“Without the chilli, it’s just another boring tomato pasta. With the chilli, it’s something else!” – Nagi Maehashi from RecipeTin Eats, on Penne all’Arrabbiata, as quoted in today’s recipe video. 😂
So, I am not sure that one line summary of today’s recipe will go anywhere beyond my little corner of the internet. But that is my articulate description of the greatness that is Penne all’Arrabbiata! Simple made interesting with a good kick of chilli and healthy dose of garlic. The Italians know a thing or two about making simple pastas great!
By way of background, “Arrabbiata” means “angry” in Italian. So this pasta is said to be named as such in reference to its fiery nature!
But fear not. Yes, this is a pasta that is meant to be spicy. But it’s fundamentally a great tomato pasta that you can make as spicy as you’d like. Or not. It’s easy to adjust – just make the sauce with less chilli to start with. Taste it during the simmer time. Add more if you’re feeling bold!
Ingredients in Penne all’Arrabbiata
Arrabbiata sauce can be made with either fresh or dried chillies. Dried is obviously more convenient, but I really like the extra flavour fresh chilli brings to the sauce so I’ve used a combination of both. Also, two of my go-to Italian recipe sources both use fresh chillis.
Feel free to double up on either options!
Cayenne pepper – The larger the chilli, the less spicy they are! So cayenne peppers are not super spicy. Though, I do like to keep the seeds in for an extra zing of spiciness (the seeds is where most of the spiciness is). Feel free to de-seed if you prefer, or just use dried chillis (see note above photo for why I use fresh and dried).
Feel brave? Use Birds Eye or Thai chillies instead! They pack more spiciness than cayenne peppers.
Dried red chillis – These have a warm earthiness that fresh chillis do not. Sauteing with garlic brings out the toasty flavour as well as the spiciness.
Pasta type – Traditionally made with penne, though ziti is a direct replacement (it’s penne with a smooth surface). Though really, you can make this with any short or long pasta.
Canned crushed tomato – To be authentic, use whole peeled tomatoes (canned) and mash them up with a fork. For convenience, I use crushed tomatoes!
Sourness note: Not all canned tomatoes are created equal! Economical brands tend to be more sour. Take the edge off with ½ teaspoon of sugar.
Garlic – 3 cloves! Arrabiata sauce is meant to have a nice hit of garlic flavour.
Parmesan – For serving.
Parsley – For optional garnish.
How to make Arrabbiata Sauce
This simple pasta sauce 15 minutes simmering time to breakdown the tomatoes and make the flavours meld. Don’t shortcut it – you’ll rob yourself of flavour!
Finely mince the cayenne pepper with the seeds in. (See note in the ingredients section about seeds and spiciness)
Sauté garlic and chilli – Use a pot large enough to toss the pasta with the sauce. Heat the oil over medium heat, then stir the garlic for just 10 seconds. Add cayenne and chilli flakes, then cook for 1 minute, or until garlic is light golden.
Simmer – Add tomato, salt and pepper. Rinse out the tomato cans with a bit of water and add that in too. Then simmer the sauce gently for 15 minutes until it thickens.
Save water for sauce – While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta per packet directions in salted pasta cooking water. Just before draining, give the pot a big stir (to agitate the starch* in the pasta) then scoop out 1 cup of the water. Then drain the pasta.
* The starch in the pasta cooking water helps the pasta sauce thicken so it clings to the pasta better.
Toss – Add the pasta into the sauce along with 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss well (still on the stove) until the sauce coats the pasta and is no longer pooled in the base of the pot. Use extra pasta cooking water if needed, to loosen.
Serve – Dinnertime! Divide between bowls and serve immediately with parmesan and parsley, if using.
Oh the possibilities!
I’ve kept today’s recipe traditional with no add-ins, delicious as is.
But this recipe is an excellent blank canvas for add-ins of choice. Think – cooked shredded chicken, ham bits, olives (puttanesca-ish!), artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, other leftover cooked vegetables (or sauté from raw). Drop in some raw prawns/shrimp for the last few minutes cook time or some pieces of fish.
As with all pasta recipes, be sure to have everyone lined up ready to eat as you’re dishing it out so it’s at its slick, juicy, sauciness best. Pass freshly grated parmesan at the table, and top it with a pinch of parsley if you’re feeling fancy.
Enjoy! – Nagi
Watch how to make it
Made Arrabbiata Sauce – and got a free facial!
Penne all’Arrabbiata (spicy tomato pasta)
- 400g/ 14oz penne or ziti , or other pasta of choice (short or long)
- 1 tbsp cooking / kosher salt , for cooking pasta
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 1 red cayenne pepper chilli , finely chopped (with seeds) (Note 2)
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (red pepper flakes)
- 800g / 28 oz canned crushed tomato
- 1 1/4 tsp cooking / kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp white sugar , only if needed (Note 3)
- parmesan , finely grated
- 2 tsp finely chopped parsley , optional
- Sauté – Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for 10 seconds. Add cayenne and chilli flakes. Cook for 1 minute, or until garlic is light golden.
- Add tomato, salt and pepper. Rinse out the tomato cans with the water and add into the pot.
- Simmer – Turn up the heat to high, stir, then once it comes to a simmer, turn back down to medium heat and simmer for 15 minutes. (Taste check at 10 min – if sour, add the sugar.)
- Cook pasta – Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil with the 1 tablespoon of salt. Add pasta and cook per packet directions.
- Save water – Just before draining, give the pot a big stir (to agitate the starch) then scoop out 1 cup of the water and set aside. (Note 4) Drain pasta.
- Toss – Add pasta into the sauce along with 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss well (still on the stove) until the pasta is coated with the pasta sauce. Use extra pasta cooking water if needed, to loosen.
- Serve – Divide between bowls and serve immediately with parmesan and parsley, if using.
Life of Dozer
Nowhere to be seen when I’m sautéing the chilli (the fumes tickle his nose) but he waddles over when it’s done. But – no spicy pasta for Dozer! Can you imagine the mess I’d have to deal with. 😂