Saturday, February 5, 2011

Day Thirty-Six: The Many Charms of Fra Diavolo

Fra Diavolo, or "brother devil" (Italian) is a spicy sauce, usually served with seafood. According to Chef Mario Batali (who, for the record, I just want to hug), it's an American creation that's rarely served in Italy. But dang is it good. Its namesake, if there really is a connection, would be Michele Pezza (1771-1806), an Italian revolutionary, who resisted the French occupation of Naples. He received this name not for his revolutionary acts, but because as a child he suffered from a serious illness, and when he recovered he participated in a ceremony in which children who survived such illnesses dressed as monks on the second Sunday after Easter. Apparently, when he was in the hospital, he was quite a pill. So he was given the name Fra Diavolo, and it stuck.

Of course, there is no real evidence that Michele Pezza has anything to do with the dish fra diavolo, but it sure is a fun fact. And I do love to learn these fun facts and use them against my friends while playing trivia games.

At this point, you may be wondering, What on earth does this have to do with me? Well, it's simple. This week, the latest issue of Food Network Magazine appeared in my mailbox, and in the "weeknight cooking" section, a recipe for shrimp fra diavolo. And guess what? I cooked it. And I ate it, too. It was the most delicious pasta dish I've ever made. Spicy, salty, tomatoey, shrimpy--yes, shrimpy, but under these circumstances the shrimp took on almost a sausagey quality--and the sauce contained anchovies, to boot. I served it with some homemade bread I made yesterday (Nigella Lawson's basic white loaf recipe) during a study break. Alongside it, a glass of Basalt Cellars Semillon (a quarter cup of which also went into the sauce). It was a really lovely meal. And it contained shrimp! And anchovies! Huzzah! I feel like I've conquered something here. I'm getting real-live proof of a principle I've known for a long time but never been 100% sure of: any ingredient can be delicious in a properly composed dish.

I'm going to make this one again. I know Food Network thinks it's weeknight cooking, but I think this is a show-off dish. And I hope to show it off soon.

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