I love this dish, which is often called "Mussels Fra Diavolo", because my Italian Grandmother made it often, especially around the holidays. The lusty combination of mussels and spicy red sauce is irresistible. It's Italian-American comfort food. Forget about serving this with pasta, you absolutely must have a loaf of crusty, chewy Italian or French bread to dip in the sauce. Make sure to put an empty bowl on the table to accommodate the shells. For equipment you will need a large (10 to 12 inch) high sided saute pan (sauteuse) or a 6 to 6 quart pot with a tight fitting lid, a large spoon, and a Chinese wire mesh skimmer or slotted spoon. Red Sauce: I know my red sauce. My credentials: I grew up at the Jersey Shore, I had an Italian grandmother and I worked as a cook at Marenzi Restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco, back in the 1970's. This recipe is one for you to keep. My Napolitano red sauce is a great building block to making all sorts of dishes. It can be used to for a quick pasta dinner or for simmering fresh squash and/or bell peppers and onion. You can also use this red sauce as a base to make a "fra diavolo" with mussels, lobster or other sea food, even with leftovers and serve with rice or pasta. The most important concept in making this sauce is to really brown (caramelize) the onions and carrots, creating a natural sweetness that balances with the acidic tomatoes. For equipment you will need a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, and a wooden spoon.
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper, and saute until fragrant, stirring, about 30 seconds. Add the white wine and tomato sauce, increase the heat to high, cover and bring to a boil.
Add the mussels and replace the lid. Cook over high heat 3 minutes. Remove the lid and stir once gently. Continue to cook until the mussels are completely open and firmly cooked, about 4 minutes more.
Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the mussels gently from the pot to a large bowl with a Chinese wire mesh skimmer. Return the pot to the heat and increase the heat to high. Boil for a minute or 2, until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve immediately.
Yield:about 2 quarts
Place the canned tomatoes in a large bowl and place your (clean) hands in the bowl and crush the tomatoes so they breakup into a range of small pieces.
In a 5-quart Dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat until it is fragrant, but before it smokes, about 40 seconds. Add the bay leaves and stir them in the oil until they begin to brown, about 10 seconds. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until it starts to turn golden brown, then add the onions, carrots, and oregano. Cook the vegetables until they are very brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally, just enough to prevent them from scorching.
Add the crushed tomatoes with their juice, the tomato paste, salt and pepper, and 1 1/2 cups of water, (white wine or clam juice can be added depending on the intended use) and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer, partially covered until the sauce level has reduced by 2 or 3 inches and the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cook the sauce for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick.
Remove from heat, cool down in the pot, then when at room temperature, transfer to a sealed plastic container and refrigerate until ready to use.
This sauce will keep 10 days in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator.
Variation: Fra Diavolo Sauce:
Using my recipe for basic Red Sauce, you can make a quick and spicy "fra diavolo" sauce that is delicious drizzled over grilled squid and other seafood. For equipment you will need a 3-quart saucepan and a wooden spoon.
Heat the olive oil in a 3-quart saucepan slightly over medium heat and saute the garlic and crushed red pepper until the garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown, about 40 seconds.
Add the Red Sauce, clam juice, and salt, to taste, and simmer, stirring occasionally over medium-low heat, until the sauce returns to the thickness and quantity of the Red Sauce, about 15 minutes.