Mar 032013

Life can be stressful sometimes. Kids need looking after, appliances need fixing, food needs cooking, and the whole damn house needs a thorough vacuuming. We haven’t even mentioned self-maintenance time either, where you relax, immerse yourself in your hobbies, and other things that make you feel like a complete functioning human. Forget all that self-actualization crap: some days it’s hard to just keep your head above water. I like to treat my stress with an intense workout, but when you’re battling all the stuff I just mentioned, sometimes it just isn’t gonna happen. If you find yourself in that dilemma, try this:

Set your food on fire.

Of course, I’m not advocating wasting perfectly good food: you don’t want to reduce it to ashes. Just, y’know, take some fish, pour some booze on it, and flambe it! It’s fun, it’s pyrotechnic, and it’s productive — you are putting dinner on the table, after all. And in the tradition of so much good Italian food, it only gets better the next day. What’s not to love about that? Plus, it comes together pretty quickly, so even a cheerful three-month-old can be content to watch you make this dinner without needing gobs of TLC.

So put the devil in his place: give this a go in your own kitchen and let the pyrotechnics fly!

Monkfish fra diavolo

Monkfish Fra Diavolo
Adapted from the November/December 2001 issue of Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 8

The amount of chili flakes here make this spicy. I am by no means a chili-head, so if you don’t love heat, reduce them somewhat.
1.5 pounds monkfish fillet, cut into bite-sized pieces
1.5 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more, to taste), divided
9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons table salt (or more or less, to taste), divided
6 tablespoons cup Cognac or brandy
6 tablespoons minced garlic (about 12 medium or 8 large cloves), divided
3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
1.5 cup medium-dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 pound linguine, spaghetti, or short shape such as fusilli (a good whole-wheat pasta does very nicely)
Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in large Dutch oven or stockpot.
While water is heating, heat 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, toss monkfish, half of red pepper flakes, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Add monkfish to skillet and quickly spread in single layer; cook, without stirring, until bottom of monkfish turns spotty brown, about 30 seconds. Off heat, stir to turn monkfish, and add cognac; let stand off heat until cognac warms slightly, about 5 seconds, and return pan to high heat. Wave lit match over skillet until cognac ignites; shake skillet until flames subside, transfer monkfish to medium bowl, and set aside.
Off heat, cool now-empty skillet 2 minutes; return to burner and reduce heat to low. Add 5 tablespoons olive oil and 5 tablespoons garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until garlic foams and is sticky and straw-colored, 7 to 10 minutes. Add remaining red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar, tomatoes, and wine; increase heat to medium-high, and simmer until thickened and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Stir in reserved monkfish and accumulated juices, remaining 1 tablespoon garlic, and parsley and simmer until monkfish has heated through, about 1 minute longer. Off heat, stir in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
While sauce simmers, add pasta (and some salt if you desire) to the boiling water, stir to separate pasta, cover, and cook until al dente; reserve 1/3 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta. Transfer drained pasta back to now-empty Dutch oven or stockpot; add about 1/2 cup sauce (without monkfish) and 2 to 3 tablespoons reserved pasta cooking water; toss to coat. Divide pasta among warm serving bowls, top with a portion of sauce and monkfish, and serve immediately.
You can substitue an equal weight of sea scallops or shrimp (31-35 count) for the monkfish.

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