Arrabbiata Sauce with Penne

This simple Arrabbiata Sauce is as easy as it gets with spicy, rich, bright, tomato, basil and garlicky flavors – a must have for every cook! Toss it with penne or use on pizzas, subs, and more!

Arrabbiata Sauce (also called Sugo all’arrabbiata in Italian) may sound fancy, but is ridiculously easy to make! It’s a rich, hearty, spiced up version of a sweet and savory marinara sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper, simmered to perfection, then finished with a crescendo of fresh herbs.  If needed, you can even swap in dried herbs and aromatics so you can make this recipe any time – it can be our little secret ;). This Arrabiata Sauce recipe is also make-ahead and freezer friendly so you can always have it on hand.  Use it to make Penne Arrabbiata, or on pizzas, subs, meatballs and more!

Fabulous Italian sauces belong in the repertoire of every home cook! Don’t miss 15-Minute Tomato Sauce, Homemade Marinara Sauce , Bolognese Sauce. Healthy Alfredo Sauce, and Pesto Sauce.

HOW TO MAKE Arrabiata Sauce VIDEo

top view of Arrabiata sauce served with penne in a bowl

Arrabiata Sauce FAQS

Is it arrabbiata or arrabiata?

The correct spelling is with two b’s – arrabbiata, however, you may see it spelled more often with one b as arrabiata in English usages. No matter how you spell it, they both mean the spicy tomato sauce we know and love!

What does arrabbiata taste like?

Arrabiata sauce is a spicy tomato sauce that’s rich and garlicky, with the perfect balance of sweet thanks to the simmering San Marzano tomatoes vs heat thanks to the crushed red pepper flakes.

What is the difference between arrabbiata and marinara?

Both of these classic Italian tomato sauces are made with tomatoes, garlic and herbs.  Marinara, however, often contains a sofrito of onions, carrots and celery, and is not meant to be spicy.  Arrabiata, on the other hand, translates in Italian to angry, as in fiery heat, because it is cooked with red chili flakes to create an as-spicy-as-you-can-handle sauce.  

What is the difference between Pomodoro and arrabiata sauce?

Pomodoro and arrabbiata sauce are very similar, both made with whole crushed tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil.  The difference is the heat.  Arrabiata is a spicier tomato-based sauce thanks to the addition of red pepper flakes.

What is the best pasta to serve with arrabiata?

Arrabiata sauce pairs well with any pasta, but particularly with ridged tubular pasta shapes such as penne and rigatoni. The sauce clings to the ridges of the sauce, and the tubes can also fill with the sauce creating more flavorful forkfuls.

What is the difference between arrabiata sauce and Bolognese sauce?

Both arrabiata sauce and Bolognese sauce are tomato sauces made with crushed tomatoes, and garlic.  Bolognese, however, is a more complicated meat-based tomato sauce which includes a sofrito of onion, celery and carrots along with white wine, chicken broth and either milk or heavy cream. Pancetta is often added as well.  Additionally, Bolognese can include crushed red pepper flakes, but it is not meant to be spicy, unlike arrabiata sauce, which is intended to be fiery hot.

Can I make arrabiata with meat?

Traditionally, arrabiata sauce does not contain meat, but feel free to add whatever you like! Keep the sauce meatless to pair with meatballs or chicken Parm or brown Italian sausage or ground beef with the onions and then simmer the meat with the sauce.  When adding meatballs, I slightly undercook them, then add them to the simmering sauce to finish cooking, so they soak up more flavor.

showing how to make penne arrabbiata my stirring the penne into the arrabiata sauce
top view of Arrabiata sauce tossed with penne, basil  in a pan

Arrabbiata SAuce Ingredients

The key to this easy arrabbiata sauce is to use quality ingredients because there are so few of them!  You will need:

