A photo of spaghetti twirled around a fork

Bedeviling Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Long before Carlo’s Bakery and Buddy Valestro became household names, Hoboken, New Jersey was known for three things: Native son Frank Sinatra, the waterfront Maxwell House Coffee Factory’s aroma perfuming the air, making you want a cup then and there (and I’m a tea drinker) and great Italian food.

Yes, I’m omitting Elysian Fields, regarded as the birthplace of modern baseball; we’re here to talk food!

My first taste of shrimp fra diavolo, “brother devil,” was at Leo’s Grandevous. Founded in 1939 by Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi, it’s still going strong, and the décor remains an homage to the Chairman of the Board.

Its sauce ingredients are familiar, comforting and homey – tomatoes, onions, garlic, white wine, oregano and basil. Its hallmark red pepper flakes are what gives it that yummy fiery kick.

What’s an iconic dish without a good backstory?

The setting: 1770s Naples, where Michele Pezza (1771-1806) lived and at an early age survived a harsh childhood sickness that nearly killed him. Keeping with an old Italian tradition observed until the early 20th century, Pezza and other youngsters who’d recovered from serious illness were dressed as monks on the second Sunday after Easter for a procession honoring St. Francis of Paola, the patron saint of sick children.

The story goes little Michele earned the nickname “fra diavolo” because of his fiery and naughty disposition and was a handful on those solemn occasions. The moniker stuck. Perhaps as a self-fulfilling prophecy, adult “Fra Diavolo” became a famous guerrilla leader who resisted the French occupation of Naples. On November 1, 1806, he was betrayed, captured and on November 9, despite an offer from Queen Maria Carolina to exchange 200 French prisoners for him, he was hanged for banditry in the Piazza del Mercato.

The dish’s origin remains a mystery. Some believe it’s Naples, but the general consensus is it’s a creation of Italian chefs in the New York City, northern New Jersey area; more than a few early New York City Italian restaurants claim credit for popularizing it.

A Fall Macarons Workshop with Pastry Chef Kayla Draper will take place on November 12. On the menu: Pumpkin Cheesecake Macarons are extra-large three dimensional orange pumpkin shaped shells. You’ll make the pumpkin cheesecake filling, fondant stems and paint them with food coloring. For the two-bite Pecan Pie Macarons, you’ll make cinnamon buttercream and pecan pie filling for white shells. 

A menu featuring Desert Pearl Mushrooms from Maynards Executive Chef/Owner Brian Smith’s will take place November 14. Stay tuned for the details.

On November 21, with Rollies Mexican Patio Chef/Owner Mateo Otero, you’ll cook dishes he makes for family and friends that aren’t on the restaurant menu: Sonoran Style Korean Kalbi Short Ribs have his spin using Mexican beer and chiltepin in the marinade; Red Chili Nopalitos topped with Queso Fresco and for dessert, Caramelized Banana and Marzipan Crumbles Nachos – multiple layers of deep fried flour tortillas with cinnamon sugar, ice cream and marzipan crumbles.

Cooking with the Wildcats – Food & Football with Coach Ricky & LaMonte Hunley has been rescheduled to December 2. Spend Friday evening talking football and cooking along with Ricky and LaMonte, who know their way around the kitchen like they did the football field. On the menu: Lemon and Wine Marinated Baked Salmon; Bok Choy Salad with Strawberry, Pear, Apple, Jalapeño and Sesame Seeds; Sautéed Spinach; and Key Lime Pie.

It’s time to think about baking! On December 3, it’s Take & Bake: Almond Biscotti with Certified Executive Chef Barry Infuso. We’ll start the morning with a hot beverage that’ll be perfect for dunking some already made twice-baked cookies. You’ll make and take home dough ready for the oven that will yield about 120 cookies.

Senae Thai Bistro Chef/Owner Dee Buizer’s December 8 Exploring Thai Cuisine class is almost sold out. Her authentic and elevated dishes, accompanied with wonderful stories, are always a favorite. On the menu: Tom (cooked) Kha (galangal – a varietal of ginger) Gai (chicken) coconut milk soup’s origin is from northern Thailand with influences from neighboring Laos. Its pungent, slightly sour and floral flavors beautifully contrast coconut milk’s creaminess and Gai (chicken) Pad (stir-fried) Kraprow (holy basil) served over rice with an egg. The dish is adapted from Chinese stir-frying, is popular in northern Thailand and found from street food vendors to high-end restaurants.

