L’Arrabbiata -The Anger Management Pasta (Classic Tomato Sauce, part 4) in a Duet with a Plain Tomato Sauce

I am warning you: this is a bit of a long-winded post.  If it’s the recipe you are after, scroll down immediately to where the cooking photos start.


Sunday is a funny kind of day.  And yesterday had a pronounced end-of-summer feel to it, with the skies darkening and deciding it was a good idea to donate some rain.


I didn’t use to like Sundays when at school, usually because there was always some piece of homework that I hadn’t scrambled over to finish, and Monday was inescapably there to be dreaded.  With time, however, and after having left school, the potential of a Sunday thankfully expanded to incorporate a good dose of lolling about and relaxing, and the former melancholia got pushed to the far end of the day, to the Sunday evening.  Nowadays? … Sunday seems to be just another day, sigh.  Shops are open on Sundays the way they never used to be when I was growing up, and most people I know work and/or are frightfully busy even though they might not physically go to a place of work.  So, although I have removed all traces of melancholy or dread-of-Monday out of the Sunday equation, I can’t say that I have learned the lesson that purported to be specific to a Sunday: a day of rest and recuperation, a day for contemplation and the spirit.


Such were the thoughts flooding through me yesterday as I awoke — and the more I tried to shake ’em off, the more irritated I became over my own incapacity to ‘get a grip’ and lighten up.  There ensued a heated internal debate that showed no sign of abating even after two cups of jolly good coffee and so I knew something drastic had to be done.  I resolved to count my blessings as I drank my third cup of coffee and that seemed to help.  Then I took a good look at what food there was in and out of the fridge and decided that today was a very appropriate day for making an “arrabbiata” tomato sauce for our pasta at lunch.

By the time the idea of an arrabbiata had taken root to my satisfaction, I remembered that my family’s tastes are unremittingly divided into two fields of tastes: those who appreciate a bit of chilli and heat, and those who do not.

Hmmmm. If metaphor could encompass both cooking and music, I would put it thus:  I had to come up with a duet for two pasta sauces.  In other words, I had to concoct a mother sauce that could then be converted both into a plain tomato sauce (no chilli, no heat) as well as into an “arrabbiata” — meaning “angry”.  The wrath in question, it must be explained, has nothing to do with a hot temper as such … it refers, instead, to the thrilling heat of chilli flakes that abound in an arrabbiata tomato sauce.

Both tomato sauces are made with fresh tomatoes when possible — and this is still the time of year when it IS possible.  And the differences are only few, albethey important.

What I would like to underscore is that … well … sometimes … contrary to what some recipe  books tell us … well … it takes time and care to come up with a well-executed dish.  It is not a case of “assembling” and dashing something off in 10 minutes flat.  Sorry, no.  It requires a attention and concentration and time and a lot of other ‘ands’.

The second thing I would like to point out is that an Italian tomato sauce for pasta is THE sauce by which an Italian chef will get to be measured.  Any promising cook can put together a tasty pasta sauce that has a list of ingredients as long as your arm but can he or she cook a decent sugo di pomodoro? aha!  It seems so easy … and yet … and yet.  The reasons are not rocket science when you think about it.  A good Italian salsa di pomodoro has to be sweet enough and compelling enough to stand out among the strands of pasta without stealing the thunder from the pasta dish as a whole!  Soooo subtle, in other words.

This is not the first time I have written about a sugo, or salsa di pomodoro.  (See Classic Tomato Sauce, parts 1,2 and 3.)  This is, however, the first time, I took the trouble to ponder how it might taste if it were to be made abroad … where the fresh tomatoes are not the same, i.e. where they simply do not taste the same.

