the mussels from drying out too much during baking.

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Step 8) – Bake in a preheated oven at 190°C (374°F) until the surface of the mussels is golden brown and the breadcrumbs have formed a crispy crust. This will take about 5 minutes. After about 3 minutes, if you want a crisper crust, switch to grill mode for a few minutes.

Transfer the mussels to a serving dish and serve.

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YOU MUST ALSO TRY:

Storage

My advice is to bake the stuffed mussels and eat them immediately. It is better not to have them in the freezer or in the refrigerator.

Stuffed Mussels: Some Variations 

  • OREGANO: I chose to use oregano as an aromatic herb, which gives a really special flavor and is a typical ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.
  • PARSLEY: You can use finely chopped fresh parsley.
  • LEMON: For a touch of freshness, you can add a little grated lemon zest to the baked stuffed mussels.
  • CAPERS: You can also enrich the stuffing with capers, finely chopped olives.
  • TOMATO: To add color, you can add tomato paste to the breadcrumb-based stuffing.
  • PARMIGIANO: For a milder taste, use Parmigiano instead of Pecorino.
  • NO CHEESE: For a more natural taste, you can leave out the cheese. In this case, you will need to increase the amount of breadcrumbs slightly.

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I would like to point out a gourmet version of baked stuffed mussels, a recipe by the famous chef Antonino Cannavacciulo.

In the shell of a mussel, place a bed of mashed potatoes seasoned with garlic, Pecorino di Pienza and extra virgin olive oil.

Place the muscle on top. Finally cover with small cubes of fried bread. Then gratinate in the oven.

This elegant and refined version keeps the traditional flavors and tastes, with an extra touch of creaminess from the mashed potatoes.

Tips

  • THE MUSSELS: The secret to the success of this dish is to choose the freshest and best quality mussels. Remember to clean them thoroughly and discard those that have already been opened or have cracked shells.
  • THE FILLING: Also pay attention to the consistency of the filling: it should be soft and firm, not watery. If it’s too wet, the gratin won’t hold: so add a little more breadcrumbs.
  • THE BREADCRUMBS: Breadcrumbs are a key ingredient in this recipe. You must use bread that is well dried and not moist. It’s better to grate it coarsely, not as fine as powder. I advise you not to use stale bread in oil or spices as it may turn rancid and too greasy. For tips and tricks on how to make perfect breadcrumbs, read “How to Make Homemade Italian Breadcrumbs”.
  • OTHER MOLLUSCS: You can use the same recipe with other types of molluscs. For example, clams (the large ones, of course). In the Adriatic regions, cannolicchi (which have the shape of a cane) are often used for this recipe. They are typical of these areas and are very common.

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