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
Second course: make some meatballs. People will love them. Many usually put them straight onto their penne all’arrabbiata to make a one-dish meal.
Salad: a simple arugula salad will do just fine. Alternatively, you could make a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, mozzarella cubes, basil, balsamic vinegar, and grated lemon zest.
Wine: tomato sauce calls for red or rosee wine. I think a Pinot Nero or a Sangiovese will do.