Lately, I've been trying to prepare more home-cooked meals, with whole ingredients, rather than wasting my food dollars by dining out (Pho remains an exception to this rule - it's just too damn delicious). I've been able to come up with some pretty fancy-looking dinners and lunches, without really breaking the bank or expanding my waistline too much - this recipe for Gamberoni Fra Diavolo is one of my more impressive attempts at culinary resourcefulness.
A little history lesson before we move onto the recipe: Fra Diavolo (or literally, "Brother Devil;" born Michele Pezza) was a Neapolitan bandit/brigand who contributed in the Bourbon defeat of the Neapolitan Republic in the 18th Century - fascinating (occasionally I like to Google such facts to appear knowledgeable in front of my dinner guests *cough* my mother & Korean relatives *cough*). Although rumor has it that he asked for this shrimp dish as his last meal before his death by hanging in 1806, there is no historical record indicating the veracity of this claim (Source: Various Search Results in Google - please don't quote this blog for your history paper - SHAME ON YOU!). Nonetheless, this Neapolitan staple is delicious, and pretty easy to prepare.
I put my little spin on this classic with ingredients I had on hand, and the taste test (my sister, Cheryl and myself) confirms it was indeed quite delicious.
While various sources use different ingredients, this is what I used:
1 4-person portioned bag of rigatoni (you can use whatever pasta you have lying around)
1/2 jar capers
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
2 tablespoons of minced garlic (I love me some garlic)
2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved (eyeball it - if it looks like there isn't enough - add a bit more)
2 medium roasted peppers, julienned into strips about 5mm thick
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons dried crushed chili flakes, or 1-2 fresh jalapeno pepper(s), chopped fine (I leave the seeds in for a spicy kick)
About 1 dozen king prawns (add more or less as your wallet permits - large prawns are pretty ka-ching, but I was able to snag them at the Chinese market for much cheaper), deveined and cleaned but with the shells & head on if possible (if the heads gross you out, you can chop them off, but they add a lot of flavor)
1/2 jar standard marinara or tomato sauce
Fresh basil leaf shredded finely, to taste (you can also use Oregano)
Salt & pepper, to taste
A little white wine or chicken broth, or water
Juice & zest of half a lemon
Lemon wedges, to serve
To prepare the pasta:
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Use plenty of salted water so it cooks properly, in a large pot.
- When there are about 3-4 minutes left on the pasta timer, add a good glug of olive oil into a large saute pan or wok. Add the garlic and chili, and saute to release the oils. Keep this hot, but don't let the garlic burn, or it will taste horrible!
- Once the garlic perfumes the oil, add the prawns to the pan, searing each side in the oil. Add the onion, saute quickly; add the white wine (or chicken broth/water) and close the lid to allow the steam to cook the shrimp and onions.
- Once the prawns are pink, add cherry tomatoes and roasted bell pepper, lowering the heat just a little. Once these are hot, add the capers also. Saute quickly; add the marinara/tomato sauce. Stir together until hot.
- Drain the pasta (by now it should be cooked) and add immediately to the sauce. Saute quickly to incorporate; salt & pepper to taste (if necessary). Add lemon zest, juice & shredded basil just before serving.
- Spoon the pasta onto plates (display the shrimp on top - so it gets a big "wow" from your dinner guests - you can even make them brandish those cocktail swords if you want, if you're juvenile like me); garnish with a basil leaf and serve with a lemon wedge (don't forget a finger bowl for the saucy shrimp and another empty one for the shells). This is delicious with a glass of Pinot Grigio (or your preferred dry white wine). Enjoy immediately*!
*This is equally delicious as leftovers, even if you don't have any shrimp left - the sauce itself is quite yummy.