Spicy Calabrian Chile Pasta Sauce with Rigatoni

For the spicy pasta sauce lover. An arrabbiata pasta sauce that brings the heat thanks to Calabrian chiles with a sweet, mellow vibe the whole family will love. Spoon this spicy Calabrian chile pasta sauce over al dente rigatoni for an easy weeknight dinner that warms from within.

Black large skillet with rigatoni and red sauce and a wooden spoon.

Full disclosure: when I order pasta at an Italian restaurant, I rarely choose a dish that has a spicy pasta sauce. I prefer to add crushed red pepper at the same time as my abundance of parmesan cheese. Maybe it’s a control thing?

My kids love a spicy red sauce —especially my hot vodka pasta sauce. This spicy Calabrian red sauce, also known as arrabbiata sauce, is one of their favorites and my maiden name is buried in the title (my family is from Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy). We aren’t afraid of a little hot.

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What is “arrabbiata” and how do you pronounce it?

Arrabbiata is pronounced “ah-rob-be-ah-ta” and in Italian 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.

The story of arrabbiata

Some stories speculate that angry Southern Italian peasants would make their way into the kitchens of wealthy landowners and purposefully add spicy red chiles to their simmering sauces to ruin their dishes. How ironic that this act of defiance became a beloved recipe and I love the symbolism of my ancestors’ passionate natures!

Arrabbiata is often served over penne pasta but in my experience, rigatoni is better because it holds the chunky tomato sauce really well.


Is it spelled arrabbiata or arrabiata?

Technically, arrabbiata has two b’s. Many people spell it with just 1. Let’s be honest…either way, it’s darn delicious!

Ingredient Spotlight

Like most easy pasta sauce recipes, arrabbiata is made in one pan. And there are two competing stars of the show —the Calabrian chiles and tomatoes.

White bowl of whole Italian tomatoes with fresh basil leaves and a colander of rigatoni.
Small but mighty, Calabrian chiles are in the little bowl in the upper right hand corner.

Calabrian chiles

Calabrian chiles are slightly sweet, with an almost fruity warm heat that intensifies the longer they are cooked or sit in a sauce. They also shine in cold dishes like this creamy Italian pasta salad.

where to find Calabrian chiles

You can use fresh at your local Italian market 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.

Tomatoes

For this recipe, I recommend San Marzano canned tomatoes but if your garden is overflowing with home-grown tomatoes, use them!

p.s. Scroll down for more info on my favorite canned tomatoes.


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: rigatoni with arrabbiata sauce

Gather all the chiles and tomatoes and let’s make a pan of arrabbiata sauce!

wooden cutting board with chopped Calabrian chile peppers and whole garlic cloves.
Chop Calabrian chiles and smashed garlic finely.
wooden paddle stirring sauteed onions and garlic in a skillet
Saute garlic.
black skillet with whole tomatoes and a wooden spoon.
Add in tomato paste and tomatoes.
Hand stirring rigatoni into a black skillet of tomato sauce.
Stir in hot cooked rigatoni.
Ladle of pasta water being poured into black pan of rigatoni and red sauce.
Add in some pasta sauce – about 2-3 oz to start!
  • 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 success

White plate with a fork spearing rigatoni in red sauce sprinkled with fresh chopped basil.
  • 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.

TIP

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

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.

Storage, reheating and freezing Tips

large black skillet with rigatoni and red sauce with a wooden spoon.

Storage

Store leftovers in an airtight, covered container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Reheating

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.

Freezing

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.


Made this recipe?

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Black large skillet with rigatoni and red sauce and a wooden spoon.
5 from 3 votes

Spicy Calabrian Chile Red Sauce with Rigatoni

For the spicy pasta sauce lover. This arrabbiata pasta sauce brings the heat thanks to Calabrian chiles but also has a sweet, mellow vibe the whole family will love. Spoon this spicy Calabrian chile pasta sauce over al dente rigatoni for an easy weeknight dinner that warms from within.
Prep Time:5 minutes
Cook Time:20 minutes
Total Time:25 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients
 

Instructions

  • Cook rigatoni or penne pasta in highly salted, rapidly boiling water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water and drain.
    1 lb rigatoni pasta
  • 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.
    2 Tablespoons olive oil, 6 garlic cloves
  • Add the chiles (or dried crushed red pepper), the tomato paste and salt. Cook for an additional 2 minutes.
    2-3 diced Calabrian chiles or 2-3 teaspoons of dried crushed red pepper flakes, 3 oz tomato paste, 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 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.
    1 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 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.
    fresh basil leaves, freshly grated Romano cheese

Notes

Storage
Store leftovers in an airtight, covered container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Reheating
Stove. Reheat leftovers in a saucepan on the stove 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.
Freezing
You can freeze 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.
Course: Main Course, Pasta, pasta side dish
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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