Pennette all’Arrabbiata, a quick and easy, classic Italian pasta dish, typical of Rome and the area. A flavorful, spicy and simple sauce made of San Marzano tomatoes, e.v.o. oil, garlic, chili flakes and parsley to coat a beautiful al dente penne pasta.
Song of the day: “Arrivederci Roma” – Dean Martin.
Is there anything more comforting than a plate of pasta? Or more soothing, rewarding, joyful, and uncomplicated? Not for me. Pasta can overshadow pizza and sweets, my two other food passions. I turn to making and eating pasta on many different occasions: when the world seems to be a troubled place and I find making pasta a reassuring and heartening activity; when my lonely days away from my husband unravel one after the other and eating alone seems less dreary if in front of me I have a plate of consoling pasta; when friends or family show up at the last moment and what a better way to share an improvised meal than making pasta; when you come back from a long holiday and the house seems uncomely and the fridge looks like a ‘waste land’, so you look at the pantry and some cans of tomatoes and a few boxes of pasta are there standing confidently welcoming you home.
You cannot really say there is nothing to eat if your pantry is well stocked with dried pasta, canned tomatoes, a bottle of good olive oil, and spices. These are the ingredients of this traditional Italian pasta dish: Pennette all’Arrabbiata. Ingredients that you’ll always find in our kitchen. What you need more is parsley, dried will do, but we still have plenty in our backyard and a pot of salted boiling water. That’s all. And you can sit at the table and enjoy one of the most flavorful sauces ever.
Whenever I make pasta, and I have to say although Loreto is the main savory cook in this house, pasta is my specialty, I turn to classic, reliable, recipes I’ve eaten all my life. Simple recipes that use very few ingredients and still pack a ton of flavor. I don’t add things here and there for the sake of creativity, because it’s cool, or I want to try if it works. I stick to the recipe that has been there for years, even centuries, and I know that I can count on it to deliver the best experience ever. Most of the times I don’t feel that I am very creative but Loreto is always there to convince me otherwise. I have to say, nonetheless, that I lean on tradition to carry the confidence through.
Pennette all’Arrabbiata (‘arrabbiata’ means ‘angry’, in Italian) is another recipe that comes from my dear native city, Rome. It was a staple there, you could find it frequently on any family’s weekly meal plan, on restaurants menu, it was even eternalized in movies like “La Grande Abbuffata“, director Ferreri; “Roma“, director Fellini. It was on our roster of dishes for the week, at home, many times, so simple, and quick, and so good. But maybe the extreme simplicity that once was the secret to its goodness, is leading now to its decline. The rise of fusion, complex, level flavoring, has put the Arrabbiata on the back burner. It is to chefs and home cooks to bring it back to life, to encourage people to make this dish and let it shine through the quality of its few ingredients. That is the secret of Italian sauces and most dishes. Quality over quantity. Simplicity over complexity.
Pennette all’Arrabbiata, let’s have a look at the main ingredients.
- the pasta: for dried pasta, if you’re willing to spend more, buy a first quality durum wheat semolina pasta. Look for a rough textured surface with a pale yellow, almost white, color. Cheaper products are dark golden with a very smooth, almost plastic appearance, and they tend to overcook getting stickier and gummier. The rough, porous pasta is ideal for picking up sauces, while on a uniform surface your sauce won’t cling too well. Cook the pasta al dente, or according to the manufacturer’s suggested time on the package, better less, than more. Less, if you want (and you should) finish off your pasta in the pan where the sauce has been cooking.
- the tomatoes: not all tomatoes are created equals and not all canned tomatoes are good to make sauces. We stick to the San Marzano D.O.P. variety, famous for its rich flavor, tender texture, and mild acidity. Some canned tomatoes are way too acidic and don’t have that sweetness needed to counterpart the spiciness of this sauce. Fresh tomatoes work perfectly fine for this dish, as well, and a chunky sauce would also be acceptable.
- the olive oil: unfortunately, the old saying “you get what you pay for” is true. Choose “extra virgin olive oil” over the ones labeled simply “olive oil”. It is the purest, least processed and most flavorful type. Check the date (olive oil doesn’t get better with age), the country of origin, that it is “first cold pressed”, and the certification seals. Then, it is a matter of personal tastes: more aromatic, less robust, fruity, grassy.
Making the sauce is pretty simple and quick. When the pasta is ready, add it to the pan where the sauce was cooking, letting the pasta and the sauce get acquainted to one another. Coat each pennette with the sauce, stir and blend. Then, serve it with just a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley (and maybe more chili flakes for the heat you desire).
If your endless creativity wants to add ingredients to this simple sauce, do so as your heart desires. The only courtesy I ask you as an Italian, is to please respect the tradition and call it something else, or ‘Arrabbiata inspired’.
Song of the day: “Arrivederci Roma” – Dean Martin.
- 800 g (1 can) San Marzano Tomatoes D.O.P., crushed or pureed
- 4 Tbsp e.v.o. oil
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1 tsp peperoncino (chili flakes) or more depending on what kind of heat you want
- fresh parsley, chopped
- 400 g pennette (or penne) pasta
- In a saute pan over medium heat fry the olive oil with a full crushed garlic clove.
- When the garlic is golden, add the chili flakes, and the tomatoes.
- Add some chopped parsley, season with salt and let cook for about 20 minutes.
- In the meantime cook your pasta in plenty of salted boiling water and according to manufacturer's suggested cooking times.
- Scoop the al dente pasta out of the cooking water and add to the tomato sauce, letting the sauce coat the pasta. If the sauce is still warm there is no need to turn on heat. Otherwise, turn it on low just for a minute to warm it up.
- Serve warm with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.
The pasta cooks while the sauce is being made, so they're both ready at the same time. Be aware of the cooking time of the pasta and cook accordingly.
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