Lobster fra Diavolo


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.


this year’s three fishes

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

We cooked Clams Oreganata…


baked clams oreganata

…Steamed Mussels with wine, garlic & herbs…


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.


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.)


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).


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.


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.


cutting tails in half


sautéed tails

lobster fra diavolo

Lobster fra Diavolo


the shells





What I Buy at Costco – Part One

Campo dei Fiori, Rome, Italy

Campo dei Fiori, Rome, Italy

Costco ain’t Campo dei Fiori. But…

I resisted for a long time. The idea of paying a yearly fee to shop didn’t sit right with me. But my mom (my voice of reason and still my advisor) encouraged we join. So we did. Little by little we discovered and tried and explored and now have a list of regular stuff we buy and rely on.

Costco’s brand is Kirkland. It’s not the only brand they sell, but when you see the Kirkland label you know it’s reliable and (so far that we’ve tried) really good quality.

Everything is extensive at Costco. Huge produce department, cheese department, meat and fish, big frozen food department, aisles and aisles of jarred, canned, packaged foods. I push around the SUV-sized shopping cart thru aisles stacked, stocked & full…agape at this Museum of Giant Food.

Here’s what helps: my mom and I often share stuff, which means we can get the multi-can package of baked beans, or the large bag of mini-cucumbers, or the 8-to-a-pack artisan romaine lettuce, or the 4-lb package of unsalted butter sticks. And because of my classes I often pick up the “large” size; my menus absorb quantity. STILL a single shopper can do great (helps to have a freezer).

I’ve got a long list of favorites but here’s a partial roundup. It would be fun to take people with me when I shop so I can show them where I get my ingredients. People in my classes often ask. In lieu of that, here’s a Costco shopping tour on a page!

Large Bag ‘O Lemons/5 lbs.

Costco Lemons

Costco Lemons

I LOVE lemons. Not only do they sneak into many of my recipes but I’m in the habit of making Duane and I a lemon elixir every morning. We split a squeezed lemon and a squeezed orange with a little water. It’s a shot of toxic-clearing liver-cleansing goodness. (This morning drink was recommended by Mom, but, added to that, I remember long ago when I was doing a residency at the MacDowell Colony, a long-time-resident writer there would drink a cup of hot water with lemon every morning. She was about 95 years old.) Costco lemons are beautiful and sometimes as large as the ones I found in Amalfi! Here’s something fun to do with lemons inspired by the Amalfi Coast: Click Here for TV Demo SegmentClick Here for Recipe

Columbian Coffee… 3 lbs

Costco Columbian Coffee

Costco Columbian Coffee

Okay. My mom’s advice again. She insists Columbian coffee tastes the best and loves this coffee. I don’t drink coffee (except espresso), but Duane drinks coffee every morning. He’s not fussy about what kind but likes this one just fine (it certainly smells heavenly). The price for the quality is excellent.

Citterio Italian Rosemary Ham… 2 – 1/2 lb. packs

Citterio Rosemary Ham

Citterio Rosemary Ham

Imported from Italy. This ham has a slight hint of rosemary giving it an exotic irresistible spin. Comes in a 2-pack. I cut them apart and freeze one for later.

Already Peeled (except for tail) Raw Shrimp…2 lbs.

Kirkland Shrimp

Kirkland Shrimp

Kirkland brand, 31-40 to a pound. So easy to defrost in 1/2 hour (put in a bowl and run cold water on top, then let sit in cold water until soft). I love shrimp (okay, who doesn’t?). Here’s a fav shrimp recipe: Spaghetti w Shrimp

Grated Parmesan Cheese…3 lbs.

Cello Grated Cheese

Cello Grated Cheese

Yes, I know. Grating your own parmigiano or grana padana is IDEAL. But I go through a lot of cheese in my classes. Not only is grating yourself time-consuming, parmigiano is EXPENSIVE. I found this Cello brand grated domestic parmesan to be a superior quality and it complements so many of my recipes. It’s reliable and affordable. (Put some in a container in your refrigerator, freeze the rest until you need more.)

Campari Tomatoes…2 lbs.

Campari Tomatoes

Campari Tomatoes

The size of these tomatoes is seductively charming. I can’t resist. They have a lovely taste and adapt to cooking or salads or pairing with mozzarella. And their name is Campari (my favorite drink). I love these for making Fish in Crazy Water (Acqua Pazza), which is a tasty, easy way to make fish: Acqua Pazza Recipe

Kirkland Unsalted Butter…4  1 lb. boxes

Kirkland Unsalted Butter

Kirkland Unsalted Butter

Butter? Oh, yes. I often have pastry-based desserts on my class menus: tarts, pies, galettes, and savory pies, too. I use a lot of butter. 1 lb. goes in the fridge, the rest in the freezer until needed. This brand has a great taste and works well in recipes.

Eggland’s Eggs…18 eggs

Eggland's Eggs

Eggland’s Eggs

You can certainly get Eggland’s eggs in any supermarket but this dozen and a half pack is a good price. I like these eggs. They make me happy. Got eggs? Why not make a frittata? Frittata Recipe

Stay tuned for What I Buy at Costco Part Two. In the meantime let me know if you try any of these products and how they turn out. I’m not sponsored by them or anything. Just a shopper, eater, teacher, appreciator!