What’s in a name?
Directly translated from Italian, “fra diavolo” means brother devil, or devil monk.
This spicy sauce may have been created – and named – by Italian immigrants in New York, but other sources (like this one) claim its origins can be traced back to Michele Pezza of Naples, a guerilla revolutionary who resisted the French occupation.
A mischievous boy who survived childhood illness in the 1770s and dressed as a monk with other children in a local annual procession to honor St. Francis of Paola, patron saint of sick children, Pezza was known as a child for acting up at town gatherings – hence the nickname “Fra Diavolo.”
Am I the only one who’s a fan of this nickname? And the spiciness that it implies?
I’ve always had a thing for a hint of zip in my food. I once heard one of my favorite television chefs describe spice like this:
“You know what comes right before too spicy? Addictively delicious.”
You can catch me eating a saucy, orange-hued batch of bone-in wings on the reg, but you better believe those suckers are medium spicy.
When it comes to a touch of heat, I like to emphasize the word “touch.” I don’t want my pad Thai so smothered in chili oil that I have to suffer through it. There’s a fine line between enjoyment and torture.
And I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy pad Thai.
That slight oomph of spice is one of about seven thousand reasons why I love this shrimp fra diavolo.
First and foremost, the heat level comes from whatever amount of crushed red pepper flakes you choose to scatter into the mix. Sure, I’ve given you my perfect ratio below for the occasional bite of seafood that will slap you on the tongue – but you’re in charge here.
Sweet, juicy shrimp make an idyllic partner for heat. But while my husband will be the first in line for seafood pasta, he’ll likely opt out of anything aggressively spicy.
So, when I whip up my favorite seafood dishes for him, like my lemon garlic shrimp or this tomatoey concoction for us enjoy to at home, I hold back a bit on the spicy red pepper. I can always add more to my own plate, and I refuse to pick the “extra” flakes out of his.
Marriage. Compromise. Crushed red pepper bliss.
Go ahead. Bathe in my words of wisdom.
If you’re not too familiar with those spirited little suckers that show up in pizza delivery boxes and hide in the corners of many a spice rack, here’s a quick rundown on crushed red pepper flakes:
A mix of cayenne and other types of peppers and their seeds, these spicy flakes are dried and pulverized before being unloaded into a variety of vessels, including the clear glass shakers at your local pizzeria.
When used in a more moderate quantities, the heat is subtle and cuts nicely through fatty ingredients.
But dump these mighty morsels all over your favorite slice or spaghetti, and you can expect a sharp smack that will have you reaching for the nearest beer.
Nothing wrong with that.
Many shrimp fra diavolo recipes call for the following in their star lineup: shrimp, tomatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, and white wine.
Tossing pancetta into the mix adds an underlying unctuous flavor whose peppery notes parallel the pepper, and lemon zest brings a touch of brightness that tells the pork and pepper flakes, “Hey, chill out, bro.”
I strongly recommend it.
I also reach for aged asiago cheese instead of classic parmesan as its intense, nutty flavor matches the boldness of the devilish shrimp.
See how we came full circle there? Now, go light a spark under your seafood. You can thank me later.
Shrimp Brother DevilPrint
Red pepper flake-tangled shrimp fra diavolo and linguine with juicy tomatoes, sharp cheese, and citrusy lemon zest will fire up pasta night.
- 1 pound linguine (or pasta of your choice)
- 4 ounces pancetta, rough chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound shrimp, deveined with tails on
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, divided
- 1 medium shallot, chopped
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
- 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, gently torn
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 8 tablespoons freshly grated aged asiago cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Cook the linguine in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package directions. Before draining, reserve 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water and set aside.
- In a large skillet or cast iron pan over medium-low heat, saute the pancetta until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pancetta and set it aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve the rendered fat in the pan, increase the heat to medium, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan.
- Season the shrimp with 1 teaspoon of the salt, the black pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add them to the pan. Cook until they’re opaque and have a golden-brown crust, about 2 minutes per side, depending on their size. Remove the shrimp and set them aside.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the shallot and garlic and season with the remaining salt and red pepper flakes. Saute until the shallots are translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any brown bits (or fond) from the bottom. Add the tomatoes, cover the pan, and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.
- Add the cooked linguine, reserved starchy cooking water, shrimp, pancetta, basil, lemon zest, and 6 tablespoons grated asiago cheese. Toss to combine. Season to taste with additional salt.
- Divide the pasta among bowls and garnish with the remaining asiago cheese and parsley.
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: shrimp, pasta, linguine, tomato, white wine, lemon, pancetta
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Cook the Pasta and Reserve Some Cooking Water
Cook the linguine in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package directions.
Linguine is my favorite option here, but you could also use spaghetti, bucatini, or your choice of pasta.
Before draining in a colander, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water and set it aside. This starchy water will help the sauce adhere to the pasta.
Step 2 – Prep and Measure Ingredients
While the pasta is cooking, prep your ingredients.
Chop the parsley and zest the lemon. Gently tear the basil, and grate the cheese.
Rough chop the shallots, and mince the garlic.
Chop the pancetta into 1/4-inch cubes.
Measure out all of the remaining ingredients.
Step 3 – Brown the Pancetta and Render the Fat
Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pancetta and set it aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Reserve the rendered fat in the pan, increase the heat to medium, and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan.
Step 4 – Season and Sear the Shrimp
Add 1 teaspoon of the salt, the black pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes to a bowl with the shrimp, and toss to coat them with the spices. Add them to the pan.
Cook until they’re opaque and have a golden-brown crust, about 2 minutes per side, depending on their size. Keep in mind that you don’t want to overcook them, or they will become tough.
Remove them from the pan and set them aside.
Step 5 – Season and Saute the Shallots and Garlic
Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the shallot and garlic, and season them with the remaining salt and red pepper flakes.
Saute until the shallots are translucent, for about 2 minutes. Keep an eye on them and turn the heat down if you need to – you don’t want the garlic to burn.
Step 6 – Deglaze the Pan and Add the Tomatoes
Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any flavorful brown bits from the bottom.
Using your hands, gently crush the whole peeled tomatoes. Do this over the pan. It will get messy!
Add the tomatoes and their juices, cover the pan, and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, for about 10 minutes.
Step 7 –Add the Remaining Ingredients and Toss to Combine
Add the cooked linguine, reserved starchy cooking water, shrimp, pancetta, basil, lemon zest, and 6 tablespoons of the grated asiago cheese, and toss to combine. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed.
Divide the pasta among bowls, and garnish with the remaining asiago cheese and parsley before serving.
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes Crank up the Heat
Spice presents itself in many forms, but when it comes to the combination of pasta, tomatoes, and garlic, crushed pepper flakes are the perfect pairing.
Not everybody handles heat the same way, so if you’re making this sassy shrimp pasta for a crowd, hold back on the fiery flakes in the dish and serve a heaping helping alongside it instead, for the heat-seekers to sprinkle on at will.
Those who do dig something a bit more bold will thank you.
Craving succulent shrimp in another form? Give these recipes a try next:
Where else do you dot addictively delicious crushed red pepper flakes? Over pepperoni pizza? In a paella? On top of a chilled Caesar salad? Share your favorite landing pads for this enticing spice in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on August 10, 2010. Last updated March 7, 2020. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”