Penne all'Arrabbiata

Walking out of the bar / shop of the sprawling sanctuary of Santuario di Nostra Signora di Fatima, I was amused with the irony of my purchase but my husband was even more amused that I was able to buy something even from the church.  What's in the bag?  Infernale (infernal) condiment for making penne all' arrabbiata.  Arrabbiata means angry.

Economical, easy and tasty (if you prefer to walk on the hot side).   I usually avoid spicy food and for that reason, I made this pasta only now, after so many years of tiptoeing in its territory.  I was wrong not to have cooked it all these years!  I thought it was just a normal pasta dish with tomato sauce spiked with chillies.  The chillies toasted in the oil with the garlic gave a different flavor to the pasta.  

The classic way to cook this is with fresh or dried chillies but since I had a bottle of infernale, I used it.  Because I couldn't find the suggested dosage in the bottle, I dumped one spoon too many the first time I cooked it.  Then common sense hit me!  Maybe, just maybe, I exaggerated in the amount?   Halfway through cooking, I tasted the sauce.  I was struck at how good it is.  Then God Almighty, the heat of the chili exploded like a bomb in my mouth.  It was so spicy!  That answered my question.  Yes, I did put too much.  

My taste buds were initiated to this pasta last autumn, but I was not able to conceive the taste at all because I was in a big rush that I just went straight to swallowing.  For its simplicity and spiciness (over everything), it purposely slipped my mind.   So, it remained at the bottom of my list.  Along with the first time I tried this pasta comes a story.  Most recipes usually have memory attachments A, B & C and for that blogging about food is particularly special.   Before that beautiful plate of food arrived on the table, there is a saucepan of memories holding it together.

One of the many indicators that you are in Italian soil is when strangers casually invite you for lunch in their homes like it's the most normal thing.  I'm not speaking about scary characters lurking around alleys.  I'm referring to nice, elderly people who take a good look at you and your kid/s and invite you over for lunch to cook a mean, classic pasta dish.   It makes you feel like the world is still a good place to live in with trust still in the hearts of the people.   I never take up these offers because I'm embarrassed to say yes.  But believe me, it takes all my power to say the two words.  No, grazie.  Sigh.  Ask me again and I will say yes.

On a quality moment with my son, Riccardo, I took him on an overnight trip to a small 9th century hamlet in Umbria called Montone.  We traveled by rail to underline his passion at that moment.  I carried a backpack full of Thomas the Train and his very heavy friends and cousins as company.

While waiting for our third and last train to our destination, we settled ourselves in a bar that was half-full of local elderly men who seemed to be having their daily socialization before lunch.  Someone named Alessandro, working at the train station, was cooking penne all'arrabbiata in the station's kitchen / mess hall and Riccardo and I got invited to join in.  I politely declined but wished I said yes because a plate of pasta (even if it's known to be spicy) was a better candidate for lunch compared to the sorry-looking panini (sandwiches) staring back at me in the bar's glass counter.

Half an hour later, Alessandro came back to inform Riccardo and me that the pasta was ready.  This time, Riccardo was within earshot and we said yes.  We ate at the station's kitchen / mess area among the other employees and had a wonderful experience albeit the very limited time we had.  Our train was due to arrive a few minutes before we started eating.  Alessandro told me to calm me down and not to worry, the train will not leave without us.  I still wolfed down my pasta, barely realizing that it was spicy but remembering that it was good.  Our train arrived and still Alessandro told us to take it easy.  I couldn't.  Riccardo and I ran to catch our train that was still there waiting.  About a couple of minutes after, Alessandro came out with his hat and uniform, waved to us and sent the train off.   When my husband saw his uniform and hat in a picture the following day, he informed me that the train will definitely not leave without us because he was the capostazione (chief of the train station).  In the small stations, the trains don't leave without the chief's green light.  

Penne all' Arrabbiata

Serves 4
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 fresh or dried chilis, chopped (If you want a kick, put more. In place of the chilis, I used a teaspoon of a dry mixture of chilis, parsley, garlic & salt)  
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 (425-gram) can tomato puree or tomato pulp
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 400 grams penne rigate
  • Fresh parsley, chopped finely 
  • pecorino romano, grated (optional)
  1. Over medium heat, in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil, sautè the garlic and chili.
  2. When the garlic turns golden, add the tomato sauce. Cook for about 30 minutes on low - medium heat. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Over medium - high heat, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add some salt when it boils then put the pasta. Cook the pasta following the number of minutes indicated in the pack.
  4. When the pasta is cooked, drain (leave about a cup of water in case you need it), then add to the sauce in the saucepan. Mix well.
  5. If the pasta seems dry, pour the water gradually, just enough to wet it more.
  6. Sprinkle the parsley and Pecorino Romano (if using), drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.