Guido Pedrelli, the mastermind behind Nonna Box, has honed his culinary expertise for decades, inspired by family feasts in Emilia-Romagna. Mentored by his restaurateur nonna, he mastered Italian classics and furthered his skills with professional culinary studies in desserts and gelato making from Mec3. Today, he shares this rich legacy and authentic recipes through Nonna Box.
Expertise: Italian cuisine, Pasta, Pizza, Pastry, Dessert
Penne all’arrabbiata translates literally to angry penne pasta and is a beloved spicy tomato pasta dish from the Lazio region where Rome is located. Arrabbiata sauce is a favorite all over Italy and around the world and one of the most shared Italian recipes.
Although making homemade arrabiata sauce is quite simple, basically just tomatoes, garlic and chili peppers, it still needs some care and attention to get it just right. Here we are sharing all our tips for how to make the perfect penne all’arrabbiata for your family tonight.
This traditional recipe only takes 35 minutes to make from scratch, and is super simple because it calls for packaged pasta.
If you want to spice up your weeknight meals with a dish that is full of classic Roman flavor, but don’t have a lot of time, this is the recipe to try! Serve it with some mozzarella in carrozza and a side salad with Italian seasoning for an absolutely delicious meal.
pot for boiling water and cooking the pasta
large saucepan or frying pan to cook the arrabbiata sauce
pasta drainer to drain the penne pasta
cutting board to chop the ingredients
sharp knife to peel and chop the tomatoes if you are using whole tomatoes
serving dish, if desired
wooden spoon for stirring the sauce
Olive oil (6-8 tablespoons) – you should use a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Garlic (2 cloves) – start with whole fresh garlic and crush or chop it.
Red chili peppers or flakes (½-1 tablespoon dried crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes or ½-1 fresh red chili peppers) – if you are starting with fresh chili peppers, wash and dry and then remove the seeds and chop finely. While the spicyness may be the defining characteristic of this tomato sauce, arrabbiata doesn’t call for an obscure or unique variety of chili pepper. Simple crushed chili peppers, preferably dried and flaked, is all that is needed. Calabrian chili will give you the right kick.
Tomatoes 1.1 lb (500 g) – diced canned tomatoes or whole fresh tomatoes can both work, but the sauce will be slightly different. (see expert tips below for additional context)
Penne pasta 1.1 lb (500 g package) – the most common pasta that is paired with arrabbiata sauce is the shape known as penne. Penne dried pasta looks like a small tube that is diagonally cut on both ends. Basically, it looks like the nib of an old-fashioned quill pen. There are a few variants of penne, based on either the size or the outer surface. Mezze penne (half) are shorter and sometimes narrower, while penne rigate are ridged on the outer surface. While most trattorias in Rome will use smooth penne, or penne lisce, you may find that penne rigate are able to hold onto the sauce even more effectively, ensuring loads of flavor in every bite.
Fresh basil or fresh parsley (as desired) – use fresh or dried basil or parsley for garnishing the top of the dish once it is done.
Salt (as needed) – you can add a pinch of salt to the homemade arrabbiata sauce and a small scoop of salt to the pasta water.
Preparing penne with arrabbiata sauce step-by-step
Make the arrabbiata sauce: Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the garlic and red pepper flakes once it is glistening slightly (photo 1). Remove the garlic cloves once they begin to brown so they don’t give the sauce a bitter taste. Add the diced tomatoes (or chopped whole tomatoes or tomato sauce) to the pan and simmer for ten minutes (photo 2).
Cook pasta: Start a large pot of water for the pasta, add salt and bring to a boil. Put in the pasta and cook until al dente by following the package instructions (photo 3). Drain the pasta (photo 4).
Coat the cooked pasta with sauce: Put the drained, cooked pasta into the frying pan (photo 5), and toss with the sauce over high heat for a few minutes (not too long, use your judgment when the sauce starts coating the pasta well you can turn off).
The spicy tomato pasta is served: Transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves or chopped parsley and enjoy! Some people also add grated Pecorino Romano cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan on top.
Remove the garlic. Even if you are a garlic lover, we recommend removing the garlic as soon as it starts to turn brown because leaving it in can cause your arrabbiata sauce to have a bitter taste.
Not too spicy. If you don’t want your sauce to come out too spicy you can substitute half of the crushed red pepper flakes with black pepper.
Reserved pasta water trick. You can save a small cup of pasta water and add it back into your pasta while you are mixing it with the sauce if your sauce is too thick or doesn’t properly coat the pasta.
Chili. Some recipes will call for fresh chili peppers, but this can make the sauce too fruity, rather than the earthy spiciness that dried chili gives. This sharper spice is what balances so wonderfully with the sweetness of the tomatoes. If you wanted to mix it up and go non-traditional you could even try a chipotle or ancho chili, though that veers away from the traditional Italian into a fusion style, mixing Italian with American Southwestern flavors.
Tomatoes. With canned crushed tomatoes, most of the work is already done for you and they will cook down into a sauce much more quickly. All Italian grandmothers have a strong opinion about what the best fresh tomatoes are (most likely it’s San Marzano tomatoes) for making pasta sauce, but we’ve found that any high-quality ripe plum-style tomato will work, though they will be a lot more work to prepare (blanch, peel, de-seed, and then chop). San Marzano tomatoes are ideal if you can get them as they have a sweetness that balances beautifully with the heat of the peppers. Likewise, you can also use Passata or tomato sauce that has been pureed, although you may find the sauce a little too thin, we prefer a few tomato chunks. Some people also add tomato paste, you can experiment with different methods to see what you like.
Homemade arrabbiata sauce variations
Add onion instead of garlic. If you are not a garlic lover, you can substitute with a small white or yellow onion finely chopped and added at the same time as you would have added the garlic.
Black olives. Although this won’t be a classic arrabbiata sauce, you can add pitted olives either whole, sliced or chopped when the sauce is almost done to give it some extra flavor and depth.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat by adding a little water and oil to a pan and then cooking over medium heat until warmed through, stirring frequently.
What wine pairs well with arrabbiata sauce?
Penne all’arrabbiata pairs well with young, fruity red wine like Nobile di Montepulciano, Barbera, or Nero d’Avola. You want to avoid anything too alcoholic though, as the spice from the chili flakes will make the wine feel a little too “hot” in your mouth.
Penne arrabbiata is a simple, spicy and filling pasta dish from Lazio and one of the traditional favorites in Italy and around the world. Although it is an easy recipe, basically tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and chili peppers, it still needs a bit of attention to perfect and selecting the best ingredients can make all the difference.
Heat the olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes once it is glistening slightly.
Start a pot of water for the pasta and add salt and bring to a boil.
Remove the garlic cloves right before they start to brown.
Add the crushed tomatoes (only use peeled tomatoes) to the pan, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes.
Start the pasta and cook until al dente by following the instructions on the box.
Drain the pasta, add to frying pan, and toss with the sauce over high heat for a few minutes (not too long, use your judgment and when the sauce starts coating the pasta you can turn it off).
Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with fresh basil or parsley and enjoy!
Opinions are mixed on whether grated cheese should be served on top of penne all’arrabbiata. In the end it is a personal choice. If it is something that you want to add to your dish, then we recommend Pecorino Romano.
Penne all’arrabbiata is a fairly modern dish from the Lazio region and specifically Rome. Although no one has been able to pinpoint for sure where it came from, some say that it was a dish perfected by Chef Antonio Cecchini in his restaurant named Le Arrabbiate in Rome during the 1920s. The dish became famous because of Italian films from the 60s and 70s and remains popular around the world today.