The fish are laid out in the glass case, packed tightly with ice. Grouper, mahi, snapper—and shellfish too: oysters, scallops, shrimp, mussels, and lobsters staring out from their bubbling tank. Monica Monte is deep in conversation with Brandon, one of the employees at Fish Peddler East in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She’s done extensive research on this shop—as she does with most things—and decided to fill her refrigerator here with the ingredients she needs to make her “seafood fra diablo.”
Join Monica and Bill on their RV adventure as they explore local ingredients and prepare a delicious meal in their Newmar Kountry Star.
This riff on the Italian American classic is one of Monica’s famous dishes. It’s loaded with a variety of fresh seafood, cooked into a rich (and spicy, hence the diablo) tomato sauce, and served atop a pile of linguine. It pairs well, in case you’re wondering, with a sparkling white wine, or a dry Italian red like a dolcetto or barbera.
Monica and her husband Bill aren’t on this trip because of the food—it’s actually the other way around. For Monica, who’s a fantastic and entirely self-trained gourmet home cook, local ingredients help build the menu she puts together every week. And with seafood the likes of which are inside Fish Peddler East, who could say no?
After an invigorating half hour conversation, Monica leaves the shop with bags of shrimp, scallops, squid, clams—which are Monica’s personal favorite—and the pièce de resistance: fresh jumbo Florida stone crab claws. “These will go right on top,” Monica says with a wry smile.
Monica sets a large pan over the top of her range and lights the burner beneath it. She adds extra virgin olive oil and lets it heat, then a pad of butter. “I always sauté the seafood just a bit, at the beginning, they’ll finish cooking in the tomato sauce.” In go the shrimp with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, then the scallops go in, and then calamari gets a turn. She tosses them just long enough to lightly brown before removing them to a plate.
Everything gets its turn in the pot, which the entire dish is made in. It’s handy for RV cooking, making everything in one pot. It saves on cleanup and saves on space.
As the calamari comes out of the pan, Monica opens a bottle of white wine. “This is mostly for the diablo sauce,” she says, “but a little bit for me.” She pours herself a glass.
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It’s the Montes’ first week in the Aztec RV Resort just outside Fort Lauderdale. They’ve escaped Rochester, New York, which sits on the coast of Lake Ontario. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve experienced my last Rochester winter,” Bill says. Hence the trip to Florida, and specifically, to Aztec. They’ll be here for roughly a month, avoiding the last of New York’s bitter cold and snow.
They traveled south in their 2022 Newmar Kountry Star, which they’ve dubbed Baby Girl, stopping a handful of times along the way. “It’s part of your adventure. As soon as you start, you’re already enjoying what you’re doing,” Monica says.
For both of them—but especially Bill—it’s easy to fall in love with the places they visit.
“What do I always say?” Bill asks.
Monica recalls, “He always says, ‘we’re so moving here.’ All the time. Like here at Aztec, he’s like, ‘we’re definitely moving here,’ and I said, ‘you said that last week when we were in Fort Mills.’”
That mindset is pervasive in the way they travel, that permanence. Monica’s very quick to note that this is not a vacation. “It’s about living anywhere in the country that we want to live. We schedule our day the same way we would if we were at home, except now we’re in a really nice place, under some palm trees.”
In fact, this is what Monica has been working toward for most of her professional life. As she worked her way up in the marketing department of a major corporation for 22 years, her aspiration was the opportunity to do her job from the comfort of her own home. Now, as the owner of her own marketing consultancy, she’s achieved that. “There’s this big, beautiful country and most of my time I’ve spent in the office…I knew there was a way that I could work but also enjoy the world outside of my home.”
“And you’ve firmly checked that box,” Bill adds.
For all of Monica’s dreams, Bill is still working on getting his system lined up. As a financial advisor, he can take many of his calls from the coach, but he still offers in-person workshops at home in New York. “But I’m hoping to turn those into webinars in the next year or so,” he says.
With more oil and butter in the pan, she adds the onions. One of her secrets to making a great dish, she says, is “if you’re ever in doubt, just add more butter.” With a quick brown, the garlic goes in last, as it’s delicate and can burn quickly. Then she eyeballs a cup of white wine. The pan sizzles and pops as the cold wine meets the hot pan, and everything quickly levels out into a simmer.
The classic aroma of simmered onions and garlic wafts through the RV. It’s the very smell that makes almost anyone say, “Wow, that smells amazing.”
The wine simmers, reduces, burns off. Monica moves to the fridge to grab her containers of fire roasted tomatoes and—almost more importantly—Italian tomato paste. She adds the tomato paste, then adds a little more. And a little more still. Tomato paste is an umami bomb, full of intensely packed flavor that opens up once it hits a skillet with olive oil. The aroma blooms out of it, intoxicating and rich. Just as it starts to darken, Monica pours in the fire roasted tomatoes and their juice.
