Penne With Hot-as-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Finishing the pasta in the sauce coats every piece perfectly.
  • Adding pasta water to the sauce helps emulsify it.

What do my redheaded partner,Kate, and the spicy tomato saucearrabbiatahave in common? Easy: They both look innocent enough, but watch out, because underneath lies a fiery streak that, when unleashed, will leave you wondering what you did to invite such an assault.

And, I'll be honest, I love them both for it.

The one big difference, though, is that with Kate, I don't always get to choose when she breathes fire,* while, with arrabbiata, I can decide not only when I'm willing to take the heat but also exactly how much heat I'm willing to take. That's really the main thing to know about arrabbiata, because otherwise it's a dead-simple sauce—tomato sauce, made spicy enough to deserve its "angry" name.

*Well, unless you consider not listening, not asking thoughtful follow-up questions, and not holding up my end of the conversation a choice.

You have two main decisions, therefore, when making arrabbiata. The first is what kind of tomato sauce you want to use, and the other is how spicy you want to make it.

For the first part, you have several options. Most of the time, and particularly during colder months when tomatoes are out of season, I use canned whole tomatoes, which I crush by hand to form a chunky sauce. You could also purée them for a smoother sauce, if that's more appealing. They are far better than any hothouse tomato out there.

If you do find good tomatoes at the market, it's worth considering fresh instead. That might mean cooking diced ripe tomatoes in the oil just until they start to break down, or making asimple coulis from fresh tomatoes, or even using a more involved fresh sauce,like the one I devised a couple of years ago.

The spice level is a highly personal decision, which makes precise measurements in a recipe difficult. Not only do different people have wildly different heat tolerances, but different chiles, whether fresh or dried, can have a broad range of intensities. So really, the ball's in your court there. You know how hot your chiles are, and you know how much heat you can handle, so act accordingly.

That said, I would encourage you to push the heat level to the edge of what you can tolerate. After all, this isn't "mildly annoyed" sauce or "kinda peeved" sauce, and it's definitely not "you're starting to make me cross" sauce. No, it's "angry" sauce. I think you want to aim just below "frothing at the mouth" and just above "pissed off." It's a sauce that should look you in the eyes right before you take your first bite and say, with a sad and futile earnestness, "Don't make me wouldn't like me when I'm angry"—even though you both know, deep down in your bones, that it's a fait accompli. Bruce Banner will become the Hulk, and arrabbiata shall fulfill its destiny, too.

Making it starts out just like a typicalaglio, olio, e peperoncino, gently cooking garlic and red pepper flakes in oil to extract their heat and flavor, except that here you're going heavy on the red pepper.

Next, add the tomatoes in whatever form you've chosen, and simmer it all together. Guess what? You're done! Well, almost. You should probably season it with a little salt.

At this point, you can finish your pasta in it. Here, I've gone with penne, a common arrabbiata choice, but all sorts of shapes will work. The rest of the process followsthe classic way of finishing pasta in its sauce.

We do that by heating the sauce in a skillet. (If you've just made the sauce, it'll already be hot and in the skillet.) Then transfer the cooked pasta to the sauce, along with a few tablespoons of its cooking water. If you ignore the common advice to use a huge pot of water and go with a smaller pot instead, you'll end up with starchier water, which will help bind the sauce better.

Once the sauce has reduced enough that it doesn't look watery anymore, go ahead and remove it from the heat, then quickly stir in cheese. I toss in some chopped parsley at this point, too.

That's it, ready to eat. Couldn't be easier. It's so easy, in fact, that the only emotion you should be feeling is pure, unadulterated happiness. The only thing that shouldn't be happy in this situation is the pasta in the bowl.

February 2016

Recipe Details

Penne With Hot-as-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce Recipe

Active15 mins

Total15 mins

Serves6 servings

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 pound (450g) penne pasta

  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as desired

  • 1 medium clove garlic, crushed

  • As much crushed red pepper as you dare (see note)

  • 1 (28-ounce; 794g) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand (see note)

  • 2 ounces (60g) finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

  • Small handful minced flat-leaf parsley leaves


  1. In a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, cook penne until just short of al dente, about 1 minute less than the package recommends.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, combine oil, garlic, and pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until garlic is very lightly golden, about 5 minutes. (Adjust heat as necessary to keep it gently sizzling.)

    Penne With Hot-as-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce Recipe (1)

  3. Add tomatoes, stir to combine, and bring to a bare simmer. When pasta is ready, transfer it to sauce using a strainer or slotted spoon. (Alternatively, drain pasta through a colander, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Add drained pasta to sauce.)

    Penne With Hot-as-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce Recipe (2)

  4. Add about 1/4 cup pasta water to sauce and increase heat to bring pasta and sauce to a vigorous simmer. Cook, stirring and shaking the pan and adding more pasta water as necessary to keep sauce loose, until pasta is perfectly al dente, 1 to 2 minutes longer. (The pasta will cook more slowly in the sauce than it did in the water.)

    Penne With Hot-as-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce Recipe (3)

  5. Continue cooking pasta until sauce thickens and begins to coat noodles, then remove from heat and toss in cheese and parsley, stirring vigorously to incorporate. Stir in a drizzle of fresh olive oil, if desired. Season with salt and serve right away, passing more cheese at the table.


The red pepper flakes are what makes this dish "angry," but exactly how angry you want it to be is a personal choice. It's also important to note that different red pepper flakes have different levels of heat. Add as much, or as little, as you feel comfortable with. Feel free to substitute minced fresh red chiles instead of dried, if desired.

When tomatoes are in peak season, you can switch from canned to fresh, using an equal quantity of diced fresh ripe tomatoes (cook just until they soften and begin to break down) or either raw tomato coulis, quick-cooked tomato coulis, or the best fresh tomato sauce.

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Penne With Hot-as-You-Dare Arrabbiata Sauce Recipe (2024)
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