I ate lots and lots of Italian pasta dishes growing up, but pasta all’arrabiata is something I never got to try until my twenties, when it was a menu items at a restaurant I waited tables at. Arrabbiata translates to something along the lines of "angry" sauce, or at least that’s what I was instructed to tell customers who asked about the dish. Nowadays, after having tried it myself and cooked up a version in my own kitchen, I’m not sure I buy that. Super garlicky, fiery hot pasta dinner that cooks up in about a half hour? Sounds like happy sauce to me!
Traditional versions of the dish involve tomatoes along with the above mentioned spiciness and garlic, but not much else. That’s still plenty to make me happy, but I always get the urge to throw extras in my pasta sauce, so in this case I added some bell peppers for a bit of sweetness and texture, along with hearty cremini mushrooms. This is the kind of sauce that you could really throw anything into, so if you’ve got something else hanging around the veggie bin, toss it in.
You’ve also got some options as far as the heat in this dish is concerned. Red pepper flakes are what you find in most traditional versions of arrabbiatta, and I’ve always got those on hand, so having them as an option was pretty much essential. But then I thought it would be nice to be able to use fresh peppers when they’re available, so I gave this a try with some fresh Fresno peppers and it worked great. You could get away with other types of red hot peppers too, or even use green (I don't think the pepper police will come after you.) Feel free also to adjust the heat level to your preference. A single pepper or one teaspoon of flakes will yield a sauce that’s just a bit kicky, while three or four will give you something quite angry, or happy, depending on how you look at it.
- 10 ounces dried spaghetti noodles
- ¼ cup olive oil divided
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms sliced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 1 to 4 teaspoons red pepper flakes to taste (or 1 to 4 fresh hot peppers, finely chopped, see note)
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup torn fresh basil leaves lightly packed, plus extra for serving
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain the pasta into a colander and return it to the pot. Toss with a few dashes of olive oil.
- While the spaghetti cooks, coat the bottom of a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms in as even a layer as possible, and allow them to cook until they're browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook 5 minutes more, until they're browned on the other side. Remove them from the pan and transfer them to a plate.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the saucepan. Once hot, add the bell pepper, garlic and red pepper flakes (or fresh hot peppers). Sauté until the bell peppers are tender, about 5 minutes, watching closely and flipping frequently to avoid the garlic burning. Return the mushrooms to the pot and stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the liquid thickens up a bit. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the fresh basil. Optionally, add a few extra red pepper flakes for more heat.
- Pour the sauce over the cooked spaghetti and toss to coat. Divide the pasta onto plates and sprinkle with fresh basil and some additional red pepper flakes, if desired, and serve.