Penne arrabbiata is a spicy, comforting, classic pasta recipe that you can easily recreate at home with simple ingredients.
Make it in just 20 minutes, with a secret tip to make this pasta dish extra creamy.
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Penne arrabbiata recipe (Penne all’arrabbiata in Italian) has its origin in the Rieti province in Italy, in the Lazio region, not far from Rome.
Arrabbiata is one of the most popular pasta dishes in Italy, and as with most of their foods, Italians have very strict rules about what goes in it and what doesn’t.
You can, of course, bend these rules and add your favorite ingredients. Here we’ll show you how to make the original Italian arrabbiata recipe that I learned from my Italian family.
It’s fast, simple, creamy, and naturally vegan.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Penne: to get the best result, get some bronze cut penne. Bronze-cut pasta has a better texture. It’s more rugged than regular steel-cut pasta, and the sauce sticks better to it. You can also use other pasta types, of course. Try spaghetti, rigatoni, and linguine; just don’t tell your Italian friends.
- Tomatoes: in summer you can use very ripe fresh tomatoes. In winter, opt for whole peeled canned tomatoes, ideally imported from Italy. Pick a good brand so that the tomatoes will have a better flavor and the sauce won’t be too watery.
- Chilies: you can use red pepper flakes or fresh red chili peppers if in season. Alternatively, use dry chili peppers or cayenne powder. Arrabbiata sauce is spicy, but not Mexican spicy. It’s still edible without breaking a sweat. So don’t overdo it with the chili.
- Garlic: use fresh garlic, very finely chopped or grated.
- Flat-leave parsley: fresh, coarsely chopped Italian parsley is a key ingredient. Also, set aside a few parsley stems that we will use to flavor the cooking oil. I’ve seen a lot of American recipes call for basil in arrabbiata. You can add it in if you like; however, know that basil is not an ingredient in the original Italian recipe. If you want to make a tomato sauce with basil, try our tomato basil pasta instead.
- Salt: coarse sea salt is generally used to season the pasta cooking water. Fine sea salt is used for the arrabbiata sauce. You can use whatever salt you have in your kitchen.
- Extra virgin olive oil: try to make sure it’s a real extra virgin olive oil by buying a brand you know and trust.
- Water: to cook the pasta. When you cook pasta, you should consider about 4 cups of water (1/4 gallon or 1 Liter) per portion of pasta (3.5 ounces or 100 grams of uncooked pasta).
Ingredients that don’t go in pasta arrabbiata according to the Italians, but that you can totally add if you want to: parmesan cheese, fresh basil, meats of any kind.
Make the arrabbiata sauce
Separate the leaves of the parsley from the stems. Chop the leaves coarsely and save the stems for later. Set aside.
Chop the garlic very finely, almost turning it into a garlic paste. Alternatively, you can grate the garlic if you prefer. Set aside.
Tip: before chipping the garlic, cut it lengthwise and remove its core, if any. It’s easier to digest without the core.
To a large skillet, add the oil, the stems of the parsley, the finely chopped garlic, and the red pepper flakes (or finely chopped chili pepper).
Tip: go easy with the chili; you can always add more later.
Turn on the stove on low heat and fry the garlic in oil for 2 short minutes. Make sure the garlic does not burn.
Quickly discard the parsley stems, then add the whole peeled canned tomatoes. Rinse the tomato can with half a cup of water and add that to the pan too.
Add salt and let simmer on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Now crush the tomatoes with a fork.
Let the sauce simmer gently for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the pasta is ready.
Before adding the pasta, taste the sauce and adjust for salt and chilies.
Cook the pasta
Put the water to boil in a large pot. When it boils, add the salt, wait for the water to start boiling again, and add the pasta.
Stir and let cook uncovered (no lid for pasta) as instructed on the package, minus 3 minutes. If the package says 10 minutes, you cook it for 7.
We want our pasta “very al dente,” slightly undercooked because we finish cooking it in the sauce. This will yield a super creamy penne arrabbiata as the starch of the pasta leaks into the sauce, making it incredibly rich.
When the pasta is ready, drain it, but reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.
Add the pasta to the tomato sauce and add 1 cup of reserved pasta water. Let cook on medium-low heat until the pasta is “al dente” (cooked but with some bite).
