Spaghetti Arrabbiata Sauce (Spicy Italian Tomato Sauce)

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Jump to RecipePlate with spaghetti arrabbiata topped with basil.

One of my favorite Italian sauces is an arrabbiata sauce. To be honest, most of the time I just buy it in the jar but when I have a little extra time I love to make my own.

Making your own arrabbiata sauce lets you really control the flavor and the spice level to make it perfect for you.

What is the difference between arrabbiata sauce and spaghetti sauce?

When looking at arrabbiata sauce it looks very similar to your classic spaghetti or marinara sauce. The main different is the spice. Arrabbiata is made with peppers or red chili flakes to had a kick. I have also found there is typically more garlic in arrabbiata sauce as well.

Overall, arrabbiata is a spicy tomato sauce with a little more flavor and spaghetti sauce is more of a traditional tomato sauce.

What Peppers Should You Use for Arrabbiata Sauce?

So how do you get that spice we are looking for in an arrabbiata sauce? It is the addition of pepper or red chili flakes that gives this sauce its spicy flavor. For this recipe I will be using red chili flakes. They are much easier to find and mush easier to control the spice levels. With chili flakes you can add a little at a time and adjust it to the perfect heat for you. Also with the small flakes the spice distributes very well throughout the sauce.

My favorite red chili flakes are from Frontier or Spice House.

A fork in a bowl of spaghetti arrabbiata.

Tips for Making the Best Arrabbiata Sauce

When making arrabbiata sauce there are a few things to remember to make the best sauce you can.

  • Taste and adjust flavor. When you are making the sauce make sure to taste along the way to see if you need to add more spice or salt. Also this helps you test the consistency of the sauce to know if you need to cook it down more. Remember, the longer it cooks the more the chili flakes will season the sauce so even if it’s not spicy right at the start it may get spicier the longer it simmers.
  • Cook long enough to break down tomatoes. As far as sauce goes, this is a fairly easy pasta sauce recipe to make. This recipe uses whole tomatoes so it takes a little bit for them to break down into the sauce. While it is cooking make sure to breakup the tomatoes with a spoon to help the tomatoes meld into the sauce. The longer they simmer the more they will breakdown and thicken up.
  • Use San Marzano tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are an Italian plum tomato that has the perfect tomato sauce flavor. They are fairly easy to come by at the grocery store so try your best to use these tomatoes if you can. A can of good quality tomatoes will really make the difference in this recipe.
  • Feel free to mix up the amounts. I like to use plenty of garlic in this recipe but if you don't like a strong garlic flavor you can use half the amount. Same goes with the chili flakes. If you are more sensitive to spicy food you can reduce the amount of red chili flakes. You can always add more but you can't take that heat out once it's incorporated.

The Best Pasta for Arrabbiata Sauce

This recipe is obviously for a spaghetti arrabbiata so spaghetti is my pasta of choice. I love to use De Cecco, Rummo, or make my own fresh pasta.

With that said you could also use any pasta shape such as fettuccine, rigatoni, or penne pasta with this sauce.

I even love adding arrabbiata to my pizza or in a baked dish such as eggplant parmesan.

What to Serve with Spaghetti Arrabbiata

This classic Italian pasta dish can be served along side some garlic bread or a light salad. If you are looking to bulk up the meal you could even add some sautéed shrimp on top for some extra protein. This is such a quick weeknight dinner so you can really add as much or as little to the meal as you prefer.

How to store extra sauce

You can store arrabbiata sauce in an airtight container in your fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you have leftover spaghetti arrabbiata that has already been tossed with the pasta, just add it to an airtight container in the fridge and try to enjoy within 3 days. When reheating you may need to add a splash of water as the pasta tends to dry out a bit when sitting in the fridge.

Other Pasta Recipes

If you like this spaghetti arrabbiata recipe you might like some of these other pasta dishes.

Spaghetti Arrabbiata Sauce (Spicy Italian Tomato Sauce)

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  • 12oz dry spaghetti
  • parmesan cheese, for serving

Arriabatta Sauce

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes*
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28oz) can San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper


  1. Boil a large pot of water and cook pasta according to package instructions.
  2. In a large saucepan or large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes and shallot. Cook for 2-3 minutes on until shallots are softened. Add in garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  3. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan. Bring to a simmer and let those cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes. Using the back of your spoon break up the tomatoes as they are cooking down to help them incorporate into the sauce. Cook until some of the water has evaporated and you end up with a rich tomato sauce.
  4. Stir in basil, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust as needed.
  5. Top with a little bit of parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil before serving.


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