So here are some very self-evident hints: buy the best tomatoes you can find, use the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford, and source the very best fresh garlic you can get your hands on.  I happened to be in London just over a week ago, and I saw that some excellent garlic from France was on sale in the Selfridges’s food store at 1.25 pounds/kilo.  Even in Italy there is a lot of second-class garlic on sale, some of it from Spain and the rest from China.  I go out of my way to find good, ‘proper’ garlic that comes from the Abruzzo … which is thankfully to be found at the Monday Market in Grottaferrata.  Call me a garlic snob, but there you are … there is a huge difference!

And now … now that I have probably made a hundred culinary enemies because I rattle on about the importance of proper olive oil (EVOO) and garlic …  let me get on with the  recipe(s).


IMG_1462Start by puting some water onto the boil …

IMG_1459Here are the tomatoes and the chillis … Please note that these are not the San Marzano tomatoes that are usually the definitive ingredient in an Italian tomato sauce.  Do please also notice how red they are, and they never saw the inside of a fridge.  I had bought them at the market and they were kept at home at room temperature.IMG_1460IMG_1461Remove the white, ‘pithy’ bits from the tomates … I used a shark’s tooth implement to do this but if you don’t have one … well, just use a teaspoon or a sharp knife.

IMG_1463Plop the tomatoes into the boiling water and let them simmer there until their skin starts to hang loose … this can take as little as 1 minute, depending on the amount of tomatoes, to up to 4-5 minutes.  But please don’t get your knickers into a twist over this!  The tomatoes are going to cook in any case, so it’s not as if  you run the risk of over-cooking them…

IMG_1465IMG_1466While the tomatoes are blanching in the boiling water … peel some garlic.  One clove per person is usually a good idea.

IMG_1469Measure, also, the amount of olive oil you will require.  I worked out that it would take roughly about 25ml of EVOO per 100g per person.  I had decided to cook 600g of pasta … so it was the case of 6 of these little shots of glasses, filled with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil).

IMG_1470As you can see, the oil covered just about the whole of the pan’s diameter.

IMG_1471I added a dash more olive oil so that it would indeed cover all of the bottom of the pan.  If you like, think of it like making a pot of tea: one spoon of tea leaves per person and one for the pot.

IMG_1464Here is a basin filled with some very cold water.

IMG_1472Remove the tomatoes from the simmering water and plunge them into this bath to cool them down.  Within a minute or so, you can get working on removing their skins without burning your fingers.

IMG_1474The skins come away easily …


I threw these tomato skins away but you could keep them and leave them to dry and then fry them quickly in olive oil to use as an embellishment.IMG_1476Place the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl or pan, and cut them in half or quarters.  Do by all means use a pair of scissors if you prefer.  The idea is to use only the pulp of the tomato …

IMG_1477See? I raised the colander to show you how much liquid comes out of the cut-up tomatoes … This is a tomato juice drip fest.  You can use this liquor, by the way … you don’t have to discard it.  Freeze it and add it to your stew next Winter.

IMG_1479I went so far as to press down on the tomatoes with a potato masher.  This is also helpful in getting rid of the seeds.

IMG_1473While the tomatoes were dripping, I set to cook the garlic in the olive oil.  I tilted the pan to allow it cook more easily.  The heat has to be low to medium and keep a watchful eye and make sure it does NOT brown.


Please excuse the quality of this photo but the point I want to make is important.  While the olive oil has to reach the right temperature in order to cook the garlic, we are not exactly ‘frying’ the garlic.  If it looks like the temperature is too high, do remove the pan from the heat … you will notice, as in this photo, that the olive oil continues to bubble away merrily.  You can put it back onto the heat as soon as the olive oil shows signs of slacking.IMG_1480When the garlic turned a golden colour, I switched the heat off, and removed the garlic with a small slotted spoon,.  To be honest, I have no problem leaving my garlic IN the tomato sauce … but those who know better than me culinarily speaking all remove the garlic — so I feel I have to follow suit.


I turned the heat on again and tipped the tomatoes (most of it pulp by now) into the garlic-scented oil.

IMG_1484The heat is high at this stage.  We are not simmering the tomatoes, we are cooking them through and through.  I plunged the potato masher into the  pan to break up the pulps and render them more sauce-like.