There’s a term in professional kitchens called mise en place. It’s French, and roughly means “putting everything in its place.” Inside a kitchen, that means cutting, chopping, separating, combining, and having things like salt, pepper, and garlic all within reach so you’re not scrambling once things start to hit the fire.
Culinary bent aside, there may not be a better term to describe the Montes. They don’t enter into decisions lightly or uninformed. Monica works in marketing, but may as well be a professional researcher. Prime example: they researched RVs—and RVing as a lifestyle—for roughly three years before finally buying their Kountry Star. YouTube videos, blogs, consumer reviews, manufacturer manuals, and everything in between—it all played a part in their decision.
And not just the coach they bought, but even where they stay. “We have friends who live nearby. That’s part of what drove us here. But the reviews on this place are great,” says Bill. He then mentions another resort they’re looking at for next year, with the website already open on his laptop at the kitchen table.
They can quickly and firmly name the list of features they were looking for when they started seriously shopping for their coach. Monica starts with a list of must-haves:
They found all of that—and more—inside their Kountry Star, which they bought at the Tampa RV Show. Monica says, “As we researched, we kept seeing that people would upgrade every few years. There was this adage, ‘buy your last coach first,’ and we took that to heart.”
After years of research, they made the jump into the coach of their dreams.
Monica has one special ingredient she adds. “Anytime I cook with tomatoes, I add brown sugar. Loyalists and authentic recipe makers would freak out. But I like the edge it gives.” As the tomatoes simmer, she adds salt and more crushed red pepper. She notes that she’s made it before with fresh chilies, chopped and added at this stage, but for convenience, pepper flakes are the way to go. She adds a tablespoon. Then another. Then another.
“I want to make it really spicy—I like heat. Bill can drink milk if his tongue’s burning.”
She adds Italian seasoning, the several-spices-in-one kind, which is again handy when space is at a premium. The sauce bubbles, thickening, condensing, melding. The flavors are pulled together, the heat pulled from the peppers into the tomato sauce. After a quick taste test—you always taste as you go—she adjusts the spices and moves on.
The half-cooked seafood, which has been sitting nearby the stove, is added back in “for a diablo bath.” She also adds the clams, both soft shell and little necks, which will steam and open in the sauce.
They were avid tent campers—and still intend to continue that tradition. More importantly, they still ate like royalty even while roughing it. Meals like surf and turf—commonly filet mignon and lobster—were the norm. The addition of the coach (and its kitchen) made it all the easier to cook a wide array of gourmet meals.
Back at the resort, Monica sets to work preparing her mise en place before getting dinner started. She opens cans, chops onions and garlic, and arranges things inside her refrigerator. The shrimp and clams were already cleaned. Even within the comparatively smaller footprint of the Kountry Star’s kitchen, Monica has it meticulously arranged. Plus, she has the extendable island that adds much needed counterspace—for cutting, staging, and anything else.
To give Monica the space she needs, Bill takes Cooper for a walk around the resort. They’ve already made fast friends, as RVers tend to do, in the short time they’ve been here. A couple down the road from them even invited them to dinner the night before. And as they left Fish Peddler East earlier in the day, they struck up a conversation with another RVing couple from Cleveland, who offered to stop by sometime with a bottle of wine. “We make friends wherever we go,” Monica says.
“And it’s like you’ve known them forever,” Bill says.
While the clams steam and the seafood finishes cooking, Monica boils a pot of salted water for the linguini, over which this sauce will be served. And because a watched pot never boils, she also uses the Kountry Star’s convection microwave to cook and toasted bread that’s absolutely slathered in garlic and butter.
Eventually, the seafood is cooked through. As she tips the lid open, steam escapes the pot and the RV quickly fills with the aroma of cooked seafood and tomato sauce. It lures Bill into the kitchen. “That smells good,” he says.
“One last thing,” Monica says. The Florida stone crab claws were pre-cooked and frozen when she bought them, so they simply need thawed. With the pot off heat, she adds the stone crabs, puts the lid back on, and waits. They’ll come up to temperature while the linguini cooks.
Bill extends the table inside the galley, grabs plates and silverware, and wine glasses. With the table set, he pours healthy glasses for each of them. His timing is impeccable—like he’s well-practiced at this—because the food is ready. Monica dishes a portion of noodles onto each plate, and while Bill holds the pan, she dishes up the fra diablo sauce on top. Shrimp, clams, calamari, scallops, and stone crab claws. Then she finishes with a pinch of chopped parsley.
It’s an incredible dish, a labor of love. But also not one that’s uncommon for the Montes. “I have no business weighing what I do. She’s an incredible cook,” Bill says. And Monica notes, “This is what I love. We get to eat like this, live like this, anywhere. This is our dream come true.” And what a perfect toast that is, as they clink their glasses and dig in.