What to do with Zucchini

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pasta w grated zucchini

I saw a longtime friend of mine on a recent visit to NYC. Gerald Busby is a cherished friend and mentor…AND a great composer. (I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with him on some music projects.)

 

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Gerald and me at his apartment in the Chelsea Hotel…my painting of the Chelsea behind us!

But Gerald is also a very good cook…so our chatting led to food…and he offhandedly described something he cooked up recently. It sounded so yummy I made it as soon as I got home. I LOVE this recipe: Pasta w Grated Zucchini

Simple. Smart. Delicious.

Here’s how it goes: Put your pasta pot of water on the heat to get it boiling. Then start your zucchini sauce. Chop a medium onion into dice. Sauté in a little butter (and I added a little olive oil, too)…

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onions sautéing 

Trim the ends of two medium zucchini. Grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater.

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grate zucchini

When the onion has softened. Add the grated zucchini to the pan.

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saute zucchini with onion

Try to coincide with also adding your pasta to the pot of boiling water (salt water first) — about 12 ounces, or even up to a pound of pasta.

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I got this pasta while in NYC at Eataly. It’s the Barilla brand that’s made in Italy and it’s rare to see “garganelli” as an egg pasta. So good! I think a cut pasta works best with this recipe.

Sauté zucchini till it starts to simmer, then add a splash of dry white wine. Season with salt, and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.

Add about a 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Cook till simmering.

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add cream to the zucchini, cook until cream reduces some

Reserve about a 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add it to the pan of zucchini sauce. Stir to coat, and cook until the pasta and sauce are heated together, and the pasta is well coated. Add a little pasta water, or some more butter or olive oil if it needs moistening.

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Transfer to a serving platter. Scatter a little grated cheese. And bring more cheese to the table for individual servings.

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Simple. Smart. Delicious.

Pasta with Grated Zucchini

2 tablespoons butter

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium zucchini, trimmed & grated

1/4 cup dry white wine

12 ounces  – 1 lb. cut pasta (i.e. penne, ziti, garganelli)

1/2 cup heavy cream

salt to taste

grated cheese to taste

Place a pasta pot of water on the heat. Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan with about 2-inch sides (to hold pasta later). Sauté onion until soft. Then add grated zucchini.

Add pasta to boiling water (salt water first). When zucchini is simmering, add wine. When zucchini has softened (about 3-4 minutes), add cream. Let simmer till cream reduces a bit. Season with salt.

Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and add to zucchini sauce. Heat and coat pasta and let cook for about 2 minutes. Add a bit of pasta water or olive oil (or even a bit of cream or butter) if too dry.

Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle some grated cheese. Bring some grated cheese to the table for individual servings.

 

 

 

Travel to Italy While Staying Home

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Modica, Sicilia

When I’m not in Italy, I’m in Italy in my dreams, in my imagination, in my thoughts, in my kitchen, and in my paintings. The country is part of my whole being and inspires so much of what I do.

When I am in Italy I snap images, and take video, in an effort to bring home “a little bit of Italy.” Here are two videos I put together with those images. One is a short compilation of the beauty of Venice…

The other is a short tour of Palermo’s Capo Market…and then a peek into the cooking class my group took on a yacht in Palermo’s harbor…

Later this year I’ll be visiting Assisi, Siena, Florence & Rome. I’ll bring back some more Italy for you. (And me.) In the meantime, visit Italy right now from home…and then, if you can, visit Italy.

Growing Pesto

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pesto & pasta

We moved a few months ago and one of the perks of the new place is garden room. My inner love for soil and green is having a — literal — field day. Yes, after 30 years of NYC life (which I loved) I’m very happy to get my hands in the dirt!

We’re growing string beans, peas, carrots, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, ghost peppers, AND from seeds brought back from Italy: cicoria, Roman artichokes, Italian onions, and hot red cherry peppers.