IMG_1485And here is what we get, just a few minutes later.  It’s almost a purée.  Cooking time was less than 10 minutes.

IMG_1486Amost a purée but not quite!  And now it’s time for the food mill.  Use a ladle to transfer the mashed up tomatoes into the mouli or food mill … Time to rock and roll.

IMG_1487Turn, turn, turn the handle …IMG_1488And here is the delightful sauce: smooth, glistening and boldly red.  Switch off heat.

IMG_1489This is what’s left and gets thrown away.


IMG_1490The ‘plain’ tomato sauce requires some fresh basil.  Put the sauce onto simmer and add a few leaves of hand-torn basil leaves and cook for about five minutes.  Add a good pinch of salt and stir.  Taste, taste, taste … and if it is too acidic … add 1 teaspoon or more even of sugar.  Add more salt too, if necessary.  By the way, I read somewhere that a pinch of bicarbonate will remove the acidity even better than sugar.  Will have to try that some day.

IMG_1491IMG_1492The final touch is a knob of butter, which quickly melts obviously.  Turn the heat off and stir.  If you think I am making it up about the butter … (an addition that I picked up from my Nonna Giuseppina as I was growing up) … check out what I wrote in https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/part-3-of-classic-tomato-sauces-my-favourite-garlic-based-sugo/ .


IMG_1493I cooked some chilli (fresh as it turns out) in a little puddle of olive oil …

IMG_1494Then added the tomato sauce … I stirred it well with a wooden spoon and let it simmer for about 3-4 minutes.  I added salt (it did not require sugar).

IMG_1495I added the spaghetti to the sauce when they were still undercooked but well on their way to being al dente (my rule of thumb for you is to remove the pasta 3 minutes before the stated cooking time on the packet’s instructions).

IMG_1496I added some of the cooking water and turned up the heat  and started stirring … a vigorous stir may not be as ‘cheffy’ as acrobatically tossing the pasta pan but it still gets the job done.

IMG_1497You know when it’s cooked … when it’s cooked!  Turn the heat off when it’s al dente.

IMG_1501Add some parsley (no basil no chives no tarragon no sage, only parsley) … I added the chillis for fun …

IMG_1500And there you have a ”proper’ spaghetti all’arrabbiata … piping hot and ready to be eaten and enjoyed; the benefits of pasta, cooked tomato, garlic and chilli ready to seep deeply into one’s body, raising endorphins aplenty and consequently one’s overall health.

NOTA BENE … or N.B. for short.  Do NOT add any kind of cheese to an arrabbiata.  I don’t know where and when that idea started trickling into the Italian culinary zeitgeist.  I am surprised that some websites suggest a dusting of pecorino cheese (as opposed to parmesan) on the grounds that this is a predominantly Roman dish.  I have only a predominantly Roman query to that, and that is the guttural expression “Boh” (pronounced “bow” and lasting at least 3 seconds with your chin jutting out).  This pasta dish is supposed to be robust and hot (as in spicy hot) so the cheese doesn’t make any sense (the cheese takes the edge off) … and the thought of anyone wanting to add cheese makes me very arrabbiata.

One the other hand: Here is what befell the other half of the spaghetti where the cheese, instead, is definitely supposed to be added with a clean conscience.

IMG_1498Basil leaves for garnishing …

IMG_1499Snowed under by freshly grated parmesan.

About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
This entry was posted in Basic Techniques, Herbs and plants, italian home food, Primi (first courses - usually a pasta or risotto), Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to L’Arrabbiata -The Anger Management Pasta (Classic Tomato Sauce, part 4) in a Duet with a Plain Tomato Sauce

  1. Amazing, Wonderful, Just Delicious, Jo! Love watching you cook! This post also brought back fond memory of when my Mother made homemade tomato paste! Mmm

  2. A classic, and deservedly so. The knob of butter is new to me—I’ll have to try it next time I make this dish.

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