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What is Arrabbiata Sauce?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Arrabbiata sauce is a light marinara or red Italian sauce that is given an extra spicy flavor by adding hot peppers to the sauce. The word "arrabbiata" can loosely translate to “angry mood,” a name inspired by its piquant taste. There are many varieties of this sauce, but most include red pepper, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and onions.

Arrabbiata sauce will go well with any plain pasta, and it is often best enjoyed with penne, which are small ridged tubular pasta. The ridges help hold the sauce, and the tubes can also fill with the sauce creating fiery mouthfuls with each bite. When making arrabbiata with a tubular pasta like penne, it's important to make more sauce than needed to have adequately coated pasta, since arrabbiata sauce and others like it will be readily absorbed by the pasta.

Though the most authentic arrabbiata recipes rely on crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes, some recipes do use alternatives like chili peppers, habaneros, or jalapenos. Some also include smoked chili peppers or fire roasted crushed tomatoes to evoke an earthier, smoky taste in the finished product.

Most recipes for arrabbiata sauce are fairly quick to cook, making them attractive alternatives to red sauces that simmer for several hours. They also don't take a lot of preparation — just a few moments to chop onions, garlic, parsley and peppers. Using canned tomatoes rather than chopping them before making sauce each time can save a lot of time. The advantage of taking the extra time to chop tomatoes is usually that they yield a fresher taste.

The principle ingredients of arrabbiata sauce are tomatoes, tomato paste or sauce, chopped parsley, garlic, onions, Italian seasonings and of course chopped red pepper or red pepper flakes. Garlic and parsley are simmered first in a little olive oil, and then the lengthiest cooking process is cooking onions. They should be sauteed over medium heat for about ten minutes, allowing them to soften and sweeten up.

The rest of the ingredients are added when the onions are properly cooked, and cooking time in recipes varies greatly. Some cooks suggest simmering the sauce for about 45 minutes, while others suggest only 10 to 15 minutes of cooking the arrabbiata sauce when all ingredients are combined. There’s also some dispute regarding whether or not to add cheese to these ingredients. Some recipes suggest a cup or more of Parmesan be added.

Traditionally, arrabbiata sauce does not contain meat, but many recipes add smoky or spiced sausage to make a more hearty meal. Without cheese and with cooking spray rather than oil used, the dish can be a very low-fat one, and also a vegetarian dish. Spicy foods can tend to provide a feeling of fullness sooner. Thus, it's possible to enjoy the food more because of its heat, but eat less of it.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon925820 — On Jan 14, 2014

I bought some arrabbiata sauce from a grocery store without knowing what it was and I found it to be almost too spicy. The label for pasta sauces won't always provide a heat level, like you might find on a jar of salsa.

It wasn't totally inedible, but you'd better be prepared for at least a medium to medium-high pepper burn. I'm glad this article exists, because some people may go to a grocery store and assume all of pasta sauces are created alike. Maybe some have meat and some have cheese, but they're all going to be just a little sharp or tangy.

Arrabbiata sauce has a long and slow burn that reminds me more of Mexican cuisine than Italian.

By anon273245 — On Jun 05, 2012

It comes from the Italian word rabbia, which means anger. This is from the Latin root- rabere, which means to rave, to be mad. It is where we get our word 'rabies' from.

By anon111462 — On Sep 16, 2010

I just want a good and general authentic recipe for Arrabbiata sauce please.

By anon80064 — On Apr 26, 2010

it's a name from rome or greece.

By anon64036 — On Feb 04, 2010

does "arrabbiata" word origin come from Arabic?

By anon19991 — On Oct 23, 2008

Excellent article, thanks for the info!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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