With the celebration of Labor Day over and done, I turn my sights to the Holidays. Well, not really, but they will be here before you know it. Don’t worry….I’m not going to start posting holiday recipes for some time to come. I’m still grilling and enjoying the summer bounty. However, when I was asked to make lobster fra diaviolo for a Labor Day celebration, I couldn’t help thinking about the Holidays. Lobster fra diavolo was my dad’s occasional contribution to either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve when we were growing up. If my memory serves me correctly, this was one of the few times my mom would let him cook. My mom ruled her kitchen, but once in a while she let him in. Yes, he made a mess of the kitchen like most men, and yes, this annoyed her (believe me, I can relate!), but the result was so delicious that it was worth every dirty pot, and all the tomato stains on the walls.
So why did I agree to make this spicy hot dish on a brutally hot day at the end of summer? It’s because we also enjoyed dad’s special dish during the summers at the beach. He loved to buy the lobsters and conduct lobster races for his grandchildren. The kids loved to cheer on the lobsters crawling along the deck or kitchen floor. They would even name the lobsters. Sadly for the kids, he’d later cook them to perfection. Sometimes they were served with drawn butter, but many times it was “fra diavolo” even in the summer heat.
About 12 years ago, we took my dad on a trip to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. He claimed that this is where he first tasted lobster fra diavolo when he was 17 years old. He and his brother and cousins would come to the Catskills to dance in the many large hotels of that time, the 1930s. The Catskills were famous for these big band dance halls. He insisted that we drive him all around the area in search of this place. He claimed we found it… “Villa Vosillo,” which was indeed around in the 1930s and 40s. Maybe he was right? We went inside and was convinced that this was the place where he first had lobster fra diavolo! It was no longer on the menu, so we left and went to our favorite Italian restaurant in the next town of Windham, New York. Once the owner heard my dad’s story, he was happy to make it for him, even though it wasn’t on the menu there either. My dad was elated!! He said it tasted exactly as he remembered nearly 70 years prior! To this day, my husband orders this dish at this restaurant in Windham, every single time we go there, and they make it special, just for him as they recall the night it made my dad so happy.
So many wonderful memories of lobster fra diavolo! Sadly, however, I never watched him closely enough, nor did I write it down on paper. To come up with this recipe that I’ll share with you, I used some memory, and combined it with some recipes from cookbooks, and the result was as close to his as possible. He didn’t follow a recipe either.
I hope you will enjoy my version of my dad’s lobster fra diavolo. The main thing to remember is that you can make it as hot (diavolo), or not, as you like. Your guests can always add more hot pepper if desired. One last tip…..hand out bibs and/or many very big napkins. This is a dish to dig in to and not worry about tomato stains everywhere! And don’t forget the spaghetti or linguine!!
Recipe: serves 4
2 1 & 1/2 to 2 pound lobsters, cut up. Ask your fishmonger to do this for you. I also buy a few extra 5 to 7 ounce lobster tails.
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 tsp. hot pepper flakes (you decide more or less)
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup cognac ( optional)
3 28 ounce cans peeled Italian plum tomatoes, squished with your hands or pulse in blender (squishing is preferable, always!)
1 TBSP. tomato paste
2 tsp. dried oregano
10 fresh basil leaves, torn into bits
1 tsp sea salt (plus more salt and pepper to taste)
1 pound of spaghetti or linguine ( you can use 1 & 1/2 pounds of spaghetti)
- In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add all the lobster pieces, except the tails, and cook, stirring often for 10 minutes.
- Scatter the garlic, 1 tsp of sea salt, and hot pepper around the lobster pieces, and stir.
- Add the wine and cognac and cook for 3 minutes.
- Add the squished tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano and basil. Stir well.
- Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are thickened, about 35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the lobster tails and cook for 5 to 10 minutes
- Meanwhile bring a pasta pot of salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti or linguine until al dente.
- Mix pasta with sauce and serve with the lobster. Pass extra hot pepper.