For the spicy pasta sauce lover. This arrabbiata pasta sauce brings the heat thanks to Calabrian chiles but also has a mellow vibe the whole family will love. Spoon over cooked penne or rigatoni for an easy weeknight dinner that warms from within.
Full disclosure: when I order pasta at an Italian restaurant, I rarely choose a dish with a spicy pasta sauce. And I'm someone who likes spicy food. But I usually will add crushed red peppers to the dish I do end up ordering, especially if it's like a light butter and cream sauce. Go figure. But I literally could eat this super simple arrabbiata pasta sauce all day.
Why is it called "arrabbiata"?
First, let's talk about how to pronounce it. Arrabbiata is pronounced "ah-rob-be-ah-ta" and it's an Italian word that means "angry". A red sauce made with made with tomatoes, garlic, and chili peppers, this version of arrabbiata gets its heat from Calabrian chili peppers. Many times you'll see it over penne pasta but here we are using rigatoni because it holds the chunky tomatoes really well.
For this recipe, we are using canned tomatoes but if your garden is overflowing with tomatoes, use them!
p.s. Read below for more info on my favorite canned tomatoes
I am not sure if it's because my family hails from the Calabrian region of Italy or not, but I love Calabrian chiles.
Calabrian chiles are slightly sweet, almost fruity warm heat that intensifies the longer they are cooked or sit in a sauce. Try them cold in this creamy Italian pasta salad.
Wondering where to find Calabrian chiles?
You can use fresh but I find it's much easier to use them straight from the jar. You can find them in the Italian section at your local grocery story. My favorite brand is DeLallo's Calabrian chiles and always have a jar in my fridge.
Top quality olive oil
No surprise that I am partial to Italian olive oil, particularly from Tuscany where the olive harvest is a season all its own. Read the ingredient label on the bottle you use. Many times it's called "Italian" but you'll see that it's really a blend of olives from Spain and Greece as well which produces different flavor.
Step by step arrabbiata pasta sauce
- Chop Calabrian chili peppers into small pieces. Keep the seeds for a little more heat. Smash the garlic cloves and finely chop.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add smashed and chopped garlic cloves. Lower heat, if needed, so as not to burn the garlic. (That will change the taste of the dish so watch it carefully!) Cook for about 1 minute.
- Add the chopped chiles (or dried crushed red pepper), the tomato paste and salt. Stir to caramelize the tomato paste.
- Pour in the can of tomatoes and break them up in the skillet with the back of a wooden spoon. The chunkiness and texture is up to you!
- Add the cooked rigatoni with some pasta water, tossing to coat all the pasta.
Tips for making arrabbiata pasta
- Mince the garlic finely. Minced garlic will give your arrabiata a more intense flavor.
- Use a good quality olive oil. A good quality olive oil will make a big difference in the flavor of your arrabiata.
- Sauté the garlic and chili peppers for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes. This will help to develop the flavor of the sauce.
- Don't overcook the sauce. Arrabbiata sauce isn't meant to cook all day. It should be cooked for a short amount of time so that it retains its bright flavor.
- Serve the sauce immediately. Arrabbiata sauce is best served fresh and makes a quick weeknight pasta sauce!
- Sauce troubleshooting.
- If your sauce is too thick, you need more water. Add a little water to your empty can of tomatoes and swirl it around to get all the tomato goodness. You can also use more reserved pasta water too!
- If your tomato sauce is too thin. The first suggestion is to raise the heat a bit and allow the sauce to cook down more. This will take longer but your flavor and seasoning will be on point.
Pepper alternatives for arrabbiata
Anytime you are swapping out or need an alternative pepper, make sure to consider the heat level and flavor profile of the pepper.
There are many alternative peppers that you can use in place of Calabrian chiles in arrabiata. Some good options include:
- Crushed red pepper. The easiest go-to if you can't find Calabrian chiles.
- Fresno chiles. Fresno chiles are a medium-heat chili pepper that is similar in flavor to Calabrian chiles and make a slightly milder sauce.
- Serrano chiles. Serrano chiles are a hot chili pepper that is slightly spicier than Calabrian chiles and bring more intense flavor.
- Anaheim chiles. Anaheim chiles are a mild chili pepper that is not as spicy as Calabrian chiles resulting in a more subtle flavor.
Start with a small amount of pepper! The heat will intensify as the arrabbiata sits. Your leftovers will even be hotter the next day! Add more pasta water or tomatoes if too spicy and a touch of sugar if too acidic.-Josie + Nina
Storage, Reheating and Freezing Tips
Store leftovers in an airtight, covered container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Stove. Reheat leftovers in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat until warmed through.
Microwave. Place in a microwave safe bowl or dish and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Heat in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until heated to your preference.
You can freeze leftover arrabbiata sauce in a freezer-safe container or bag for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and then reheat according to suggested tips above.
Arrabbiata Pasta Sauce with Calabrian Chiles
- 1 lb rigatoni pasta, I use Barilla or DeCecco
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 2-3 diced Calabrian chiles or 2-3 teaspoons of dried crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 oz tomato paste, or ½ can
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, more info on San Marzano tomatoes
- fresh basil leaves
- freshly grated Romano cheese
- Cook penne in highly salted, rapidly boiling water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water and drain.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add garlic cloves. Lower heat, if needed, so as not to burn the garlic. (That will change the taste of the dish so watch it carefully!) Cook for about 1 minute.
- Add the chiles (or dried crushed red pepper), the tomato paste and salt. Cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Pour in the can of tomatoes and break them up in the skillet with the back of a wooden spoon. The chunkiness and texture is up to you! Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed.
- Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss in ¼ cup of pasta water, tossing to coat all the pasta. Check for seasoning and toss with freshly torn basil. Sprinkle with freshly grated Romano cheese.
About Lori Murphy
Lori has over 30 years in the food industry as a marketing strategist, culinary instructor and chef for three kids with discerning palates. As the chief content creator at Josie + Nina, Lori is dedicated to helping home cooks create food memories through fresh ingredients and Italian flavors.