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carrots, peas, string beans, Italian cicoria, Brussels sprouts

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artichokes, zinnias, Italian onions (plus ceramic painted cat from Mexico)

And, of course, my favorite complement of herbs. I’d been growing herbs at our last patio garden and thrilled to the ability of going out the back door to snip herbs fresh for cooking. (Unlike being on the 6th floor of an apartment building staring out the window at cement.) Now we’ve got some more space for more herbs.

The basil plant that went into the ground about a month ago, filled out so fast into a sizable bush, and already started to flower.

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basil plant

We thought: man, we have to harvest some of this. Man, we HAVE to make some pesto!

cut basil

harvesting basil and parsley

I love when I have to make pesto. We even bought a fancy pasta to have with it (this expensive pasta was on sale…yay!): Cipriani’s tagliarelle…

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Cipriano tagliarelle

You know, you don’t have to wait for basil to grow to have pesto. You can make pesto from any green thing you like. Here’s what I like: arugula, watercress, parsley, mint, even  spinach & broccoli rabe. Mix them up. A few greens together. I’ve even pared down the traditional recipe and often leave out garlic (kinda strong). I love adding nuts, but not always pine nuts. Sometimes almonds (they love this in Sicily) or walnuts. I don’t add cheese until the pesto is mixed with the pasta. Cheese sometimes turns the pesto too gooey.

Here’s what I cooked up the other day.

For an aromatic I used shallot. Peeled & rough chopped. For the nuts: I used walnuts…

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shallot & walnuts

We cut a lot of basil from the plant but also cut some parsley.

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cut basil & parsley

Pinch the leaves from the stems. Discard stems.

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pick off the leaves of the herbs

Place shallots & nuts & basil & parsley leaves in the bowl of a food processor.

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shallot & walnuts in processor

Add some salt & pepper & drizzle a few turns of olive oil.

olive oil

adding olive oil

Pulse until broken down, but don’t go crazy. You don’t want a puree.

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pulsed pesto ready to use

Scrape the pesto into your serving bowl. Meanwhile bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Salt water generously, add pasta. Cook to al dente.

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Cipriani tagliarelle

Before you drain the pasta spoon some pasta water into the pesto to loosen it and make it more like a sauce…less like a paste.

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add pasta water to pesto

Drain pasta and add to pesto. Toss well. Add some more pasta water to moisten. Drizzle some more olive oil to flavor and moisten.

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pasta & pesto

Dust with cheese, and bring some cheese to the table for individual servings.

serving

your serving of pasta & pesto

 

You’ll get deep fresh flavor. Garden umami. Satisfying and so quick!

Fresh Pesto w Pasta

2 cups basil leaves or combination of herbs i.e. parsley or mint

1 medium shallot, peeled & rough chopped

1/2 cup walnuts

olive oil for drizzling

12 ounces pasta (your favorite — any can work)

salt & pepper to taste

1 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino

Pinch the leaves off the sprigs of herbs. Discard stems. Place herb leaves, shallots & walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt & pepper. Drizzle some olive oil (about 1/3 cup or to your liking). Pulse until broken down but not a full “puree.”

Meanwhile bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Boil pasta until al dente.

Add some pasta water to the pesto to loosen and make more like a sauce. Add drained pasta. Toss to coat well. Add some more pasta water and/or drizzle more olive oil to moisten and flavor. Dust with grated cheese. Pass more cheese at the table for individual servings.

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last bite

 

Scrambled Eggs Tacos

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scrambled eggs tacos

Here’s a recipe that you make up as you go along. So not only are the eggs scrambled, but so is the recipe.

These tacos serendipitously arrived at my table just as Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. The urge hit.

But you can actually plan to make this for breakfast on the 5th. Then the celebration comes to your house, too.

These breakfast tacos (or lunch tacos or dinner tacos or midnight-snack tacos) are taste-buds-popping delicious. And…

You make it up as you go along.

Here’s what I made up:

ingredient uno: scrambled eggs!

