Today I'm going to share with you the secret to making any pasta sauce taste better, along with a recipe for a delicious Penne all'Arrabbiata. It's a dish that takes less than 20 minutes to make, and contains only a handful of ingredients, and yet it can be intensely fragrant and flavorful. I think the term "intense" is especially poignant, since the name Sugo all'Arrabbiata literally means "angry sauce". While most people assume this refers to its heat, I think it also has a lot to do with its color as well.
In the US, Arrabbiata sauce is often made with "crushed red pepper", which is usually made by crushing whole cayenne peppers. The inclusion of the capsaicin-laden membranes connecting the seeds to the pod make the flakes very spicy. This means that if you added enough chili pepper flakes to the sauce to make it an angry red, it would end up face-meltingly spicy. That's why I decided the choice of chili peppers for this classic pasta sauce needed a bit of rethinking. To make a Penne all'Arrabbiata with an angry red hue, and a good balance of chili flavor and heat, I started rummaging through my pantry in search of the perfect pepper.
Guajillo chiles have a good fruity flavor, but have a muddy red color. Chipotle chiles are smoked, ruling them out, and tougarashi, arbol, and piri piri are all too spicy. Out of a dozen or so chilies in my pantry, I found two that worked well for this Penne all'Arrabbiata. Aleppo Chiles and Gochugaru (Korean chili pepper flakes), both have a full-bodied chili pepper flavor, moderate heat, a hint of sweetness and a vibrant red color. In the end, I went with Gochugaru because it's easier to find in the US (sold in almost any Asian market), but if Aleppo Chiles are easier to find in your part of the world, then by all means substitute away.
Pepper picked, I thought I should address my choice of tomatoes. I often get asked why I use whole stewed tomatoes over diced ones, given that they need to be broken down anyway. The reason is that diced tomatoes need to be picked when they are much less ripe in order to retain their shape after being chopped and cooked. Whole tomatoes, on the other hand, can be picked riper because they are not chopped. This means you'll end up with a sweeter and more flavorful sauce. If you only have diced tomatoes on hand, or you find that your sauce tastes too sour, you can add a bit of sugar or honey to balance it out.
So what's my secret to making great pasta sauces? Well, I've talked at length about the importance of the Maillard Reaction, which creates new flavor compounds, adding complexity to any dish. This can be difficult to achieve in a quick sauce though, because Maillard browning is a function of time and temperature. High temperatures can lead to quick reaction times, but low temperatures will take many hours. Doing this for the tomato sauce would take an impractically long time because of its high water content, but the garlic, gochugaru, tomato paste and anchovy paste all have a low enough water content that Maillard browning can happen in minutes, due to the higher temperatures that can be reached with these drier ingredients. To put this another way, sauté everything with a lower water content before adding the liquids to quickly give any pasta sauce, including this Penne all'Arrabbiata, a boost in flavor.
More Quick and Easy Pasta Dishes
- Pomodoro Sauce with Spaghetti
- Best Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
- Creamy Mentaiko Pasta
- Spaghetti Carbonara
- Spaghetti Napolitan
- 1 can whole stewed tomatoes (400 grams)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 grams garlic (1 large clove)
- 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 12 grams Pecorino Romano
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ground black pepper (to taste)
- 220 grams penne
- Put the can of tomatoes in a food processor or blender and pulse once or twice. You want the big chunks to be broken up, but you don't want a smooth puree.
- Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
- Add the olive oil and garlic to a frying pan and fry the garlic over medium heat until fragrant, but not browned.
- Add the gochugaru, tomato paste, and anchovy paste and continue to saute until the mixture is a vibrant red and is very fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes to the pan.
- Boil the pasta for 1 minute less than what the package directions say.
- Simmer the sauce while the pasta cooks. If it starts to spatter, just start stirring it constantly with a spatula. This will not only reduce the spattering (by lowering the temperature) it also speeds up the reduction of the sauce as more water evaporates.
- When the pasta is almost done, add the pecorino romano and salt and pepper the sauce to taste (I usually add about ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper).
- When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the sauce. Toss to coat evenly and then serve the penne all'arrabbiata immediately.