As the summer weather begins to spice up our little Marco Island paradise I am reminded of the wonderful, yet seemingly forgotten, spicy culinary American classic, Fra Diavolo. “American?” you may ask. While it is true that the name in origin is positively Italian (translation: brother devil) and that it is an Italian/American invention, its roots are firmly planted around New York City in the early 1900’s. Many have made claim to its discovery (Mama Leoni’s located in mid Manhattan and Grotta Azura Restaurant located in the Little Italy section of New York city to name a couple) The truth is that the exact origin of this wonderful recipe is elusive. And although I do not pretend to be an expert on all of the extraordinary cuisine that has made its way to our shores from the great chefs of Italy, it makes perfect sense to me that this was an American born dish. As Italian cooking teacher Marcella Hazan said back in 1940 referring to Fra Diavolo, “We do not eat like that in Italy”
I was introduced to Fra Diavolo the same way I was introduced to much of my cooking knowledge. By one of my uncles. Uncle Roberto DiMarco loved spicy dishes and as a child I realized that pretty much anything he gave me was going to have a “kick” to it. I tried his lobster Fra Diavolo when I was somewhere around 12 years old and I absolutely loved it. I ate as much as I was allowed and remember wanting more. Years later when I obtained his recipe I remember him saying something like “oh yes, Fra Diavolo. Italian ingenuity inspired by French cuisine and eaten by Americans” When I became the dining room chef of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston Massachusetts back in 1989, I introduced Uncle Roberto’s version of Lobster Fra Diavolo as a nightly special and Senator Ted Kennedy absolutely loved it as well. He asked that I come out to the dining room where he and then president of Lebanon Bachir Gemeyel both applauded my efforts. “Chef”, he said “that knocked me out, whew!” and President Gemayel nodded in agreement.
Fra Diavolo has taken on many faces over the years. Some people add bell peppers to it. Some add cognac and cream. But I stick to Uncle Roberto’s simple version and recommend you do the same. If you prefer to use lobster, that is great and classical to its original version, but chicken, mussels, shrimp and just about anything else works well. Bon Appetit!
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.
- 1 clove chopped garlic.
- 2 cups chopped plum(Roma) tomato.
- 1 tsp. chopped Italian parsley.
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh basil.
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper.
- 1 chipotle pepper (sun dried chili pepper) optional.
- 1/2 cup homemade marinara.
In skillet add olive oil and garlic and lightly brown garlic. Add split lobster tail “face down” reduce heat and stir around until lobster tail gains a bronzed color.
Leaving lobster tail “face down” add plum tomatoes and lower heat.
Cook for 4 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove lobster tail and add parsley, crushed red pepper, basil, chopped chipotle and marinara.
Remove tail from shell and cut into chunks, add to mixture and simmer until lobster is cooked but NOT overcooked.
Add your favorite pasta to mixture and toss together.
Lay pasta on plate, put lobster shell over pasta and return lobster chunks to shell and cover with remaining sauce.
(It is okay to add a touch of stock to the mixture if you would like your sauce a little “thinner” Clam juice works well as well, but I prefer it to be thick and chunky.)
Chef Bob Aylwin is the former dining room chef for the Ritz Carlton Hotel Chains in Boston, Massachusetts, Naples, Florida and San Francisco, California. He won the title of Collier County Ice Carving Champion in 1992 and 1993. He is the Owner/Operator of “The Teapot Cafe and Catering Company” 695 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island.