Eric Akis: Spice things up with a tangy shrimp dish for two
Fra diavolo sauce is made with olive oil, garlic, wine, herbs, good canned tomatoes and chili peppers
If you like spicy dishes, be a devil and prepare them with fra diavolo, a spicy chili sauce that can add a pleasant tangy taste to a variety of foods.
In the late 1700s, early 1800s, Fra Diavolo was the nickname for Michele Pezza, who lived in Naples. When Pezza was a boy, he survived a fatal illness. And at the time, it was an Italian tradition for children who have recovered from an illness like this to be dressed as monks on the second Sunday after Easter for an annual procession in honor of the patron saint, Saint Francis of Paola.
According to tradition, on one of these occasions Pezza was extremely angry, which led someone to call him “Fra Diavolo”, which in Italian means “Brother Devil”.
That nickname stuck, and Pezza’s reputation for being hot-tempered continued throughout his life. And that seemed to provide him with great bravery as an adult when he became a famous guerrilla leader who resisted the French occupation of Naples.
Somewhere along the line, fra diavolo also became the name for tasty Italian dishes with a spicy hot pepper flavor. But sources must suggest that they were first baked and given this handful in the New York area, not Italy, and that there is no direct connection to Pezza other than the fact that they both have a fiery character.
However, Italian immigrants to New York, who brought their culinary skills from places like Naples, were cooking. And one of the places they did this was Grotta Azzurra, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy, which has reportedly served a dish called lobster fra diavolo since 1908. Other New York restaurants also served variations of the dish and always do.
Fast forward to 2021 and you will find that fra diavolo is now served in Italian restaurants across North America. And, beyond lobster, it’s also made with other types of seafood, such as shrimp, clams, and squid, or a seafood mix. You will also see it made with others. types of protein, such as chicken.
When I reviewed myriad of fra diavolo recipes, none were exactly the same. But most had similar ingredients in the sauce, like olive oil, garlic, wine, herbs, good canned tomatoes, or tomato sauce and chili peppers, often in flake form. of dried red chilli.
My delicious version of the dish, which serves two, has all of these things and also seared shrimp. Like other types of fra diavolo, you can serve it with or over pasta, polenta, or a rice dish, such as pilaf or risotto.
I would call my moderately spicy fra diavolo with red pepper flakes, which gives it a warm and inviting level of spice that lingers deliciously on the palate. If you want it spicier than that, just add more red pepper flakes.
Fra Diavolo shrimps for two
Seared shrimp added to a tomato sauce, richly and warmly flavored with elements such as red pepper flakes, garlic, wine, olive oil, butter and herbs. Serve with pasta, polenta, or a rice dish, such as pilaf or risotto.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: About 20 minutes
Makes: two portions
1 can (14 oz / 398 mL) whole San Marzano tomatoes (see note 1)
16 medium shrimp or 12 to 14 large shrimp (or shrimp), peeled and deveined (see note 2)
• salt, to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 very large garlic clove, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup white wine
1 tablespoon of orange juice
2 teaspoons of soft butter
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
5 fresh basil leaves, minced
Place the canned tomatoes and their sauce in a bowl. Use your fingers to squeeze and finely mash the tomatoes, then set them aside for now.
Season the shrimp with salt. Place the oil in 10-inch cast iron or another heavy skillet and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the shrimp and sear for 45 seconds. Flip the shrimp and cook 45 seconds more, or until pink and just cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat. Use tongs to transfer the shrimp to a plate.
Put the pan on medium heat and add the onions. Cook and stir the onions until softened, about two minutes. Stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano and cook, stirring for another minute.
Add the wine and juice to the pan, bring to a boil and simmer until these liquids are reduced by half. Add the reserved crushed tomatoes to the pan, bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle boil. Simmer the fresh diavolo sauce for five minutes. Add the shrimp and butter. Heat the shrimp in the sauce for two to three minutes. Combine parsley and basil and serve.
Note 1: Dark red San Marzano tomatoes are sold in the canned tomato section of most grocery stores and in Italian and specialty food stores. If you can’t find 14 oz. (398 ml) of them, buy a 28 oz. (798 ml) store and mash the tomatoes as described in the method. Use half of these tomatoes for this recipe and freeze the rest for another time.
Note 2: To shell a shrimp, hold the tip of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab its swimmers, small legs under the shell. Remove the shell, leaving the lower part of the tail intact. If the shrimp weren’t sold deveined, use a small paring knife to cut lengthwise along the back of each shrimp. Remove or rinse the dark vein with cold water, if there is one, pat dry the shrimp and they are ready to use.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section on Wednesdays and Sundays.