Penne all’arrabbiata is a simple and delicious pasta dish made with garlic, tomatoes and red chili peppers.
It could be considered the Roman cousin of spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, and if you like spicy pasta dishes I bet you’re going to love it.
Let’s see how it’s done!
An angry type of pasta
This dish originated in Lazio in the 1950s. Although it is not as old as gricia or pasta all’amatriciana, it quickly entered the hearts of Italians, and has become a typical main course in Roman cuisine, which is often served in many restaurants.
For non-Italian speakers, penne all’arrabbiata can be translated to “angry-style penne.” Also, in the Roman dialect, the term all’arrabbiata can be used to express the concept of taking something “to excess.”
An evocative name, reflecting the spicy aroma of this recipe.
This dish is made with garlic and chili peppers, which give it a sharp and slightly spicy flavor – which you can make hotter by adding a little chili-flavored olive oil to the finished dish.
Here’s all you need.
Peeled tomatoes: ideally, take plum tomatoes (such as San Marzano), blanch them in water, and then peel them. But if you don’t have time, canned peeled tomatoes will do just fine anyway.
Garlic: as usual, no jarred or powdered garlic. Have one or two fresh garlic cloves, you will taste the difference.
Red chili peppers: we at Mortadella Head really like Calabrian chili peppers, but any thin, red variety will do.
Freshly chopped parsley leaves: one of my favorite spices to add to pasta, especially if there are chili peppers involved.
Extra-virgin olive oil: you will need it to sauté the garlic and chilies, as well as the tomato sauce. As I suggested before, you can add a bit of chili-scented olive oil at the end of the cooking process.
Coarse & fine salt: the pasta cooking water should always be properly salted. I usually add 1 handful of coarse salt for every 5-6 quarts of water. You will also need a pinch of fine salt for the tomato sauce.
(Optional) pecorino romano cheese: this is not an essential ingredient, but it will give your dish an extra kick. If you prefer, you can use a 60/40 mix of grated pecorino and parmesan cheese (although some purists may turn their noses up).
Step 1: Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. Meanwhile, peel one or two garlic cloves and crush them lightly with the flat side of a knife or the palm of your hand. After that, wash the chilies, remove the stem and seeds, and cut them into small pieces. Add everything to the pan and sauté.
Step 2: When the garlic starts to turn golden, remove it from the pan and add the peeled tomatoes. Add a pinch of fine salt, then keep cooking on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
This will give the tomatoes time to turn into sauce and lose their excess liquid. If the result still looks too watery, move to medium heat and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring well, or read my tips on how to thicken tomato sauce.
Step 3: Bring salted water to a boil in a pot, then add the penne and cook them al dente. Meanwhile, finely chop the parsley leaves and grate the pecorino Romano cheese.
Step 4: When the pasta is almost ready, set aside some of its cooking water. If you are using the amounts provided for 4 people in the recipe card below, 2 oz of water should be more than enough.
Step 5: Drain the pasta and throw it into the saucepan along with 3/4 of the grated pecorino cheese and the cooking water you set aside. Stir well and cook over high heat for a minute or two (taste the pasta to make sure it doesn’t overcook).
Step 6: Remove the saucepan from the heat and toss your penne all’arrabbiata in a baking dish or a large bowl. Add the parsley leaves and the rest of the grated cheese, then you can serve. If you want, you can garnish with a little bunch of basil leaves.
Tip: Buy a little more grated cheese and put it in a bowl, then serve it aside with the pasta. This way, your guests can decide whether to add it to their dish on their own.
What to serve it with
Enhance your meal with these well-chosen accompaniments that promise to elevate your Penne All’Arrabbiata to a feast for the senses.
Hearty Second Course:
- Savory Meatballs: Consider serving a side of succulent meatballs, an Italian staple. They pair beautifully with the spicy penne for those desiring a hearty, protein-rich addition.
Refreshing Salad Options:
- Arugula’s Peppery Bite: A simple arugula salad with shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil complements the pasta’s spice.
- Classic Italian Salad: For a more robust side, mix crisp lettuce with juicy tomatoes, soft mozzarella cubes, and fresh basil. Dress with balsamic and a sprinkle of grated lemon zest for a refreshing counterbalance to the arrabbiata’s heat.
- Crusty Companion: Don’t forget the bread. A loaf of ciabatta or a crunchy baguette serves as the perfect vehicle for sopping up any leftover sauce.
- Reds and Rosés: A tomato-based arrabbiata sauce naturally calls for wine. A light Pinot Nero or a more robust Sangiovese complements the dish without overpowering it.
- White Wine Option: If you prefer white, choose a crisp, acidic wine like Vermentino or a Chardonnay to cut through the richness of the sauce.
- Cheese Board: Post-meal, offer a selection of Italian cheeses. Aged Pecorino or a creamy Gorgonzola will provide a lovely textural contrast and a smooth finish to the meal.
Achieving Al Dente Perfection & Customizing Your Arrabbiata Sauce:
Embrace the heart of Italian cuisine with this straightforward approach to crafting an impeccable Penne All’Arrabbiata that speaks directly to your taste buds.
For Pasta That’s Just Right:
- Boil with Bravado: Let the water reach a robust boil before adding the penne, as though it’s bubbling with anticipation.
- Salt Like the Sea: Season your boiling water generously to infuse the pasta with a hint of the ocean.
- Dance with the Penne: A stir here and there keeps the pasta from sticking and encourages a perfect cook.
- Savor the Moment: Al dente happens in a flash—taste and be ready to drain just when the pasta offers a slight resistance to the bite.
Sauce That Sings to You:
- Spice on Demand: Elevate the heat with extra chili flakes, or dial it back for a milder experience.
- Garlic by Design: Control the garlic intensity by browning and removing it, or leave it in for a full-flavored affair.
- Tomato Patience: Let the sauce simmer until it reaches the ideal richness, clinging lovingly to each piece of pasta.
Penne all’arrabbiata, with its vivacious sauce and ‘al dente’ pasta, is a testament to the simplicity and passion of Italian cooking. Whether it’s the star of the meal or part of a larger feast, each fiery forkful promises to transport you to the cobblestoned streets of Italy. From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may this dish bring warmth, joy, and a touch of Italian zest to your table. Until our next recipe unfolds, keep the flame of your culinary passion burning as bright as the Roman sun. Buon appetito!