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scrambled eggs

ingredient dos: diced scallion mixed into the eggs (along w salt & pepper & a bit of grated cheese)

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scrambled eggs w scallions

ingredient tres: corn tortillas, the smallish 5-6-inch ones, heated in a cast iron pan (I put a teaspoon of oil to start and then don’t add any more oil after that — it makes a little smoke, but cooking will do that) until they get a little golden…brown…or even black in spots.

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heated, browned, oh-so-good tortillas

ingredient cuatro: choose side items, condiments, aromatics, yumful toppings that will pull it all together. I chose: diced fresh grape tomatoes mixed with parsley, a bit of olive oil, & salt…shredded asiago cheese….

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tomatoes & asiago cheese (scallions for the eggs)

…minced pancetta & minced prosciutto sautéed in a little olive oil…

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pancetta & prosciutto

…some fresh baby arugula…

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baby arugula

ingredient cinco: I also made a quick sauce of mayo, lemon juice & horse radish.

To eat: place a tortilla on your plate, pile on some scrambled eggs…

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scrambled eggs

…top with tomatoes, cheese, pancetta-prosciutto, arugula, some sauce…then fold and bite, nibble, and gulp your way to the last bite. Repeat.

The make-it-up-as-you-go part includes flavors that you love; stuff you happen to have in the refrigerator; ingredients you crave so much you’ll travel miles to get them to put in your tortilla, and/or the ones I just suggested (oooh, good ones!).

Brown’s Diner: Where I swing

 

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at the bar at Brown’s

It’s an acquired taste. Brown’s is a Nashville institution. A bar and music joint that used to be a trolley car. Then, fairly new, but still decades ago, they added a large dining room.

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Brown’s Diner’s best beer: Budweiser

It’s a bit dusty. And might be scary if the lights ever came on bright. The bar chairs list to the right and left. Some of them require hanging on.

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Brown’s bar stool

But lived-in and wonder-full is how I see it. The regulars have been coming here for dozens of years. The musicians who play here span Nashville icons and famous favorites, top-notch session players, and everything in between. What kind of music? All and anything.

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David Olney at Brown’s

My partner, Duane Spencer, and I play every first Sunday. We’re Duette.

Us Browns

Duette at Brown’s

Ron Kimbro is behind the bar. He’s been serving up beers and cheeseburgers for many a year. But the best things he serves are bits of wisdom, snide remarks, jokes, and poker-faced jabs at stupid questions from the other side of the bar.

The small “stage” area, with its ancient PA system, is strewn with old mic stands, half-useful guitar stands, speakers looming & hung lopsided by chains, music stands, and a variety of well-used stools.

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Duette‘s set-up at Brown’s

The window shelf alongside the stage area is a collection of old batteries, ashtrays (altho smoking is not allowed inside), left behind set lists, and indescribably doodads.

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stage window at Brown’s

Christmas lights light the stage. The walls are covered with album covers (Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Frank Sinatra are among them), and the yearly “Brown’s Diner group photo,” where all the regulars squeeze into the frame to make their presence known.

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Brown’s stage

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Duette‘s set-up at Brown’s

Yes. Music. And then there’s the food. Brown’s is known best for its cheeseburgers, rated among the best in town year after year. We love them. Order them with “everything:” onion, lettuce, tomato, mayo, ketchup, and pickle.

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Brown’s cheeseburger

 

My other fave order is their grilled cheese sandwich. They have chili. Soup in the winter. Fries. And beer. Those are the highlights and kinda about it. Beer. No wine. No cocktails. And the beer selection is extremely modest. But it suits the patrons JUST FINE. (Get a pitcher and sit outside, you can still hear the music.)

It’s easy to just drive by the place (@21st & Blair). It looks so unassuming. But step inside and you’ll never be the same. Get bit by the Brown’s bug (not a real insect) and you won’t be able to resist coming back and back.

See you there? Right!

