Mussels Fra Diavolo – The Devil Made Me Do It!

I have very few vices.  I don’t smoke.  Don’t steal.  I gamble a little, but I don’t kick puppies or anything.

I do, however, have one devilish inclination that just won’t get out of my system…

Fra Diavolo.

Fra Diavolo is a pasta sauce that is made with tomatoes, garlic, and tons of crushed red pepper.  It’s main characteristic is the intense spice, which gives it the name “brother devil”.  It should be teeming with garlic and lip tingling spice. It’s super assertive and intense.

 Basically –  bad first date dish, great fifth date dish!

And although you can have fra diavolo plain, with lobster, or with other seafood, I prefer it most with fresh mussels.  Mussels are reminiscent of sweet, mild clams.  They are cheap, easy to prepare, and so delicious in this spicy tomato sauce!

I add fennel to this dish because it lends a really sweet, tangy note to an otherwise super savory dish, but feel free to omit it if you don’t like the licorice-y taste.

Mussels Fra Diavolo

2010-08-16 mussels fra diavola Ingredients:

2 lbs. mussels, cleaned (I like cultivated mussels, which come without beards or much dirt)

2 large cans peeled tomatoes

1 cup white wine

2 tbsp.  tomato paste

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, diced

1 bunch celery hearts, diced

4 carrots, diced

1 fennel bulb, diced (reserve fronds for later use or toss)

1 bunch basil, cleaned

3 tbsp. capers

4 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. (or less) crushed red pepper flakes

2 tbsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the canned tomatoes, tomato paste,  celery, onions, fennel and carrots into a large stockpot and set to medium high  heat. Let the whole thing boil for about 30 minutes, or until the veggies are all very soft and fragrant.


2. Now, add the capers, wine, and red pepper flakes. Let cook for about 10 minutes, or until the flavors start to meld.

 By this time, that sauce should smell fabulous

 3. Now, puree the whole thing in the food processor. This is the step that takes it from rustic to restaurant quality. No one wants a huge lump of onion in their mussels, but a nicely pureed sauce preserves all of that vibrant flavor.

That’s the consistency that you want.

 4. Now put some of the broth in a shallow pan over medium heat, and when it bubbles, throw in the rinsed  mussels.


 5. Cover the pan (you may have to do the mussels in several shifts to be able to cover the pan).

 The SECOND the mussel pops open-just a couple of minutes for some of them – take that baby out and toss it back in the pot of pureed sauce.

 6. When the mussels are all cooked (discard any that don’t pop open), add in a good handful of roughly torn basil…

and the butter. The butter adds a really luxurious, velvety finish to the sauce.
7. Taste for seasonings and serve.

This is everything you want a mussel dish to be.  Hearty, robust, spicy, fragrant, sweet from the tomatoes and salty from the capers.  The mussels are plump and juicy, infused with the savory garlic and fragrant basil.  Add some crusty sourdough bread and you are well on your way to heaven…well I guess you are really on your way to hell

But what a way to go!