On December 12, El Rustio Owner/Chef Juan Almanza’s Get the Más Out of Masa class has the hardest part – making the masa – already done. You’ll have fun: Pressing tortillas for enchilada en tomatala (tomato sauce) and enchilada with red sauce; making sopes (also known as picadita, originating in central and southern Mexico) and gorditas (masa stuffed with meat or other fillings); and cooking three filling options: Chicken with veggies, border-style shredded beef with potatoes and veggie calabacitas con queso, as well as accompanying salsas and a variety of garnishes.

News & Notes
This Friday, from 3:00 p.m. – 10 p.m. at the Hotel McCoy, 720 W. Silverlake Rd., local food journalist, stylist, photographer and Flying Aprons Tucson teacher Jackie Tran’s long-awaited food truck, Tran’s Fats, opens. It features Asian street food including vegan and gluten-free options along with specials highlighting seasonal local ingredients.

Congratulations to Zio Peppe mixologist Alfredo “Fredo” Aguilar and his team for taking home the win at Saturday’s Tucson City of Gastronomy’s 2022 Cocktail of the Year Challenge. “The Last Monsoon” is La Gritona Reposado Tequila, housemade pomegranate and fall spice cordial, vanilla & chiltepin simple syrup, red wine vinegar, lemon, creosote spritz and queen’s wreath garnish. You can order it starting this coming weekend at the restaurant, 6502 E. Tanque Verde Rd. Other participating slingers were: Donna Francis from Union Public House, Luis Alcala from The Delta, Sherra Whittaker from Blue Willow, Carlos Rodriguez from PY Steakhouse and Katie Wisdom from The Parish.

Lavender Manor, 347 E. 4th St., the Tucson outpost of Oracle’s Life Under the Oaks Lavender Farm, opened last week. The shop offers their natural, small batch, handcrafted lavender farm products, dried lavender bundles, wreaths, sachets, special curated plates, mugs and jewelry, all from local artists. Owner Carolyn Blair and I are working on a holiday tea event on December 11. Stay tuned for details.

Last week, The Union Jack British Pub & Restaurant, 808 E. University Blvd., a Scottsdale-based authentic British pub owned and operated by British ex-pats, opened. The menu features quintessential British dishes, and you can watch British football to your heart’s content.

The wait is almost over for the atmosphere and culinary traditions of Cuba! On October 30, Mojo Cuban Kitchen & Rum Bar, 1929 E. Grant Rd., the brainchild of restaurateurs Nick and Allison Schaefer, along with Chef Janet Balderas and sous chef and native Cuban Patricia Espinosa, opens. Hours of operation are to be determined.

On October 30, from 6:00 p.m.– 9:00 p.m., six legends of the Tucson culinary scene: Carlotta Flores, Jonathan Landeen, Jim Murphy, Donna Nordin, Janos Wilder and Alan Zeman, join forces with the Gastronomic Union of Tucson chefs for welcome cocktails and a six-course with wine pairings dinner at the Mountain Oyster Club, 6400 E. El Dorado Circle. Tickets are $225 plus tax and applicable fees.

Wishing you joy in the kitchen,


Shrimp Fra Diavolo
Yield: 4 servings

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 14.5 oz. can diced fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine – Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc
Kosher salt
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoons dried basil
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Pat shrimp dry and season with salt and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes.
2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, then add shrimp and cook 30-45 seconds. Don’t cook all the way; they’ll finish cooking in the sauce. Transfer shrimp and juices to a plate and set aside.
3. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering, then reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently until onion has softened and turned a light golden brown. Don’t let garlic burn. Add wine and cook until reduced by half.
3. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, basil and remaining red pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes or until thickened.
4. Return shrimp to skillet, nestling them into the sauce. Cook 1 minute or until shrimp is pink and warmed through. Serve with linguine and garnish with parsley.
Note: For a spicier version, add more red pepper flakes or chopped hot peppers either to the sauce or when sautéing onions and garlic.

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