*****

Duette doing our “Four Tops Medley” at Brown’s. Ever hear of a video selfie? 🙂

 

Peperonata

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peppers-the rainbow

I was surprised when my mom had no clue about this dish. Where’d I learn it then? Somewhere along the way it snuck into my repertoire… and easily makes a frequent appearance. We’re not in farmer’s market pepper season now, but that doesn’t stop the shops from selling peppers. And I take the bait.

It’s an easy dish and speaks some real Italian. All you do is stem and seed bell peppers and slice them into thick strips. Sauté peppers with sliced onion in some olive oil until the hodgepodge is a bit wilted and, not exactly super-soft, but to the tooth (al dente!).

I reach for the red, yellow, or orange peppers. But I’d guess that green peppers were the original ingredient. Green peppers were the only pepper I knew growing up. And green peppers pop up in Italy a lot, too. I’m just not a big fan of the greens. The flavor is stronger and twists in a direction I don’t always like to go. BUT, by all means. Toss them in.

I fiddle with the classic and also add some chucks of zucchini, and/or a cut-up fresh tomato, a few capers sometimes, and for a bit of punch, a drizzle of a favorite vinegar…and, for a bit of crunch, sometimes I sprinkle with toasted breadcrumb. Oh, and fresh herbs if you’ve got them on hand. Thyme. Basil. Mint. Sage?

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sauteing peperonata

Call it a side dish. Call it a main dish. Call it a pasta sauce. Call it peperonata. (But don’t call it a taxi– I’m still eating.)

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peperonata

Peperonata

3 red & yellow peppers, stems, seeds and membrane discarded

3 small zucchini

2 medium tomatoes

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled & sliced in half-moons

salt & pepper to taste

1/4 cup capers

2-3 tablespoons favorite vinegar

2-3 sprigs fresh basil or mint, or combination

1/4 cup breadcrumbs, lightly toasted in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil

Cut the peppers into thick slices. Cut the zucchini into inch-thick half-moons. Cut the tomatoes into wedges.

Heat some olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion. Cook for a few minutes until softened, then add the peppers. Cook for about 4-5 minutes until the peppers have softened. Add the zucchini and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until zucchini is softened and tomatoes break down a bit, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the capers. Drizzle some vinegar. Tear leaves of basil or mint and add to mixture. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted breadcrumb. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Lobster fra Diavolo

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Lobster fra Diavolo

One of my most favorite things about the Christmas season is Christmas Eve dinner. It’s the best meal of the whole year. And that’s because of the Italian inspiration called: the Night of the Seven Fishes.

Believe me, every year I try to get SEVEN fishes on the menu. But I usually end up with about 5. This year, we felt relaxed and casual and only had 3. But what a THREE.

My mom, sister and I decided to go to Costco on Christmas Eve morning (Duane resisted the Costco Christmas merriment–read: crowds). We knew they would have their impressive holiday fish island, piled with ice, and piled with great seafood. We thought: whatever looks good, we’ll buy it, then figure out our menu.

We rushed our huge carts up the wide-wide aisle to the seafood oasis. (One year, we got there late and watched 2 of the last 3 bags of clams go…arrggh!) We reached the icy array and there was plenty of sea creatures still available. We grabbed a big bag of little neck clams from Cedar Key, FL. We got a big bag of mussels from FL, too. Then we couldn’t resist the freshest, most beautiful lobster tails we’d ever seen. Pale, marbled brown and grey, with specks of orange. These were from Honduras. We got 4 tails, about 1 lb. each. One for each of us.

I’ve always found Costco’s fish & seafood quality to be pretty top-notch. Each of our seafood treasures had the fresh scent of the salty sea. We took it all home, chatting in the car about how we’d cook it up.

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this year’s three fishes

We decided to really keep it simple with favorites we knew well and love more.

We cooked Clams Oreganata…

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baked clams oreganata

…Steamed Mussels with wine, garlic & herbs…

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steamed mussels

…And Lobster Fra Diavolo–the Holy Grail of Italian seafood dishes. I’ve only had it a handful of times in my entire life. I remember my family making it on Long Island one year. I remember something like it in Italy. I may have tried once or twice on my own many years ago but the memory is blurry, watery, like bobbing up and down along the surface of the green-blue Atlantic.

