Penne all’Arrabiata

According to our friend Dave (and likely, other people), arrabiata means angry. Thus translated this becomes penne with an angry sauce. And angry it is. Despite its sweet, unctuous, savoryness, it packs a huge bite that’ll make you sweat but bring you back for more over and over again.

Since there is pancetta involved, I would likely go back over and over again regardless of anything else. 

The trick with the arrabiata sauce is to make it spicy, but to not overpower it. Our recipe accomplishes this through the addition of pancetta and basil. The pancetta gives it the semi-sweet, savory flavor throughout, and the basil tones it down to balance the power of the garlic and chile flakes. You’ll also want to have a perfectly al dente pasta, to give it a nice toothsome bite.

This is a great dish to serve as the side for chicken parm, or as a small first course serving, but can also stand up on its own as the main course. We’ve ordered this many times at restaurants and always end up feeling that it’s lacking flavor or that all we can taste is the spice, or that it’s just a regular tomato sauce with nothing special. Our recipe will help you avoid those pitfalls to create a perfectly balanced, spicy, savory, amazing dish.

Making the Dish

Diced pancetta and thinly sliced garlic.

First, prepare all your ingredients. Thinly slice your garlic and dice up your pancetta. Set aside your chile flakes, and set a non-stick pan over medium high heat and pour in about half a cup to one cup of olive oil (we use a heavier hand on the olive oil here than in a normal sauce to distribute the heat throughout the sauce). Cut your basil in a chiffonade. Then, prepare your tomato sauce, or if you’re using a store bought sauce, take it out and measure out about two cups.

At this time you can also get your water going. Bring it to a boil and then salt it, drop in your penne, and cook it until 1 minute shy of the package direction to make sure it’s perfectly al dente.

The garlic is added to the cooking pancetta.
While the penne is cooking, add your pancetta to the hot oil and then after a few minutes, your garlic. A few minutes after that, add your chile flakes. Cook this over medium high heat until the pancetta renders its fat and the garlic starts to slightly brown. Just slightly – you don’t want it to burn. Also keep an eye on your chile flakes (and be sure to add them after the garlic) as you do not want those to burn either.


The magic ingredient: hot chile flakes are what give this dish its kick.
Once everything has cooked and infused with the olive oil, add your sauce and stir around, distributing the chile and garlic throughout. Bring it to a bubble and then let simmer. Add salt and pepper at this point to taste.


We add the sauce to the hot garlic/chile/pancetta mixture.

Toss in the basil and stir around. At this time your penne should be ready. Add it directly to your sauce and toss together. You’ll want to make sure all the noodles are nicely dressed. If the sauce seems too thick, add a touch of the pasta water to loosen it up. 


We add our basil to the spicy sauce. You can see the chile diffused throughout, as well as the hot oil. This is going to be good.


Now it’s time to bring it to the plate. Add a spoonful or two of the noodles to a warm bowl, and drizzle with a touch of olive oil and freshly ground pecorino romano cheese. And there you go, delicious penne all’arrabiata.


The penne tossed in the sauce.

The Wine
Today’s wine is brought to us by our aforementioned friend Dave. His grandparents made it themselves. It was pretty good, and made us want to make our own wine as well. But perhaps it’d be best for us to start with beer. We’ll see.


A quick lesson on the wine. This arrabiata is spicy stuff, so you’ll want a wine that can handle it well. In our experience, a pinot, and even most cabernets, are a little too weak and will get overpowered by the spiciness. To really compliment this dish, we suggest a zinfandel, shiraz, or malbec… but mostly a zinfandel.

The Result

What you’ll have when this is all said and done is a wonderfully balanced, spicy, sweet, savory dish. It will be hot. But it won’t be too hot. It will have a nice sweet taste to offset the spice. It will make your breath smell terrible from all the garlic, but that won’t matter becuase you’ll enjoy eating it so much.

Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Penne all’Arrabiata

Written by: Herbie Likes Spaghetti

A quick and easy pasta dish with lots of flavor

Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:

(Serves: 2)

1/2 pound penne
2 cups tomato sauce
4-5 cloves garlic
4 thick slices pancetta
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 bunch basil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil