Spaghetti all’Arrabbiata

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

A lotta Americans gotta gotta gotta have arrabbiata when they’re in Italy.

I’m one of them. A good arrabbiata is very possibly my favorite dish in the world.


I’ve tried quite a few versions at home, and finally have one I feel like I can count on.


Arrabbiata, the piquant red sauce that’s a staple almost anywhere you go in Italy, is like a spicy marinara. And, yes, you can sprinkle hot pepper flakes over a marinara in a pinch if you’re really craving some. Yet doing so doth not a really satisfying arrabbiata make. You want the spiciness to be in the soul of the sauce; otherwise, it’s like adding a little devil brooch to your tweedy lapel and saying “Isn’t this outfit hot?” No, it’s not.


I’ve come to believe that, beyond the hot pepper, a lot of that soul is in the garlic. Here's what I have to say about garlic for this dish: First, use that spicy, compact, reddish-purple variety if you can get it. Chop until you’re thinking “this is way too much garlic,” then double it.


I like it hot and find my sauce comes out best when I layer in a combo of powdered, flaked, and freshly chopped hot red pepper. It can be hard to get red ones whole in the U.S., and green ones, I think, take the taste in another, somehow non-red direction.* Absent fresh red peppers, I just use more powder and flakes. I do feel like the powder integrates itself into the sauce in a way flakes just can’t.


Finally, let’s just say it: Any dish made with tomatoes is going to be 20 times better prepared in Italy. Tomatoes available elsewhere simply are not the same creatures. Still, this one’s pretty damned good prepared stateside.


So, all that said, here’s a base recipe that should work for you. This really is a simple dish, all of my provisos and footnotes notwithstanding. Like most of the recipes I’ll post here, this one is very forgiving. Ingredient quantities are guidelines, and you should definitely taste as you go, particularly where the pepper is concerned.


For 4 servings

Olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

Kosher or sea salt

1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

20 Chantilly or Sicilian cherry tomatoes, chopped, plus 6 oz bottled passata (Italy recipe)

OR

20 small tomatoes (a combo of plum, cherry, and Campari), chopped; plus about 5 oz canned, peeled San Marzanos, with their sauce (U.S recipe.)

One hot red pepper, chopped fine

Powdered hot red pepper, 1 tbsp

Red pepper flakes

{If fresh pepper is unavailable, use more powder and flakes)

1 1/2 heads of garlic, chopped (not cloves, and not kidding)

Spaghetti (or penne if you prefer)

Reserved pasta water (about 1/2-2/3 cup)


Cover the bottom of the pan liberally in olive oil. The Italian rule of thumb is one soup spoon of oil per person. For this dish, I use more because I’ve noticed a puddle of reddish oil at the bottom of the plates of some of the best ones I’ve had.

Over medium flame, saute onions till lightly golden.

Add the chopped and powdered pepper (starting with half of both), a good handful of salt, and half of both herbs. Stir.

Add the tomatoes. Cover and let them begin to soften and liquify. Stir occasionally.

After a few minutes, add the passata (or the San Marzanos) and half the garlic and cover again. Reduce heat a bit and cook 10-15 minutes or so, here and there stirring and smashing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Add the rest of the garlic. Check and adjusts pepper and salt, if necessary.


Meanwhile, get the pasta water boiling. Once it does, add a fistful of salt and the spaghetti (or penne). Note the pasta might need a few minutes less than the box directions say (in Italy, they tend not to say, assuming you know). As soon as it’s chewy without any traces of crunch, remove it from the heat and drain it, being sure to reserve some of the cooking water.


Add the reserved pasta water to the sauce, starting with 1/2 cup and seeing how you like the consistency. For a smoother, more homogenous finish, hit the sauce with a hand blender. Finish it with another drizzle of olive oil.


The starchy water gives the sauce a kind of glaze that helps it cling to the pasta.

Add the pasta to the sauce pan and toss with tongs.

Dress with remaining parsley and basil. (You won’t necessarily see fit to use it all.)




Two last notes on this recipe:

-I add the garlic in two phases because I want part of it to mellow and melt into the sauce, the other part to retain a certain sharpness.

-For a simple variation, skip the passata or canned tomatoes entirely. You’ll wind up with something more like a tomato glaze that just coats the pasta and is dotted with bits of red, white, and green —not unlike an agliolio. Pretty, tasty, fresh, and very at-home-Italian.




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