You, me, and the devil make pasta

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When the weather gives you rain, you make pasta. Well not literally make pasta – although that is a good rainy day project. But there are few things more comforting for the belly on a dreary day like a big ol’ plate of pasta.

I’ve always said that I wouldn’t blog about the everyday dinners that I make, but as part of my ongoing challenge to have new and interesting projects to tackle, I decided that trying to recreate a chef’s signature dish (a la Top Chef) would be fun. However, being one that seldom follows recipes, I thought I would put my own touches on the dish (a la Throwdown with Bobby Flay – but without the challenger or adoring fans or commercial kitchen to perfect my dish). Also, I figured I probably won’t be able to find a chef’s actual recipe anyway, so might as well make my own.

The first dish to attack: Shrimp Fra Diavola. Now I’m sure someone, somewhere makes a self-proclaimed, best fra diavola sauce, but I thought I’d stick to someone local like Michael Chiarello, who at his restaurant, Bottega, in Yountville, makes a pretty damn fine Shrimp Fra Diavola. So, are you ready for a throwdown!? Or at least to see some cool pictures and hear a tale about Fra Diavola and then read my recipe at the end and think, hmmm…that sounds good; I should try that at home. I won’t judge you if you’re not, but I will write with or without you.

Fra Diavola is a spicy red sauce generally used in preparations with seafood, and according to Mario Batali (one figure on cuisine that I 100% trust) the sauce is actually an Italian-American creation and is rarely served in Italy. Regardless of its origins, many suggest that the dish is possibly named after Michele Pezza, an Italian revolutionary leader during the 18th century, who carried out sundry crimes along the Appian Way. He was successful because of his disguise – that of a Franciscan friar which earned him the moniker, “Fra Diavolo” (Brother Devil). There is no way of knowing if this highwayman is the reason for the dish, but “deviled” dishes should have enough spice that they are capable of impressing the devil himself. We can only imagine that Pezza was so good at being a scoundrel that the devil couldn’t help but take notice of his actions. And pasta with fra diavola sauce should be so hot, that even the devil himself would ask for a glass of water.

Cloaked in, well much warmer clothes than I would expect to be wearing the last week of May, I picked up some essentials to create the dish. I think the ideal choice of pepper would be Calabrian (being that Pezza resided in Naples, which is just north of Calabria). Calabrian chilies are a cherry pepper that is dried in the sun and then packed in olive oil. But instead I used dried chili flakes – which are a must in my cupboard because they make for an adequate substitution whenever heat is needed in a dish.

The ingredients are quite simple really: garlic, chili, salt, pepper, pasta, shrimp and then red sauce (homemade or store-bought). My general rule of thumb for pasta sauce is, unless you’re eating it alone, it should be homemade. Making your own pasta sauce is easier than you think. I based mine off of a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, which according to many makes the best simple marinara. My marinara is not a set recipe, it changes based on what is fresh and seasonal.

Because of the nature of the dish, I wanted to alter it a bit with some nice uplifting flavors, to complement and counter the spiciness. I added lemon thyme to both the sauce and to the shrimp while they sautéed in the chili and garlic. Lemon thyme smells like candy when picked and lends a nice, fresh, uplifting flavor to whatever it touches.

Should you find this recipe to your liking, feel free to call Michael and see if he and Bobby want to meet up and have a three-way challenge. I got the devil on my side on this one.

Recipe (for 2-4 servings)

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Chili flakes (to your desired heat level)
  • 1-2 sprigs of lemon thyme
  • Roughly a pound of shrimp (5-6 per person)
  • 1/4 Cup white wine
  • TB Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Pasta (linguine or spaghetti)
  • Marinara sauce

For the marinara

  • TB Olive oil
  • 1-2 carrots finely diced
  • 1/2 onion finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Chili flakes (to your desired heat level)
  • One bay leaf
  • 2 Sprigs of lemon thyme
  • TSP of dried basil (or use fresh if in season)
  • TSP of dried oregano
  • 1/2 Cup white wine
  • 1 – 28oz. can of tomatoes
  • Salt & Pepper

Start with the sauce. Med-High heat, sauté carrots and onions in olive oil for 3-4 minutes, add garlic and chili flake and sauté until onions are translucent and carrots are becoming slightly soft. Add bay leaf, thyme, basil and oregano, stir to combine and add the white wine. Simmer for 2-3 mins, and then add the rest and tomatoes. Simmer for 20 mins. Season with salt and pepper.

Boil water for pasta, and cook until al dente.

With sauce on low. Med-High heat, in a large saucepan, heat olive oil and then add garlic and chili flake and sauté for one minute. Add shrimp (make sure to get them well tossed with the oil and garlic and chili) season with salt and pepper and after 2 mins, add white wine. Add thyme and cook shrimp another 2 mins, then add marinara sauce to the saucepan and simmer for 2 mins. Take off heat and incorporate with pasta.


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