My Citizens, this spicy Italian-American classic recipe is a personal favorite of TFD! Fra Diavolo (Italian for “Devil monk”) is the name given to a spicy sauce for pasta or seafood. Most versions are tomato-based and use chili peppers for spice, but the term is also used for sauces that include no tomato, or that use cayenne or other forms of pepper.
An article in the New York Times about Lobster Fra Diavolo talks about the slippery issue of provenance for this recipe:
…”Oh, dear,” sighed Anna Teresa Callen, the Italian-born cookbook author and cooking teacher, when asked about it. “It’s not an Italian dish. It’s really another Italian-American invention. I have never seen it in Italy, and I suspect that it came from Long Island.”
Like Mrs. Callen, many authorities on Italian cooking are not on the side of the devil.
Tony May, the owner of San Domenico, who is from Naples, said lobster fra diavolo was not from his hometown. “It’s like the lemon peel with the coffee, he continued. “I first heard of it when I came to New York in 1963. I think there was a restaurant in midtown called Fra Diavolo that started it. Or maybe the restaurant was Vesuvio.”
Giuliano Bugialli, another cookbook author and cooking teacher, said it was invented in New York. “We don’t even have American lobsters in Italy,” he added. “And a heavy tomato sauce with hot peppers, seafood and pasta all in one dish is not Italian cooking. I think it came from a restaurant that was near the old Met, around 38th Street and Broadway.”
Others trace its origins to Little Italy. Victor Hazan, the wine expert, said he remembered first eating lobster fra diavolo at the Grotta Azzurra restaurant in Little Italy in 1940. His wife, Marcella, the cookbook author and teacher, added: “You brought me to that restaurant. I remember the dish clearly because it was so heavy and typical of Italian cooking in America. We don’t eat like that in Italy.”
Nancy Verde Barr, the author of “We Called It Macaroni,” a book about Italian immigrant cooking, said she knew it was an American invention, probably from Little Italy in New York. “I did not include it in my book because it was restaurant food and never something we made at home,” she explained.
But the consensus is far from unanimous. There are those who vouch for the Italian authenticity of the rich, spicy dish.
Take Frank Scognamillo, an owner of Patsy’s in midtown. “My father told me it came from Naples,” he said. “The Calabresi and Neapolitans love hot sauces, and the recipes are all there. They have been handed down for generations.” Not in Tony May’s family, but never mind.
Mr. Scognamillo’s father, Pasquale, came to New York from Naples in 1923 and opened Patsy’s in 1944. Lobster fra diavolo is a favorite of Patsy’s regulars like Frank Sinatra, Carroll O’Connor and Neil Sedaka. “But Sinatra wants his with less garlic,” Mr. Scognamillo said.
John Mariani, the food writer, whose parents emigrated from Italy, said he found mentions of it in guides to New York restaurants written in the 1930’s, but he also remembered his mother’s preparing lobster fra diavolo for his father. “I asked her about it, and she said she learned of the dish from him when they were still living in Italy,” he noted. His father was from the Abruzzi region.
In the dim blue fluorescent light of the very Grotta Azzurra in Little Italy where Victor Hazan had his first taste of lobster fra diavolo, the dish is as heavy, garlicky and peppery as ever. And though it is not for the fastidious diner, it remains a satisfying dish. “My father told me my grandfather brought the dish from Naples,” said Connie Davino, an owner. “They had different lobsters in Naples, but they had a dish like that. We’ve been serving it as long as I can remember.” Or longer. The restaurant was founded in 1908.
Regardless of its origins, Citizens – I will now share my closely-guarded unmatched secret recipe for this magnificent creation!
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Spaghetti
- For Shrimp Stock:
- 1 pound head-on shrimp, chopped – be sure and chop through the heads!
- 1 8–ounce bottle clam juice, best quality – Bar Harbor brand preferred
- 2 cups Sauvignon Blanc
- 1 box Jacobs Farms Seafood Herbs – if unavailable, use a mix of tarragon, parsley and dill
- 1 bunch Italian parsley
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, with leaves, chopped
- 4 shallots chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, halved
- 1 bunch thyme, cut horizontally – use only the bottom half
- 15 peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 plum tomato, quartered
- Water to cover
- For the Sauce:
- 2 cups canned crushed Italian San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 cups Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
- 1 cup homemade shrimp stock
- 2 top-quality Anchovy Fillets, minced very fine – TFD heartily endorses Ortiz brand
- 9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
- 1 pound of 15 count grey shrimp, preferably wild
- 18 turns of the peppermill
- 3/4 teaspoon seasoning salt
- 3 large shallots, finely minced
- 1/2 head garlic, through the press
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup cognac
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (preferably Aleppo) or more to taste
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 8 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons Pesto
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 12 ounces spaghetti
- To make the stock:
- Bring all ingredients to a low boil in a smaller-sized stockpot, skim and then simmer gently for 1 hour. Strain all solids out.
- Heat 5 tbs. olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant but not brown or burned. Add the shrimp, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently (and adding more oil if needed), until the shrimp are just turning color, about ¾ cooked – again, do not allow the garlic to brown too much or burn! Remove shrimp and garlic and reserve.
- Heat 4 tbs. olive oil over medium heat, add the shallots and cook till shallots are translucent. Then add the wine and cognac, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and briskly, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
- In the same pot, add the Aleppo pepper, the tomatoes, the shrimp stock, the anchovies, tomato paste, sugar, 6 tablespoons of the parsley, and the pesto, thyme and oregano.
- Simmer (do not boil), stirring occasionally, over medium to medium-low heat until the flavors blend together, at least 20 minutes. Turn heat off, cover and let sit at least 2 hours to allow the flavours to blend.
- Bring back to the simmer 15 minutes prior to serving. Add shrimp back in just a few minutes before serving until just heated through.
- While the mixture is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, and set aside.
- To serve, make swirls of the pasts in the center of 4 bowls. Arrange shrimp with the sauce, on top of the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley. Serve immediately.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?
Is “2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, preferably Aleppo” really going to bring enough heat to justify the name Fra Diavolo?
It is a bit light on the heat from the red pepper but gets a lot from the freshly-ground black pepper in there!