  • Canned whole tomatoes: I highly recommend using San Marzano whole tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are a variety of plum tomato and considered the gold standard, AKA the best tomatoes in the world to use in Italian sauces. They originate from the rich volcanic soils of San Marzano, Italy and are highly prized for their sweet, intense tomatoey flavor and lower acidity. In fact, they are so sweet, you shouldn’t even have to add any sugar to the sauce!  I recommend the brands San Marzano and Muir Glen. If you see other brands claiming to be San Marzano tomatoes, take an extra step and check to see if they are DOP-certified – usually visible on the front or the back of the can. This is a protective seal that guarantees authenticity.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes:  Classic arrabbiata sauce is made with whole dried chilies which can be more difficult to come by, so this recipe uses pantry friendly red chili flakes. While arrabiata is supposed to be very spicy, you can adjust the heat by adding more or less red pepper flakes or let individuals add more to their individual servings. 
  • Olive oil: Use a quality extra virgin olive oil for sautéing the aromatics for the most flavor. 
  • Aromatics:  Half a yellow onion and six cloves of garlic awaken the sauce and are magic together! Onions aren’t always included in arrabiata sauce, so take them or leave them, but I love them,
  • Tomato paste:  Again, this is not authentic, but a couple tablespoons adds concentrated tomato flavor that elevates the dish.  Freeze unused paste by the tablespoon folded in parchment.
  • Herbs: I prefer using a blend of dried and fresh herbs when making arrabbiata sauce. Basil, parsley, oregano, and thyme flavor the sauce. 
  • Parmesan: Optional but highly recommended for garnishing your Penne Arrabiata! 

How to Make Arrabiata Sauce with Penne

You’ll love how quick and easy it is to prepare penne arrabbiata at home! There’s less than 10 minutes of hands-on prep required, then let the sauce bubble away on the stovetop while occasionally crushing the tomatoes to develop its signature spicy flavor. 

  • Step 1: Boil the pasta. Cook the penne in heavily salted water, just until al dente. Reserve some of the pasta water before draining the pasta.
  • Step 2: Sauté aromatics and tomato paste. Sauté the onions in some olive oil until softened, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté one additional minute.  Finally, add the tomato paste and cook one minute.  Cooking the tomato paste deepens and sweetens the flavors so it doesn’t taste “tinny.”
  • Step 3: Add the tomatoes and herbs. Add the whole tomatoes and juices, oregano, thyme and salt.
  • Step 4: Simmer the sauce. Cook the sauce, occasionally mashing the tomatoes with a potato masher or wooden spoon until reduced and thickened.
  • Step 5: Garnish and serve. Remove the sauce from the heat. Stir in the fresh basil and parsley, then stir in the cooked penne. Garnish with freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese and enjoy! 
a collage showing how to make arrabiata sauce by sautéing garlic and red pepper flakes, adding San Marzano tomatoes, simmering until thickened, then stirring in fresh basil
Arrabbiata sauce tossed with penne in a saucepan
  • Use quality tomatoes: This recipe uses so few ingredients that it’s crucial you use high-quality San Marzano tomatoes. I recommend the brand Muir Glen or San Marzano. Always check the label of other brands to make sure they are DOP-certified, otherwise they can be any tomatoes masquerading as San Marzanos.
  • Use fresh ingredients – or don’t: Use fresh onions, garlic, parsley, and basil for the ultimate sauce, or use dried/powdered substitutes when needed, just know that fresh is so much better!
  • Sauté the onions until softened: If using fresh onions, make sure they are softened before you add the rest of the ingredients
  • Check your herbs: Dried herbs and spices have long shelf lives, but they do eventually go off. Sniff your herbs and spices before adding them to the arrabbiata sauce. If they have a strong scent, they’re good to go! If you can hardly smell them or if they smell off, they should be replaced. 
  • Add water to thin: After simmering, your arrabiata will be quite thick which means the flavors are deliciously concentrated. To thin, simply stir in reserved pasta water until it reaches your desired consistency, keeping in mind the sauce should be somewhat chunky.
  • Make the sauce your own: This recipe is easy to adapt to your personal taste until the sauce is perfect for YOU. For a less tangy/sweeter sauce, add a pinch of sugar; for a spicier sauce, add additional red pepper flakes; use more garlic or less garlic, more or less basil, etc.
top view of Arrabiata sauce served with penne in a bowl