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get me near an ocean and all’s right with the world

Of course, Maine lobster is the only lobster I knew growing up. In NY, our lobsters were from Maine. (Altho, my mom tells stories of family members fishing for lobster off the shores of Brooklyn where the Verrazano Bridge now stands.)

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Verrazano Bridge

In my 30 years of NYC living there were quarterly treks to one of 3 Spanish restaurants in Manhattan that each served special lobster dinners. These started at $12.95 for a pound and a quarter lobster (steamed or broiled) with a salad and side (rice pilaf or sliced roasted potatoes).

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ancient picture I found online of one of our faves on Bleecker Street

I had a circle of girlfriends who drooled on cue when these quarterly adventures came up on our calendars. At the table, over our first glass of wine (or Sangria–it was a Spanish restaurant, remember), we argued for half an hour over steamed or broiled (even tho we had each already decided how we wanted our lobster cooked on the subway ride over). Then we argued, while eating, as to which parts of the lobster should be eaten first. I go for sucking on the legs, then the cracking the claws, then eating any other shreds of meat in the body along with the tomalley, and saving the tail for last (with melted butter). These were 3-hour-long sittings because the other thing on the menu was a large quantity of laughter. Eventually, the dinners would jump in price to $13.95, $15.95, $18.95, until someone moved away, or we started to lose touch, or we just stopped going. (Sad face.)

Friends of Duane–Donna and Mike Dion–who actually live in Maine (and grew up there) treated us to a lobster feast a couple of years ago. They had a huge pot outside for steaming them. (Mike also grilled a few steaks and some corn, & Donna steamed a whole side of salmon, and heated a huge pot bubbling with steamers.) THAT was the best lobster I ever EVER tasted. Just caught that day. Probably from down the road.

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the Dion’s lobster feast

But back to Costco, Honduras, and Christmas Eve. Explosive special moments happen whenever/wherever/however lobster is served.

Fra diavolo means from the devil. Which means the dish is hot and spicy. We use crushed red pepper flakes, but feel free to go crazier with heat. If your eyes water while you bite into the tail that’s okay. We don’t get that hot here, but you’re welcome to do so. We’re afraid of losing any bit of that LOBSTER taste. So we go easy with the hot. It’s more like an elbow poked in your side, and less like an elbow poked in your eye.

Lobster Fra Diavolo (for 4)

4 1 lb. lobster tails

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon fresh parsley leaves, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 lb. spaghetti or linguine

salt & black pepper to taste

Put a pasta pot of water on the stove to heat.

Using a good pair of kitchen shears, cut the inner shells of each lobster tail in half, lengthwise. Then cut the outer shells, and the meat, in half lengthwise. Now you have 8 cleanly cut halves of lobster tails (see photo below).

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan till hot. Add the lobster tails. Cook on a lively heat, turning them occasionally, until the meat turns opaque white, about 5-6 minutes. Remove tails to a bowl, and set aside.

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano and parsley to the pan. Cook on a lively heat, stirring, until the garlic begins to soften and turn color lightly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the wine. Let the wine sizzle while you scrape to unstick any bits that have stuck to the pan. When the wine has evaporated by half, add the tomatoes. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pasta water has come to a boil, season generously with salt. Add the pasta, stir to keep strands from sticking until pasta water boils rapidly. Cook to al dente. Half way through cooking the pasta, add the lobster tails (and any accumulated juices) to the tomato sauce. Cover askew and let simmer 5 minutes.

Drain pasta. Add to a serving bowl. Add tomato sauce to coat. Serve each person 2 halves of lobster tail with a nice serving of pasta. Drizzle some extra sauce on top.

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cutting tails in half

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sautéed tails

lobster fra diavolo

Lobster fra Diavolo

shells

the shells