The Perfect Pasta all’arrabbiata

A bowl of pasta with parmesan and parsley.

Penne all’arrabbiata is one of the most typical Italian offerings, notably from Rome. It is a burst of flavor with a few simple ingredients: tomato sauce, garlic, and chilies. If you like very strong flavors, take note of the ingredients because it will soon become your favorite dish. 

Penne all’arrabbiata and its history

Despite the peculiarity, the origin of its name is not clear. Arrabbiata means angry in Italian, so who got angry? Why? I don’t think anybody got angry, but the name might refer to the tendency of turning blue in the face after eating this very hot, spicy sauce.   

A bowl of pasta with peppers and parmesan cheese.

This sauce comes from the most authentic peasant tradition: from poor people who managed to get by on the well-known art of making do. In fact, these old rural recipes are the foundation of modern cuisine. They have become more and more popular in the most popular restaurants all around the world. Along with carbonara, gricia, and amatriciana, arrabbiata is that hearty sauce which you can’t do without if you want to bring flavors of Lazio and Rome into your kitchen.

When is arrabbiata eaten in Italy?

With a nice cold beer, arrabbiata makes a perfect informal dinner with friends. Made of simple and healthy ingredients, it is fast and easy to prepare, but as with every traditional recipe, arrabbiata hides a few tricks used to enhance its cheap ingredients. I will reveal them here for you.

Is it a variation of aglio olio e peperoncino? 

Yes, it may be considered something like a red-sauce variation of spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, pasta with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. Most of the towns in Lazio have claimed ownership of this dish as it has become an outstanding culinary symbol of Italy. With or without cheese? This is another debate. According to some experts, red pepper flakes and parsley strictly forbid using cheese, while others support a generous sprinkling of grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese. 

A person grating cheese into a bowl of pasta.

The best pasta for a perfect arrabbiata?

Although the pasta shape is not so important here, ridged penne is preferable; smooth penne doesn’t work as well because the sauce can’t cling to it. Ready in a few minutes, arrabbiata goes with every ridged kind of pasta and is the best choice to welcome unexpected guests or for a fast dinner when you are short in time. So choose the pasta shape you like. 

A few secrets 

  • Chili pepper is essential in this recipe; choose fresh hot chili peppers and measure the quantity according to your own taste. If you don’t have fresh at home, you can substitute red pepper flakes.
  • Brown the garlic very gently over low heat: the oil mustn’t go over 176°F (80°C). If you don’t have a kitchen digital thermometer; use it to make sure the oil reaches the right temperature, for example, when bubbles form around the garlic cloves; 
  • Please don’t burn the garlic because its bitter taste would spoil the sauce. Remove it before adding the tomatoes (that’s why cooking over low heat is very important). You may also remove the chili pepper if you don’t want your sauce to get too hot and spicy. 
  • Heat the garlic and cool it down; it will release its wonderful fragrance and be easier to digest. The sauce will be sweeter and richer in taste. 
  • Don’t cook the parsley as it will become unpleasantly bitter. 
  • Add the tomatoes when the sautéed vegetables have cooled down completely: this is an essential step. The unforgettable taste is worth the longer preparation time. 

How can you peel garlic?

I am not really fond of garlic, but this is the way I usually handle it: 

  • Remove as many cloves as you need from the bulb;
  • On a cutting board, place the cloves under the blade of a large chef’s knife; 
  • Press down with the palm of your hand until you hear a crack; do not flatten it completely; 
  • Remove the knife and peel away the skin with your fingers; 

How can you cut chili pepper without making mistakes?

As the main ingredient, chili pepper gives the recipe a real burst of flavor, but it may also spoil if it is not properly prepared. The sauce may get much hotter than you like, so add a little at first. 

Follow this method: 

  • Roll the pepper between your hands to remove the seeds; 
  • Cut the tip of the pepper and gently tap it with the cut tip facing downwards. The seeds will just fall out; 
A person is slicing peppers on a cutting board.
  • Cut the pepper into two halves and trim the inner whitish membrane away with a small sharp knife; the pepper gets milder if removed as this is the hottest part of the fruit; 
  • Finely dice or slice it according to your taste. 
A cutting board with peppers, garlic and herbs on it.

Keep in mind that some peppers are spicier than others, and their juice is spicy, too, so don’t touch your eyes. One trick is to use surgical rubber gloves that you can throw away after. Whatever you do, wash your hands with plenty of soap and don’t touch your eyes.

How to cook the perfect pasta all’arrabbiata

This is the best recipe to surprise your friends with a fast and easy pasta dish. With a few ingredients that you might have in your pantry, you can prepare a real authentic dish in a few minutes. This is timeless classic garlic, olive oil, and chili pepper sauce enriched with peeled plum tomatoes. So, let’s get started. 
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword penne arrabbiata
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes


  • 1/2 lb of ridged penne pasta (227g)
  • 14.5 oz of canned peeled plum tomatoes—recommended San Marzano tomatoes (411g)
  • 1 clove of garlic 
  • 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil 
  • A fresh chile pepper (scotch bonnet, habanero, jalapeno) OR ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • a small bunch of parsley
  • salt
  • Extra: grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano
Servings 2 people


  • Prepare the garlic and the chili pepper as described above and put them into a cold skillet with the oil and a few parsley stems. Slice the pepper or leave it in one piece, according to your taste;
  • Cook it for one minute until hot and then remove it from the heat; let cool down. Put the pan over the heat and cook until warm again; let cool down. Repeat this process three times: this operation will allow the garlic and pepper to release their full aroma; 
  • Remove the parsley to prevent any bitter aftertaste in the sauce;
  • Crush the peeled plum tomatoes with a masher and add them to the skillet when the oil has cooled down; 
  • Cook this mixture over low heat until it boils; 
  • Simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir occasionally;  
  • Season with salt to taste; 
  • In the meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of salted water;
  • Drain the pasta al dente and stir into the sauce; 
  • Combine well until pasta is evenly coated; 
  • Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley;
  • Serve hot. Enjoy this Italian delicacy, with or without cheese to your taste. 

A few variations you may encounter around Italy.

  • In Sicily, penne all’arrabbiata calls for eggplant, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and 1teaspoon of red pepper flakes; it is made with either dry or egg pasta. Sicilian arrabbiata and Roman arrabbiata have a few ingredients in common; 
  • In Calabria, arrabbiata is made with fresh chili peppers, cherry tomatoes, onion, oregano, garlic, and sometimes spicy salami; 
  • In Naples, arrabbiata is made with black olives and a mix of herbs and paired with a very special kind of pasta: vermicelli. 
A bowl of pasta with tomatoes, garlic and parmesan.

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