Back in our cruise ship days, we used to visit Québec City several times each summer and fall during our Canada-New England season, which took us on 10-day cruises from New York City, all the way up the eastern seaboard and then into the St. Lawrence Seaway before concluding in Montreal.
Our itinerary always included an overnight stop in Québec City, where we would dock at the scenic pier located just below the historic Chateau Frontenac. We usually spent most evenings at sea sailing to our next destination, so an overnight stay was a rare opportunity to enjoy an evening out with our crew of friends.
Portofino Bistro Italiano was always our first stop, and their Penne all'Arrabbiata was my go-to order nearly every time. One year during our break, I made it my goal to try and recreate this classic Italian specialty at home, and this recipe is the result. Every time I make it, I am instantly transported back to Portofino and charming Old Québec, and all those memories of great times with beautiful people.
Simple and delicious, penne all'arrabbiata is a pasta dish made with penne noodles tossed in a spicy tomato sauce. Arrabbiata means angry in Italian, and this dish is thus named due to its signature spiciness. Roman in origin, you will now find variations of this popular specialty throughout Italy and the world.
In its purest form, arrabbiata sauce is made with just a few basic ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. My recipe includes a serrano pepper for flavor and added heat, but you could substitute the milder jalapeño pepper, or skip the fresh hot pepper altogether. I also add a half-cup of dry white wine (like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc) for flavor, and the liquid reduces by half before adding the tomatoes.
People always ask us what kind of canned tomatoes we use, often assuming we prefer the more expensive Italian varieties (which we don't because they are usually too sweet for our taste). We make sauce from scratch several times a week, and our favorite tomatoes are the Hornbacher's store brand Essential Everyday whole peeled tomatoes.
Penne pasta comes in the form of short, thick tubes with ridges, and it is a staple in our household. Penne has great texture, and the ridges on the noodle, along with the wide openings at each end, enable the tomato sauce to cling to the pasta so that every bite is filled with spicy heat.
Penne all'arrabbiata pairs wonderfully with Italian sausage or meatballs, and this meatless dish would also be great served with a salad as a Lenten Friday option. We always serve our penne all'arrabbiata with fresh bread and a generous topping of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Making tomato sauce from scratch is easy and takes just a bit longer than heating up a jar of pasta sauce. The results are so much more satisfying, and even if your pasta is angry, we're pretty sure that you won't be. Buon appetito!
Penna all'Arrabbiata (Angry Pasta)
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked al dente according to directions on package
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 to 5 large garlic cloves, minced
½ to 1 serrano pepper, finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat if desired)
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ yellow onion, small-diced
½ cup dry white wine, optional
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic for 1 minute, stirring often and being careful not to brown the garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the crushed red peppers and sauté for another minute.
Add the onions and serrano pepper and cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring often, until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes.
If using, add the white wine and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by at least half. (The alcohol content will evaporate as it reduces.)
Add the tomatoes, stir and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low or low and cover pot, leaving a little room to allow steam to escape. Cook for at least 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions on package. Be sure to season water with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt before adding the pasta. When al dente, drain pasta and return to large pot.
Pour or ladle the sauce into the pot and toss pasta until noodles are evenly coated. Transfer to serving bowls and top with a dollop more sauce, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve and enjoy.
- Arrabbiata sauce may be refrigerated for at least 5 days, or frozen for several months in an airtight container.
- This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for larger batches, but DON'T double/triple the peppers. Start with the recommended measurements, then taste and adjust as desired.
This week in...
- 2017: Pesce alla Puttanesca
- 2016: Orange Pecan French Toast
- 2015: Irish Potato Leek Soup
- 2014: Apple Spinach Salad
- 2013: Spinach and Pear Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.