Sometimes you get lucky. I was staying in Rome for a few days, in a hotel near the Colosseum, and happened upon Trattoria Pizzeria da Luzzi. It’s kind of a scruffy place. Young locals eat there. It was a sunny day, so I sat outside. I asked the server, What’s special today? Pennette all’arrabbiata. I ordered, ate, and was filled. Not just filled. Transported.
There are those moments at the table when you just think, THIS is the best thing ever. Tomato, garlic, red pepper.
In Italian “arrabbiata” means angry; mad, crazy. Like rabid in English. I’ve made this sauce ever since–hot but not tongue-melting hot. Some years after that trip to Rome, a friend visiting from Naples came to dinner. When I served him penne all’arrabbiata, he said, “These don’t seem very arrabbiata to me.” And asked for more pepper. So: adjust the heat to your liking.
This sauce takes ten minutes. These days I cook for two people. Dice a clove or two of garlic in olive oil. Add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Gently sauté. Try not to brown the garlic.
Add a quarter cup of tomato puree. That’s not a lot! Don’t go crazy with tomato when you cook Italian. Plain puree, no spices added. Plain puree usually comes with a basil leaf in it. That’s okay.
Lower the heat, cover and cook. In the meantime, a pan of water for the pasta is in a rolling boil. Cook the pasta.
Your sauce should thicken. Add a little salt.
Enough penne for two people. No cheese, please. Cheese will become a dominant flavor or wage a nasty war with the tomato and pepper. You want the simplicity and uncomplicated beauty of this sauce.