Stir frequently. It should take about 2 to 3 minutes. The pasta should be completely coated in a creamy arrabbiata sauce.
While cooking, the pasta will absorb water, so if needed, add more pasta water.
Shortly before serving, add plenty of chopped parsley, stir it, and serve.
Pasta with arrabbiata sauce is perfect as a quick dinner or even as a packed lunch. To make your meal even more complete, serve it with a side of veggies. You can try our easy chickpea salad, a shaved Brussels sprout salad, or a quick tomato cucumber onion salad.
And if you feel brave enough to stray away from Italian traditions a little, try adding small dices of our pan-fried tofu just before serving the pasta.
I know some of you will cringe at the thought of adding tofu to a pasta dish. But trust us, we do this all the time, and it’s just super delicious. It’s also a good wat to make this pasta dish more nutritionally balanced by adding a good source of plant-based protein.
Do you love recipes with tomato sauce? Try our:
- Turn the garlic into a paste: garlic can be difficult to digest for many people. Other people simply don’t like seeing it in their food, and others don’t like its taste.
The best way to prep the garlic for a good arrabbiata sauce is to chop it really fine, then turning it into a paste by working it with the side of your knife.
This way, the garlic will melt away in the tomato sauce, infusing the sauce of a light garlic flavour that will make your pasta stand out.
- Add the stem of the parsley to the oil: we do this to infuse some parsley flavour into the hot oil. This will make our arrabbiata sauce extra aromatic. Just remember to remove the stems from the pan before adding the tomatoes.
- Finish the pasta in the sauce: boil the pasta for about 3/4 of its cooking time, then finish it up in the tomato sauce, adding some of the pasta cooking water.
While this cooking method might seem bizarre, it is by far the best way to make a creamy sauce.
Cooked this way, the starch in the pasta will leak into the tomato sauce, giving it that creaminess without adding any cheese or butter.
Arrabbiata literally means “angry” in Italian. Due to hot chili peppers, eating the pasta will make your face red, like if you were angry. Hence the name arrabbiata.
You could say that arrabbiata is a spicy version of marinara. However, in Italy usually marinara is used on pizza and rarely on pasta, whereas arrabbiata is only used on pasta and never on pizza.
The ingredients, however, are the same, with the addition of the chili pepper and the parsley in the arrabbiata.
Yes, the original Italian recipe of penne all’arrabbiata is naturally vegan.
Penne arrabbiata is best eaten on the spot. If you have some leftover, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.
To reheat it, add it to a small pot with a dash of tap water and warm it up on medium-low heat. Sprinkle with some fresh parsley. Do not reheat more than once.
When we are in a hurry, we reheat it in the microwave. That’s not the best way to reheat pasta, but it’s the fastest and least messy, so it works for us.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin*
- 3 cloves garlic
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 28 ounces (1 large can) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
- 4 tablespoons parsley flat leaf, chopped, reserve stems
- 1 pound penne
- 1 gallon water
- 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt to salt the pasta water**
Make Arrabbiata Sauce
- To a large skillet, add the oil, the stems of the parsley, the finely chopped garlic, and the red pepper flakes (or finely chopped chili pepper).Turn on the stove on low heat and fry the garlic in oil for 2 short minutes. Make sure the garlic does not burn.Tip: go easy with the chili, you can always add more later.
- Quickly discard the parsley stems, then add the whole peeled canned tomatoes. Rinse the tomato can with ½ cup of water and add that to the pan too. Add salt and let simmer on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Now crush the tomatoes with a fork.
- Let the sauce simmer gently for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pasta is ready. Before adding the pasta, taste the sauce and adjust for salt and chillies.
Cook the Pasta
- Put the water to boil in a large pot. When it boils, add the salt, then the pasta.Stir and let cook uncovered as instructed on the package, minus 3 minutes***. If the package says 10 minutes, you cook it for 7.When the pasta is ready, drain it, but reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.Add the pasta to the tomato sauce and add 1 cup of reserved pasta water.
- Let cook on medium-low heat until the pasta is "al dente" (cooked but with some bite to it).Stir frequently. It should take about 2 to 3 minutes. The pasta should be completely coated in a creamy arrabbiata sauce. Add more pasta water if necessary.
- Shortly before serving add plenty of chopped parsley, give it a stir, and serve.
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