Pasta Fra Diavolo is not a traditional Italian dish. It’s origin is more likely in Italian-America than Italy itself. That’s important only to free you from the idea that when you make Fra Diavolo you have to conform to some ancient tradition and get everything just so. Like cioppino, it’s more about “catch of the day” price and availability, and personal taste than cooking it just the way it’s creator did.
Speaking of improvising…
A recipe this size calls for about 1 lb of shellfish. This particular mix is very nice and quite decorative. But, you can use whatever you like in whatever proportions you like. A pound of shrimp without any of the other shellfish would be just fine.
As you’ll see, there are scallops on the ingredient list. A good deal of what makes fresh, expensive, large “diver scallops” so special will not survive the assertiveness of Fra Diavolo. Small “bay scallops” are probably a better choice than divers, and frozen are fine as well.
As to the lobster – raw, frozen, “Pacific” tails will do just fine. But you can do whatever you like. If you want to sacrifice a whole 2-1/2 pounder and use it for all the shellfish. You certainly have my blessing.
Some people like to use monkfish aka “poor man’s lobster,” instead of lobster. Fine, but monkfish requires careful trimming (get all the membrane off), and be very careful not to overcook it.
This recipe calls for making a shellfish fumet as you go along and using it as a major flavor component in the sauce. But, you may use peeled shrimp and skip the clams and mussels. Replace it with a small bottle of clam juice.
The Pernod (and the other anise-ish liquor substitutes) aren’t Italian at all. But trust me.
PASTA FRA DIAVOLO
Quantity: Serves 4
Difficulty: Lots of mise, lots of sequence, lots of assembly, and takes some time; But as long as you take it step by step, not at all difficult.
• 1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and cleaned
• 1/4 lb calamari, cleaned and cut into rings and tentacles
• 4 oz lobster tail, defrosted and removed from the shell; or omit the lobster and bump up the quantities of the shrimp and squid
• 6 or 7 tbs EVOO, divided
• 3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 large onion
• 1/4 lb bay scallops (bay scallops are fine for this); or, omit the scallops and bump up the quantities of the shrimp and squid
• 4 prawns, langoustine, or very large shrimp) in the shells
• 8 live, smallish clams (cherrystones, steamers, etc.) in their shells
• 8 live mussels in their shells, cleaned and bearded
• 1 cup dry Vermouth or white wine, divided
• (optional) 1/4 cup Pernod, Ouzo, Raki, etc.
• 14-1/2 oz can of (best quality) chopped tomatoes
• 1-1/2 tsp dried, hot red pepper flakes, or more to taste
• 1/2 tsp dried oregano
• 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped or chiffonade
• 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
• Salt and Pepper
• 1 gallon boiling water (at least)
• 2 tbs table salt per gallon of water
• 1 pound dried pasta; linguine is a common favorite, so is orza
Beard and scrub the mussels if necessary. Set them to soak in ice water to disgorge their sand. Scrub the clams if necessary. Set them to soak in the same water for the same reason.
Peel and clean the shrimp if necessary, reserving their shells. Peel and clean the calamari if necessary; cut it into bite size rings and tentacle clusters. Reserve.
If you bought your scallops fresh and in the shell. Remove and trim them. Cut them into bite size pieces if necessary and reserve. Discard the shells.
Allow the lobster tail to defrost and remove it from the shell. Cut the tail into bite size pieces. Reserve the meat and shell separately.
Cut the onion in half, chop half fine, and slice the other half as thin as you can cut – as you would for a Lyonnaise. Reserve them separately. Mince two cloves of garlic very fine, slice the other two very fine. Reserve them separately.
Preheat a 12″ skillet to medium high heat and when it is hot, add 1 tbs of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the cleaned shrimp, salt them very lightly, and sauté briefly (tossing is better than stirring) until they are barely opaque. Remove the shrimp and set them aside in a bowl.
Add a little more oil to the pan, if necessary and sauté the calamari just as you did the shrimp – very light salt, and very briefly. Cook them just enough so they lose their translucency. Reserve in the same bowl as the cooked shrimp. Calamari will be tough unless they’re barely cooked or cooked forever. We’re going for barely in this recipe.
Cook the scallops in the same way. Reserve them with the other cooked shellfish.
Cook the lobster meat in the same way. Reserve it with the other cooked shellfish.
Cook the shell-on langoustine, prawns, or large shrimp in the same way – only until the shells are bright red. Reserve them separately.
Pour off any oil left in the pan. Return the pan to the heat, and add a 2 tbs of fresh oil. As soon as it’s hot add the chopped onions. Sauté until they’re completely translucent, and add the minced garlic. Cook until very fragrant, add the Pernod and flame it off. Add half the Vermouth. Deglaze the pan while the wine comes up to heat
When the wine boils, take the mussels out of their cold bath and add them. Reduce the heat to a low boil / hot simmer and put a lid on the pan. Cook for four minutes and check to see if the mussels are opened. Cover, continue cooking, and check again every minute or so. When all the mussels have opened that are going to open, (about 7 or 8 minutes total, probably) remove with a slotted spoon or spider and reserve in a bowl.
Do with the clams what you did with the mussels. They will probably cook faster.
Strain the fumet and reserve it in a bowl.
Adjust the flame to medium-hot and return the pan to the stove. Add two more tbs of olive oil to the pan. Add the sliced onions and sauté until they are limp and show the slightest bit of color. Add the sliced garlic and the red pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant.
Return the fumet to the pan. Add the can of tomatoes, the remaining wine and the dried oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add 1/2 tsp salt. Allow the sauce to set up to a light sauce, about 30 minutes. You don’t want it watery but you don’t want it too thick. Note: The process will go quickly if you’re still using your 12″ skillet – check frequently.
While the sauce thickens, mince 3/4 of parsley and 3/4 of the basil. Chiffonade the remaining basil and rough chop the remaining basil. Reserve the more finely cut herbs in one bowl, and the coarser cuts in another.
Meanwhile bring your pasta water to the boil and salt it.
When the sauce has set up, taste and adjust for salt. You’ll (probably) need at least another 1/2 tsp. Stir in the minced herbs and allow them to simmer for five minutes. Pour the sauce into the bowl containing the shrimp, calamari, scallops and lobster, and allow to steep on the counter.
Cook your pasta in the usual way to al dente. Strain it.
Depending on how and whom you’re serving it, divide the pasta and sauce into two or four portions. Add 1/4 or 1/2 the sauce (as appropriate) to the pan, bring it to temp – a minute at most – then add an appropriate amount of pasta. Toss until the pasta absorbs as much sauce as it can – another two minutes. If using linguine or other long noodle, twirl it onto a long fork (works better than tongs), and plate it. Cover it with the remaining sauce from the pan.
Repeat until all the pasta is plated. Finish by bedding them into the pasta. Let the langoustine take pride of place on top. Sprinkle with the remaining herbs.
Mangia bene, vivi felice