Did you know that Arrabbiata means “angry” in Italian?
My first thought is “angry penne?
That makes no sense,” however, when you look at the ingredients in Penne Arrabbiata, the story begins to tell itself—angry or spicy pasta.
Nothing is better than perfectly cooked, al dente pasta underneath a ladle full of rich, flavorful, and, most importantly, spicy red sauce.
There are so many Italian sauces to explore including cacio e pepe, pomodoro, carbonara, bolognese, puttanesca, and even pesto. It’s hard to choose just one, but rest assured, if you master the Arrabbiata sauce, the rest may just fall by the wayside. With only four main ingredients, it’s hard not to choose this sauce to wine and dine in your next bowl of pasta.
Whether you are Italian or not, this recipe will take you to Rome, sitting in a courtyard restaurant, with the Trevi fountain to your left and the Colosseum to your right.
Originally from central Italy, chef Antonio Cecchini perfected arrabbiata sauce in the early 1920s. Its signature heat comes from red pepper flakes, which really sets it apart from other tomato-based sauces. The more heat you add, the “angrier” (and more delicious) your pasta will become!
- Add heat slowly. Red pepper flakes are common in Italian kitchens. However, not everybody has the same heat tolerance. Start with 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and taste before adding more. The heat will creep up on you as the red pepper flakes rehydrate in the oil.
- Prepare the sauce 24 hours in advance. Preparing this sauce the day before you eat it will allow the sauce to soften and the flavors to submerge into one another. If you can’t wait to dig into Penne Arrabbiata, save some for the next day to compare flavors. You may be surprised at how enhanced and in-depth the arrabbiata sauce is the next day.
- Al dente pasta. Al dente is probably the most common phrase for cooking pasta. It refers to cooking pasta until it is firm when you take a bite. Perfecting pasta al dente can be a little tricky, but tasting it as the pasta cooks will help with that process. Once it is firm enough to bite without breaking a tooth, it’s time to stop cooking. I think we’re all in agreement when I say nobody likes mushy pasta.
The heart and soul of this dish are in the sauce. Having all the main components of the sauce cooking in the dish is crucial. Those include:
- Tomatoes – Use fresh tomatoes or peeled tomatoes in a can.
- Red pepper flakes
- Olive Oil
- Tomato paste
- Basil – Fresh is always best, but dried basil will work fine, too, as the sauce will rehydrate it.
While penne is the pasta of choice for this particular recipe, use whatever pasta you prefer or already have on hand.
The first step is to boil a pot of water for the pasta. Don’t forget to salt your water! When the pasta is al dente, strain the pasta water and put the pasta to the side for later.
Next, heat up a large saucepan to medium heat. Add in the olive oil and get that nice and hot. Once the olive oil is hot, add the minced (or chopped) garlic and red pepper flakes.
This recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. However, if you like it spicier, go ahead and add more! You can always add more at the end when tasting if it is not to your liking.
Once the garlic begins to brown, stir in the tomato paste and combine until the mixture is cohesive.
Add the whole peeled tomatoes to the saucepan. You will want to use the entire can, meaning the tomatoes and the liquid the tomatoes are sitting in.
Once the tomatoes are in, use a masher, spatula, or whatever utensil you have handy, dice up the tomatoes to your desired thickness. Some prefer a chunkier sauce, while others prefer something smoother.*
*If you prefer a smoother sauce, there are options. Opt to purchase canned tomato sauce or blend the entire recipe together (olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, tomatoes) using a blender. I recommend doing this after the sauce has stewed and simmered and the flavors have had time to enrich.
Bring the sauce to a boil to incorporate all the flavors, then lower it to a simmer. Once simmering, add the basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste. This is where you can add more red pepper flakes if you want to spice it up!
Simmer for 20-30 minutes, then combine the pasta with the sauce. It is now ready to serve! Don’t forget to top your Penne Arrabbiata with Parmesan cheese if that’s what you’re into!
No special equipment is needed to prepare this Penne Arrabiata.
There are quite a few ways to spice up this dish, and I don’t just mean adding more red pepper flakes!
- Add protein! Add grilled chicken, shrimp, or meatballs for added protein and nutrients.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan because, well, it’s Parmesan.
- Blend the sauce in a blender to create a creamier, smoother sauce.
- Serve it alongside your favorite Italian dishes like chicken parm, veal Milanese, or marsala, or a chopped Italian salad with hot peppers, salami, cheese, and olives.
- Bring it to your office potluck. Who doesn’t love a spicy pasta dish to round out their lunch?
- Throw some spinach in before serving for extra nutrients and color
Penne Arrabbiata is an easy, simple dish. There are a few variations we can take to please even the pickiest of eaters.
- Gluten-free pasta – Use gluten-free pasta for gluten intolerances. Be careful when cooking to ensure it is al dente.
- Whole-wheat pasta – Swap out regular penne for a whole-wheat penne for an extra serving of fiber and whole grains
- Fresh or canned tomatoes – Canned tomatoes are equally delicious as fresh when preparing a sauce. Don’t be afraid to go the more economical route; the flavors will remain there.
What is the difference between arrabbiata sauce and marinara sauce?
Arrabbiata sauce and marinara sauce are similar, except for one main ingredient, red pepper flakes. Arrabbiata translates to angry or spicy, meaning the sauce is spicy. Traditional marinara will be sweeter rather than spicy.
What kind of pasta is used for arrabbiata?
This recipe calls for Penne pasta. You can substitute any other noodles similar in shape that can hold up to a sauce like arrabbiata, such as rigatoni or bucatini.
Is arrabbiata a white sauce or a red sauce?
Arrabbiata is a red sauce with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.
Italian cuisine definitely has a special place in our hearts.
There’s nothing like a big bowl of al dente pasta with a fiery, spicy red sauce and a perfectly balanced glass of Italian red wine.
To elevate this already delicious experience, I recommend trying a Super Tuscan, Brunello, or Chianti Reserva wine.
Penne Arrabbiata is so easy and simple to make you’d be missing out on a life-changing experience if you don’t try it yourself.
But be warned, after just one bite, you might find yourself daydreaming of Italy and spontaneously booking a one-way ticket!
So, prepare yourself and your wallet for this dish’s temptation.
- 1 lb penne pasta
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can whole peeled tomatoes 28oz
- 8 basil leaves chopped
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese (optional garnish)
- Boil penne pasta per the directions on the packaging, once cooked, set aside.
- Heat a large saucepan to medium heat and add olive oil
- Once olive oil is hot, stir in minced garlic and red pepper flakes and stir until garlic begins to brown.
- Add tomato paste and stir until everything in the saucepan is combined.
- Add the entire can of whole peeled tomatoes (including juice) into the saucepan and stir everything together.
- Break up the tomatoes to your desired texture*
- Bring the sauce to a boil.
- Once boiling, lower the temperature to simmer.
- Add basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste, and cover the saucepan with a lid.
- Allow simmering for 20-30 minutes.
- Combine pasta into the large saucepan with the sauce in it, and stir to cover all penne completely
- Top with Parmesan (if desired)
- Serve and enjoy!
My name is Noha.
I’m passionate about food, an avid traveler, and I love to explore new cultures and cuisines whenever I get the chance by sharing my recipes and experiences with my readers.
A big fan of exploring different cuisines and always looking for new and exciting flavors to explore. I’m especially interested in healthy eating and finding ways to make delicious dishes without sacrificing nutrition.