June 23rd is Annual Rig Fra Day in the Lista family. We started this tradition four years ago on the anniversary of Dad’s passing. Gathering the family together, sharing memories, and eating Rig Fra (one of his signature creations) is our way of celebrating Dad’s life and his influence on our lives.
So what exactly is Rig Fra? Rigatoni fra Diavolo is really the one dish that Dad became known for. Rig Fra is a tasty combination of rigatoni, sauce, peppers, onions, pepperoni, and lots of melted cheese. Although I’m not really sure when this concoction made it’s way onto the restaurant’s menu — I do remember it was a popular entree on its own, and it was also featured on the “Individual Italian Buffet Platter” — and it was a staple item at Dad’s catered events.
While, in the restaurant, Rig Fra was always made fresh to order on the stove top. After Lista’s closed in 1980, whenever Dad was invited to a picnic or family gathering, he was asked to bring the Rig Fra. On those occasions Dad would make it in a huge ‘steam table pan’ and bake it in the oven like lasagna.
Some of you may remember Dad’s famous dish from the Lista’s menu, and some of you from a picnic or family gathering… but unfortunately, some never had the pleasure of eating the one and only Lista’s Rigatoni fra Diavolo.
So, whether you choose to make Rig Fra on June 23rd or on any other day of the year I hope you do make it — and I hope you also remember the dish’s originator, Vinnie Lista.
A few words about Rigatoni… when buying rigatoni for this recipe I really suggest you look for the full size rigatoni with ridges (“…the big stove pipe kind” as one Lista’s customer used to say.) When cooked they should collapse and no longer be tubes but more like double walled squares of pasta. And please don’t substitute ziti or penne or some other pasta — this dish was made for rigatoni.
Now a few more words about grated cheese… Lista’s always served fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese, never Parmigiano Reggiano (which seems to be the popular cheese today). I’m not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with our ancestry… or maybe we just liked the sharper, more piquant flavor. Whatever the reason, I strongly urge you to splurge on good Pecorino Romano for any of the Lista’s recipes you try.
Rigatoni fra Diavolo (Lista’s style)
Prep Time: 10-20 minutes
Cook Time: 30-45 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
16 oz. Dry Rigatoni Pasta (preferably the big ones) – cooked per package directions
1-2 TBSP Olive Oil
8 oz. White Mushrooms – cleaned & sliced
1 large Green Bell Pepper – cleaned, seeded & cut into strips
1 large Red Bell Pepper – cleaned, seeded & cut into strips
1/2 medium Yellow Onion – cut into 1/4″ slices
1/2 tsp. Seasoned Salt
6 cups Prepared Spaghetti Sauce (2 – 26 oz. Jars if not using homemade)
6 oz. Sliced Pepperoni
1/4 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper flakes (optional – more if you like more heat)
8 oz. Block Mozzarella Cheese – cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (not Parmesan) – plus more for topping
There are several steps to this preparation and you have to be good at multitasking if you want to serve this dish directly from the stove top (restaurant style).
Or you can prepare each component in advance; assemble everything cold in a large casserole dish, and bake in the oven until piping hot and lightly browned (picnic style).
1. In a large pot of salted water, cook the rigatoni per package directions to al dente. Drain pasta into a colander and allow it to sit – keeping the pot empty for later use.
2. In a medium sauce pan – heat sauce over medium heat until hot. Add in the sliced pepperoni and crushed red pepper (if desired) – stir to distribute through the sauce. Turn down burner to low, cover and keep warm.
3. In a saute pan or skillet – heat 1 TBSP oil over medium high heat and saute mushrooms until they have browned slightly. Remove to a plate. In the same pan add other 1 TBSP of oil and cook onions and pepper strips until just tender (about 5 minutes). Add sliced mushrooms back to pan, sprinkle with seasoned salt and keep warm.
4. Dice the mozzarella cheese into 1/2″ cubes and set aside.
1. In the large pot you kept handy, combine the hot sauce & pepperoni, cooked peppers, onions & mushrooms, cubed mozzarella and the Romano cheese. Place on a burner set to med-low heat and stir until mozzarella begins to melt.
2. Add in the cooked rigatoni and gently fold it into the sauce until fully incorporated and everything is saucy, cheesy, deliciousness.
3. Serve Rigatoni fra Diavolo piping hot on individual plates topped with more Romano cheese.
4. Alternately, to serve as a casserole: In a large bowl mix the pasta, sauce, pepperoni, cooked vegetables, and cheeses – fold everything together until completely combined. Pour into a 9″x13″ casserole that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes until heated through and cheese is melted. Perfect for a picnic, “potluck,” or large family dinner.
So until next time remember, “The sauce make the difference!”