Best Ever Arrabbiata Sauce
Learn how to make a homemade spicy arrabbiata sauce. This sauce starts with a few glugs of olive oil, freshly chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes to really kick up the flavor. If you’ve made my homemade pizza sauce, you’re going to love this arrabbiata sauce!
Arrabbiata sauce! Was quite possibly my most favorite thing I ate in Italy this past summer. Okay, I take that back, I ate a ton of things that were my favorite — the pesto and sun-dried tomato focaccia in Cinque Terre — it brought me to my knees! Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but you get the picture.
However, fiery red sauce (also known as arrabbiata sauce) is just one of those things I’ve always loved. It’s the first thing I search for on the menu of any Italian restaurant. Especially if it comes with freshly cooked rock shrimp. I mean, how could I even order anything else?
So after years of recipe testing my homemade arrabbiata sauce, I’ve finally developed a recipe that I love. It’s loosely based off of an arrabbiata sauce that I had in New York at a well known Italian restaurant (so good I can remember exactly how it tastes till this day.) As usual, there’s one ingredient that may sound a bit out of place. You don’t see in arrabbiata sauce, but that sorta is my way right? Adding a secret ingredient that makes the sauce that much better?
I love making homemade tomato sauce. Way back when I started my blog, I shared a homemade pizza sauce recipe, and till this day, it’s one of the most made recipes. Then a few years down the line, I made a spicy shrimp pasta, and mozzarella chicken smothered in tomato sauce and well, what I’m trying to say is that tomato sauce is kind of a staple in our house.
And now, my arrabbiata sauce is going to be a freezer staple for us till the end of time.
We heart it to the max.
What is arrabbiata sauce?
Arrabbiata sauce is a spicy, tomato-based sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh or canned tomatoes, and spiced with dried red pepper flakes. It’s usually simmered until it’s aromatic and served with pasta.
Ingredients to make homemade arrabbiata sauce:
- olive oil
- fresh garlic
- crushed red pepper flakes
- tomato paste
- fish sauce
- fresh basil
Why use fish sauce and is it necessary?
The fish sauce adds a pleasant, rich umami flavor. But don’t worry! You can not even tell it’s there. It’s in the background, just cheering on all the other characters. But in no way can you tell that any fish sauce went into this. I would think that anchovy paste is more typically used. However, I don’t ever have anchovy paste on hand. But, we make a ton of Asian food, so the fish sauce is a pantry staple! Instead of rushing out and buying another new ingredient, I wanted to test the recipe and see if it works well with what I have in the pantry (ever since the pantry project, I’m trying to utilize more of what I already have on hand.) Guess what? It. Works. Beautifully.
If you follow a vegetarian/vegan diet, feel free to omit the fish sauce from the recipe. It tastes just fine without it. But if you want it to have a richer, umami flavor, try using a teaspoon of Better than Bouillon mushroom base or even dried mushroom powder if you keep that on hand at home!
How to make arrabbiata sauce:
- INFUSE: First, get the olive oil in a pan along with the minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, heat the oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes together on the lowest heat setting for 5 minutes. This infuses the olive oil with garlic and red pepper flavor.
- SAUTE: Once the oil has a chance to infuse, we’ll add the chopped onions and allow them to cook until they turn translucent (about 3-4 minutes.)
- SIMMER: Then, we’ll add all the tomato products, fish sauce, and sprinkle a generous pinch of salt in the mix and let it come to a simmer before we let it hang out for 30-40 minutes. This is where all the magic happens. The flavors mix and mingle and you’re left with the most aromatic arrabbiata sauce.
- FINISH: During the last 15 minutes of simmer time, you want to add your torn basil leaves and taste and adjust salt as desired.
What kind of pasta should I serve with homemade sauce?
Though you could use just about any kind of pasta you like, I usually prefer to serve my arrabbiata with rigatoni because I love when the sauce beautifully coats the pasta and you get a burst of hidden spicy and acidic tomato sauce tucked inside the noodle. Heart eyes emoji!
Tips for making authentic arrabbiata sauce:
- Use good quality olive oil. It makes all the difference
- Use fresh garlic. The stuff that comes pre-minced in a jar is great when you’re in a hurry to get dinner out on the table super quick. However, when you take the time to make a homemade sauce from scratch, it’s always worth the effort of mincing fresh garlic. If it’s something you absolutely hate doing, you can get a garlic press and let it do the work for you!
- Be careful with the crushed red pepper flakes. I give you a wide range because it just really depends on how spicy you like things. Our sweet spot is about 3 teaspoons but that’s because we love a spicy arrabbiata!
- Be patient; let it simmer. As the sauce simmers, the flavors really have a chance of developing. I say give it a good 30-40 minutes. 30 minutes will yield a looser sauce. For a more concentrated flavor, I suggest cooking the sauce for at least 40 minutes.
- Keep what you need, freeze the rest. This makes quite a bit of sauce! If you’re cooking for a family for 6 or more, you may need the sauce in one go. However, if you’ve got only a couple people you’re preparing this sauce for, I suggest keeping ½ of the batch in the fridge for meals during the week and freezing the rest in an airtight container for up to 3 months. I’ve never canned anything before so I really wouldn’t even know where to start with that one!
Using homemade sauce:
- When you’ve got the sauce ready to go, and you need to make mozzarella chicken on the fly!
- Use it with pasta and toss in cooked chicken or shrimp to make it a protein-packed meal
- Use it in my mozzarella stuffed meatballs
- Make meatballs subs with leftover meatballs, crusty bread, and provolone cheese
- Add in roasted veggies to make it a filling yet vegetarian dinner
- Use the sauce when you’re making Margherita pizza!!
- Serve it alongside my pull-apart garlic bread as a dipping sauce
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 8-10 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 -5 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 (28-ounce) can EACH: crushed tomatoes AND whole tomatoes (San Marzano, if possible)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce (omit for vegetarians)
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn (with hands)
- INFUSE: In a large saucepan over low heat, add the olive oil, minced garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 5 minutes stirring occasionally so nothing burns but the flavor infuses in the oil and is fragrant.
- SAUTE: Then, kick up the heat to medium-high, add the onions and continue to stir and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, stirring as necessary.
- SIMMER: Add all the tomato products along with the fish sauce, ½ teaspoon of salt, and allow the sauce to reach a simmer before lowering the heat. Take a wooden spoon and gently mash the larger tomatoes to help break them down. You could also do this with a large fork or a potato masher. Allow the sauce to continue simmering for 30-40 minutes over low heat. Add the basil into the sauce around the last 15 minutes. Taste and adjust with additional salt as desired. For a looser sauce, cook 30 minutes for a more concentrated flavor, let it cook for 40 minutes. I prefer it at the 40-minute mark.
- STORING: Use the sauce immediately with prepared pasta or allow for it to come to room temperature before storing in containers. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.
- for vegan/vegetarian: omit the fish sauce and swap it with a teaspoon of mushroom powder or better than bouillon mushroom base to produce the same umami flavor. If you don't have either you can simply omit it from the recipe but it does taste better with it!