We are all familiar with those chaotic, busy times when it would be so easy to reach for a takeout menu. To ward away this temptation, I keep my pantry well-stocked so that I can have a fantastic meal on the table in less time than it would take to call an order in, go pick it up, and serve it (all discussed more here). Penne all’ Arrabbiata is one of our favorites.
I saw my first Penne all’ Arrabbiata recipe in Patricia Wells’ Trattoria. Although the original is just about perfect, I add in a couple of intense flavor-building steps here that give the sauce incredible depth.
My favorite thing about this dish is that it’s very quick to make. You can start the pasta water boiling and then get to work on your sauce. By the time the pasta is nearly cooked, the sauce will be done. Better yet, the ingredients come almost entirely from your pantry.
Makin Penne all’ Arrabbiata
Penne all’ Arrabbiata starts with a can of crushed tomatoes: a very humble beginning indeed. But you can build a lot of flavor into a dish in very short order. My favorite go-to trick right now is to add a tablespoon or so fish sauce right after sautéeing my pepper flakes and aromatics (in this case, the garlic). I let it reduce down to almost nothing, and then add in a tablespoon of tomato paste, stirring it into the oil until it darkens in color. This flavor-enhancing combination works well not only for pasta, but also for stews.
If you think the fish sauce sounds disgusting, relax. It’s not. You won’t taste it at all, except that your sauce will have restaurant-worthy depth of flavor. Phil used to wrinkle his nose whenever I reached for my trusty fish sauce, but now he knows. He’ll even helpfully remind me. “You gonna add fish sauce?” At first, I thought he was ribbing me—but he insisted that he gets it: the result is always good. It’s all about umami, baby, and fish sauce has it in spades.
When the tomato paste is caramelized, I add in my crushed tomatoes and bring the sauce to a simmer. Meanwhile, I drop my pasta, cooking it just shy of al dente so that it can finish cooking in the sauce. For a decadent riff, you can easily transform this Penne all’ Arrabbiata into its sexy, decadent sister: Penne alla Vodka. All you do is stir in a couple tablespoons of vodka, then some cream. Stir really well, and then cover and finish over low heat for 1-2 minutes. Garnish it with parsley and serve!
At first, I couldn’t believe that such a delicious meal could be done in under 30 minutes. But there it is. Enjoy!
Penne all' Arrabbiata
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves - minced
- pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp. salt - plus more for the pasta water
- 2 tbsp. Asian fish sauce
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 28- ounce can of crushed tomatoes in pureé
- 1 lb of penne or other tube pasta - e.g., rigatoni, ziti, etc.
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley - for serving
- For the alla vodka riff:
- 2 tbsp vodka
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Put a pot of well-salted water over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, slowly heat the olive oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt over medium-low heat until the garlic is fragrant, but not at all brown, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the fish sauce and cook until almost completely reduced, an additional ~1 min.
- Add the tomato paste and work into the oil mixture, simmering until slightly darkened, ~30 seconds.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes and simmer slowly, uncovered, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Note that you may need to adjust the heat during this simmer: the tomato sauce has a tendency to spit if the heat is too high.
- As the sauce simmers, add the penne to the pasta water. Cook about 2 minutes less than you normally would: the pasta should be slightly tender, but still firm. Drain the pasta well and add it to your tomato sauce. Mix well to completely coat the pasta, then cover and allow to finish cooking over low heat for 1-2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve. Enjoy!
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