Penne à l’arrabiata


‘Enraged’ penne (in spicy sauce)

This is one of my go-to recipes on nights when I need to make a quick meal. I generally have all the ingredients on hand, and it only takes 15 minutes to prepare.

The dish is called ‘enraged’ (arrabiata) because of the spice, and how angry you make it depends on how much cayenne pepper you include. I find that two small dried peppers make it spicy enough, but if you love heat, add more.

As for the pasta, my standard method of measuring is highly unscientific, but it’s quick and it works. I count one coffee mug of penne per person. When the water is boiling, just fill the mug, add it and and repeat as many times as necessary. If you prefer to measure by weight or in a measuring cup, see the ingredient list below.

Traditionally, chopped parsley is added to penne à l’arrabiata, but I prefer fresh basil. Use either, but not both. And here’s another tradition. This dish is generally served without cheese, but I find that freshly grated parmesan goes brilliantly on top.

The quantities below will serve two people as a main dish or four as a starter.

2 cloves garlic
a 14-ounce (400 g) can of peeled tomatoes
2-3 dried cayenne peppers
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried herbes de Provence or oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar

1/2 pound (220 g) penne, or about 3 cups (or 2 coffee mugs)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or parsley
4 tbsp. freshly grated parmesan (optional)

Peel and finely chop the garlic. Open up the can of tomatoes and have it standing ready.

Crush the cayenne peppers in a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, wrap them in a paper towel to protect your skin and crush by hand. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil to sizzling in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the garlic and cayenne peppers and sauté very briefly over high heat, about 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and turn down the heat to medium. Using a wooden spatula, break the tomatoes into smallish pieces. Add the dried herbs. Add the salt and sugar.

Allow the tomato sauce to simmer until it thickens, stirring regularly. This takes about 10 minutes. Watch the heat — you may need to turn it down to prevent sticking or burning. When the sauce is thick, turn off the heat. Taste, and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

While the sauce is cooking, place a large pot of water over high heat. Add the sea salt and bring to a boil.

Add the penne and cook 10 minutes, or according to the instructions on the packet. You want the pasta to be al dente as it will cook a bit more in the sauce.

Drain the pasta through a colander and shake to remove any excess water. Do not rinse.

Tip the pasta into the pan with the sauce. Reheat gently, stirring, until the sauce has thoroughly coated the penne. Stir in the chopped basil or parsley.

Serve in shallow bowls, topped with grated parmesan. Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter.

penne-arrabiata3For a heartier dish, you can add some Italian sausage (or ‘saucisse de Toulouse’ in France). Buy about 1/4 pound (110 g) per person, slice into rounds, sauté in olive oil until golden and serve on top of the pasta.

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