What does Fra Diavolo mean?
So many food dishes have legends or stories behind their name and Shrimp Fra Diavolo is no exception. Certainly “devil” in any recipe titles usually indicates that it is spicy, so it’s not a stretch to see why this hot pasta sauce is named “Fra Diavolo”, but there is a more interesting story wandering around on the Internet about the name “Fra Diavolo”. It turns out there was an Italian named Michele Pezza, born in the 1770s to whom this nickname “brother devil” was given. He was a guerilla leader who resisted French occupation in Naples, but his nickname was given to him in his youth, or so the story has it. As a child, he survived a serious illness and was consequently dressed as a monk and paraded with other children who had also recovered from serious illness on the patron saint day of St. Francis of Paola (the patron saint of sick children) – two Sundays after Easter. This was a tradition in Itri, a small central Italian town where Michele lived. Apparently, little Michele was a feisty child and at some point during one of these celebrations he was such a rascal that he was named “Fra Diavolo”. The name stuck, as nicknames often do.
Whether Michele Pezza has any relationship to the Fra Diavolo recipe seems doubtful. In fact, experts in Italian cooking can’t even agree on whether the dish is truly Italian or originated with Italian-Americans in the northeast. What can be agreed upon is that Fra Diavolo is a spicy tomato sauce that is usually served over pasta and/or seafood (especially lobster). Now, as with most recipes, the legend of “Fra Diavolo” should be taken with a grain of salt, but it might make for interesting dinnertime conversation as you gobble down this meal.