This Penne all’Arrabbiata is an easy spicy pasta recipe made from fresh ingredients and ready in about 20 minutes. This delicious pasta dish is fast enough for busy weeknights and full of fresh tomatoes, garlic, onion and just the right amount of heat.
This spicy tomato sauce uses whole tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes for a fresh flavor. It's typically served with penne pasta but really spicy arrabbiata sauce is a versatile sauce and can be used with any short pasta types or wherever you'd use a homemade pasta sauce.
If you love a spicy sauce like this give our Spicy Shrimp Spaghetti Squash recipe a try too. It's very similar in flavor with plump shrimp added in.
What is Arrabbiata Sauce?
Arrabbiata sauce (here's how to pronounce it) or sugo all'arrabbiata in Italian, is a spicy sauce for pasta made with simple ingredients: fresh garlic, tomatoes, and Calabrian dried red chili peppers all cooked in olive oil.
The sauce originates in the Lazio region of Italy and from the city of Rome in particular. The word 'arrabbiatta' means 'angry' in Italian referring to the spiciness of the sauce thanks to the peppers.
Our version is toned down to still use a form of the authentic peppers but not so much to make it a truly angry sauce!
What makes this skinny?
The main ingredients of this Italian dish are fresh and naturally low calorie. We only use 1 tablespoon of oil.
Food for thought: Pasta is typically a higher calorie ingredient however consider how to get more calorie value from your pasta. What do I mean? Regular white pasta will not deliver as much nutritional value as a whole grain pasta. So for a similar calorie value you can get MORE nutrients from the pasta.
Or consider an alternative type of penne pasta. Pasta made from beans or lentils often has significantly more protein and fiber which will fill you up more (eat less, more satisfied) and keep you full longer.
Recently I've found lots of different types of pasta made from blends of lentils, pea protein and cauliflower or sweet potato and even zucchini. It's worth spending some time comparing labels to see if you can find 'more for your calories' when choosing a pasta.
Recipe Ingredients Notes
Dried penne pasta. You'll need 16-ounce of penne pasta. This can be one or two boxes depending on the type you use. Any short type of pasta can be used in the recipe if you'd prefer something besides penne.
Onion. Not all arrabbiata sauces use onion, in fact most traditional arrabbiata sauce recipes don't, not wanting to overwhelm the other flavors. We use only ¼ cup to give more depth to the sauce flavors. Use yellow onion or white onion.
Calabrian chili paste. This spicy pepper is a classic ingredient in arrabbiata sauce and the ingredient that gives it the 'angry' name. The amount used here gives it a little bit of heat but not too much.
These peppers and this paste are an Italian product. The fresh red chilies (or dried) can be difficult to find in the United States which is why we use the chili paste. Look for it at Trader Joes, Whole Foods or online. If needed red pepper flakes can be substituted. Add ½-1 teaspoon, taste and add more if desired.
Cherry tomatoes. You'll use 1 pint (2 cups) of fully ripe sweet cherry tomatoes. Use good quality tomatoes since they are a key flavor driver in this simple recipe.
Tomato sauce. This is the canned tomato sauce that is just tomatoes (not a pasta sauce or marinara sauce). Do not choose a tomato sauce with addition flavors added (that would be called out on the front label).
Fresh garlic. Do not substitute garlic paste, garlic in a jar or other types of processed garlic. Fresh garlic is the star of this penne arrabbiata recipe.
How to make Penne all'Arrabbiata
STEP 1. Make the pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (add salt as instructed on the pasta package). Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions (usually about 9 minutes).Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining (and rinsing if called for).
STEP 2. Make the Arrabbiata Sauce (while the pasta cooks)
Heat the olive oil a high-sided large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion soft and translucent (around 2-3 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds.
Stir in the tomato paste, Calabrian chili paste, and Italian seasoning (photo 1).
Add the cherry tomatoes and tomato sauce (photos 2-3). Stir together and cook until the cherry tomatoes begin to burst (7-10 minutes estimated). You can add a large lid on top to discourage splattering onto the stovetop if desired.
Once the sauce is cooked if you prefer a smoother texture refer to Variations below for options before adding the pasta.
STEP 3. Toss in the cooked pasta
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat the pasta (photos 4-5). For a creamier sauce (if needed) add some of the pasta cooking water and stir in (start with a small amount and increase as needed or preferred).
Garnish with fresh basil leaves and enjoy immediately.
Use canned tomatoes. For a stronger tomato flavor use canned roma tomatoes or plum tomatoes. Substitute one 15-ounce can of chopped roma tomatoes (or whole if preferred) for the 1 pint of fresh cherry tomatoes.
Smooth versus chunky texture. If you like a chunky texture sauce you'll love it as soon as it's cooked. For smaller pieces of tomato you can use a potato masher to mash the cooked tomatoes in the sauce before adding the pasta. If you like it smooth, process the sauce through a blender or food processor, add it back to the pan and add the pasta.
Add more heat. If you taste the sauce and want it spicier add more Calabrian chili pepper paste or some red pepper flakes.
Add chicken sausage or ground turkey. This is a great vegetarian dish but if you want to add some protein in the form of meat, stir in some pre-cooked sliced chicken Italian sausage. Allow it to warm through before serving. You could also cook from ground turkey separately and stir it into the finished sauce. It won't be traditional arrabbiata sauce but will be delicious!
How to Store
Leftover pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
NOTE: some alternative pastas (especially regular gluten-free pasta) will not have the same texture after being stored but will still taste great.