  • Use fresh tomatoes: This increases the prep time quite a bit, but go for it if you’re feeling ambitious.  Blanch, peel, and seed fresh San Marzano tomatoes and proceed with the recipe. 
  • Add other Italian style seasonings: Swap the proportions of the herbs listed in the recipe such as adding more thyme and less oregano or add additional herbs altogether such as rosemary, marjoram or fennel. You could also add Italian seasoning, if desired. 
  • Make it garlicky: Add even more garlic if you don’t want to not be kissed tonight 😉. 
  • Make it spicier:  Keep adding additional red pepper flakes until you can’t stand the heat!
  • Make it cheesy: Stir ½ cup of freshly-grated Parmesan into the sauce before serving.
  • Make it creamy: Stir in ¼ cup heavy cream, or more to taste for a creamy finish.
  • Make it buttery:  For an indulgent sauce, stir in a couple tablespoons of butter to melt before serving.   
  • Add a Parmesan cheese rind: Save/freeze your Parmesan cheese rind for recipes like this! Add the rind to the arrabiata to simmer for extra umami rich flavor. The rind will soften but won’t melt so it’s easy to scoop out. 
  • Add vegetables: Add any veggies you like! Make a sofrito with carrots and celery or add larger carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. for a veggie arrabbiata.
  • Add protein: Sauté the onions with ground beef, Italian sausage, turkey sausage, chicken sausage, etc. You can also add any cooked leftover protein to the finished arrabbiata sauce and warm through.
  • Adjust consistency: For a thicker sauce, simmer for longer; for a thinner sauce, thin with reserved pasta water.  For a smoother sauce, use a hand-held immersion blender or process the arrabbiata sauce in the blender in batches (taking care to leave a corner open, covered with a paper towel so steam can escape).
up close of scooping up penne arrabbiata garnished by Parmesan cheese

serving penne arrabbiata in a bowl with Parmesan and fresh basil

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top view of Arrabiata sauce served with penne in a bowl

Arrabiata Sauce with Penne

Arrabbiata Sauce (also called Sugo all’arrabbiata in Italian) may sound fancy, but is as easy as it gets! It’s a rich, hearty, spiced up version of a sweet and savory marinara sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper, simmered to perfection, then finished with a crescendo of fresh herbs.  If needed, you can even swap in dried herbs and aromatics so you can make this recipe any time – it can be our little secret ;). This Arrabiata Sauce recipe is also make-ahead and freezer friendly so you can always have it on hand.  Use it to make Penne Arrabbiata, or on pizzas, subs, meatballs and more!
Servings: 6 -8 servings
Total Time: 35 mins
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound penne
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced (or 1 teaspoon onion powder)
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-3 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (or as much as you can handle)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can San Marzano whole tomatoes with juices
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp EACH dried thyme, salt

ADD LATER

  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil (or 1 TBS dried)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or 2 tsps. dried)
  • Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese for serving

Instructions

  • Cook penne in a pot of heavily salted water just until al dente. Reserve ½ cup pasta water before draining. Drain the pasta, rinse with cool water and toss with a drizzle of olive oil; set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large saucepan/braiser or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes (you can start with less red pepper and add more later, if desired); sauté for one additional minute. Add tomato paste and cook one minute.
  • Add the whole tomatoes and juices, oregano, thyme and salt.
  • Bring to a vigorous simmer then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook the sauce for approximately 15-20 minutes, occasionally mashing the tomatoes with a potato masher or wooden spoon until they reach desired consistency. Add some reserved pasta water if desired to thin the sauce (the sauce will be thick).
  • Stir in fresh basil and parsley, followed by the pasta.
  • Make it your own! Season to taste with sugar for sweeter or red pepper flakes for spicier and/or salt and pepper. Serve with plenty of freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Video

Notes

  • This recipe is not authentic. In addition to classic San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, it includes sautéed onions, tomato paste, and additional herbs. These ingredients don’t overpower the classic ingredients, but instead, serve to enhance their deliciousness. For a classic recipe, simply skip the additional ingredients.
  • San Marzano whole tomatoes.  These tomatoes are grown in the rich volcanic soils of San Marzano, Italy and are highly prized for their sweet, intense tomatoey flavor and lower acidity. In fact, they are so sweet, you shouldn’t even have to add any sugar to the sauce!  I recommend the brands San Marzano and Muir Glen. If you see other brands claiming to be San Marzano tomatoes, take an extra step and check to see if they are DOP-certified – usually visible on the front or the back of the can. This is a protective seal that guarantees authenticity.
  • Variations:  See post for lots of variations such as adding vegetables, protein, cream, etc. 
  • Storage:  Transfer arrabbiata to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.  To freeze, transfer to freezer bags or freezer-safe containers to up to 6 months. Please note that sauce will likely stain plastic containers. To thaw, place in the fridge overnight. 

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