Easy Penne Arrabbiata

Imagine a rich, vibrant tomato sauce with fresh garlic and buttery olive oils infused with tons of crushed red chili flakes. The result is a bright red sauce that brings garlic and heats a notch!

I had been making arrabbiata for years, and I loved spicy pasta. But I never thought it would be this dramatic! When I mixed the sauce with penne, it was an instant hit.

What is Arrabbiata?

Arrabbiata, a tomato-based spicy sauce, originated near Rome in the Lazio area of Italy. The sauce is most often served with penne as part of a dish known as penne al arrabbiata. While the Italian word arrabbiata is translated as “angry,” eating pasta with this sauce won’t make you angry at all! It’s actually a reference for the spicy nature of the sauce.

Our version differs from the classic with the addition of vegan Parmesan cheese. This dish is full of flavor and balanced, yet it’s made from easily accessible ingredients. Check out the recipe on the Ciao Florentina Blog for a more authentic version.

Penne Arrabbiata: How to make it?

To infuse maximum flavor into the noodles, we start by cooking them in water that has been generously salted. Friends, we did a side-by-side test of unsalted and salted pasta water. Salting does indeed give it a boost.

The sauce is what makes the dish! Sauté crushed red pepper flakes, garlic, and olive oil in the same amount of oil until fragrant. Be careful not to burn them, as this can result in a bitter flavor. To add more flavor, we also sautee the tomato paste.

The main ingredient is crushed tomatoes. The higher-quality tomatoes that you use will enhance the taste of your sauce. While we prefer Pomi and San Marzano, we add three healthy pinches each of sea salt and maple syrup for a richer flavor, no matter what brand you use.

We love to garnish with vegan Parmesan cheese when ready to serve for a rich and salty finish, as well as fresh basil because tomatoes + basil equal love.



  • Water boiling
  • Salt 1 Tbsp (for seasoning water)
  • Pasta of choice, 10-12 ounces (penne is the best/gluten-free if needed).


  • Add more oil if needed (if you don’t have any oil, add water to the dish and it will evaporate)
  • Four cloves garlic, minced
  • Add more crushed red pepper flakes for serving
  • 3 Tbsp. Tomato paste* (organic or high-quality if possible).
  • We prefer Pomi San Marzano or Pomi 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
  • Three healthy pinches of sea salt plus more to your taste
  • Add more maple syrup to taste.

FOR SERVING optional

  • 1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil chopped or torn


  • Bring to a rolling boil a large pot with well-seasoned water for the pasta.
  • Over medium heat, warm a large skillet or saucepan with a rim. Once the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes (for a milder kick, use less; for a more intense rush, use the full amount). Cook for one minute, stirring continuously, and be careful not to burn it.
  • Use a rubber spatula or a spoon to stir in the tomato paste. Cook until the tomato paste is fragrant and has slightly darkened — about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Stir in the maple syrup, salt, and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a low simmer. Cook covered for 20-30 mins, or until sauce is slightly reduced and flavors have been intensified.
  • Add more salt if you like, red pepper flakes for heat, or maple syrup to sweeten/balance the spice. To add depth to the flavor, a bit more tomato paste may be added. However, a little can go a long way. If the flavors haven’t developed enough, you can simmer them a little longer (covered) so that they can deepen.
  • When the water in the pot is boiling, add the pasta, stirring to avoid clumps. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of water.
  • Stir the pasta into the sauce. Add two tablespoons of pasta water at a time if your sauce is too thick. You want a sauce that is silky and clings well to the noodles. Likely, you won’t use all the pasta water.
  • Serve with fresh basil and vegan Parmesan cheese. Red pepper flakes added on top give it a little extra heat and color.
  • Keep leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 days. They are best when they are fresh. The sauce can be frozen (separate from the pasta) for up to two months. Reheat the pasta on the stovetop. Add a little water to thin it if needed.

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