I was introduced to Penne Arrabiata many years ago at Caffe Delfini, a lovely little Italian restaurant in Santa Monica Canyon in Los Angeles. The bold flavors of whole garlic cloves that had been fully sautéed was heavenly, and I was instantly in love, though it didn’t have much in the way of a spicy kick. Subsequent visits to other Italian restaurants were sorely disappointing; there was neither enough garlic or heat for my taste, so I decided to start making it myself. Over the years, I refined this recipe to my satisfaction and am delighted to share it with you now. The flavor is rich, smoky, garlicky, and you can adjust the heat to your liking. The best part is, it’s super easy to make.
It all starts with the garlic, meaning LOTS of whole fresh garlic cloves and hot chile flakes sautéed in olive oil. Sauté the garlic over medium heat, stirring frequently. When the garlic cloves start to brown and soften a bit, add the chile flakes. This process actually infuses the oil with garlic and the chiles, and when it is added to the sauce, it kicks the flavor factor up quite a few notches over typical arrabiata recipes.
Here's a pic of what our version looks like, fully dressed right before eating:
Here’s the recipe – makes 4 servings:
1 28 oz can whole San Marzano Tomatoes
I-2 whole heads of garlic, all cloves peeled
3-4 tbsp Olive Oil
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp-1 tbsp dried red chile flakes(depending on how spicy you like it)
1 package dried penne pasta(I prefer penne with ridges - this allows the sauce to “stick” to the pasta more.)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Take the entire can of tomatoes and empty them into a blender, and blend until smooth. Then put tomato mixture into a saucepan; cook over medium heat until sauce thickens – this should take about 30-40 minutes. Let cool for a bit. Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a wok or large non-stick saucepan over medium heat, and add all of the peeled garlic cloves till they soften and brown a bit, stirring regularly. Add chile flakes and sauté a bit more till garlic is fully softened. Set aside, leaving olive oil, garlic, and chile in the saucepan.
Fill a pasta pot with water, add 1tbsp salt, and bring to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, add a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the penne to the water, stirring frequently and cooked to your preferred level of doneness. When the pasta is finished cooking, pour the penne and pasta water into a colander in your sink to drain.
While the pasta is draining, add the tomato mixture to the wok or large saucepan and turn up heat high, stirring to blend the tomato mixture with the olive oil, garlic, and chile flakes. When the sauce begins to bubble, add the penne, along with one teaspoon of salt, one half of the parsley, and toss the pasta till fully coated with sauce. Serve piping hot in oven warmed pasta bowls, topping each serving with a bit of the remaining parsley.
Top with freshly grated Parmesan, and enjoy.