What Is Arrabbiata Sauce and Why Is It Spicy?

My maternal grandmother was full-blooded Italian, so I grew up eating a lot of homemade pasta sauce. However, I never encountered arrabbiata sauce until much later in life and, once I did, my mind was blown. I love my dearly departed grandmother to pieces and her sauce was divine, but I can’t believe I was deprived of this delicious spicy sauce! This led me to investigate what arrabbiata sauce is all about and how I can incorporate it more into my diet.

What is arrabbiata sauce?

Perhaps I didn’t know about the arrabbiata sauce sooner because it seems to be a relatively new creation; my grandmother was an old-fashioned lady who stuck to the classics. The sauce hails from the Lazio region of central Italy and is particularly popular in Rome. 

The word arrabbiata is “angry” in Italian and references the chili peppers that give the sauce its distinctive flavor. The sauce uses a similar tomato base found in marinara sauce but it’s loaded with cayenne chili peppers, often in the form of dried red pepper flakes that you might sprinkle on your pizza.

During the 1960s and 1970s, spicy food was popular in Roman cuisine with arrabbiata leading the charge. It was even immortalized in the seminal 1973 Italian film La Grande Bouffe, in which Marcello Mastroianni and his comrades gather together to eat themselves to death.

How spicy is arrabbiata sauce?

If you’re like my full Irish father, then arrabbiata sauce is like eating a bowl of hot lava. But if you are a little spice freak like Sporked writer Jordan Myrick, arrabbiata may be on the tamer side. It all comes down to personal tolerance.

My opinion is that arrabbiata has a far lighter spice level than most traditional hot sauces like Frank’s Red Hot or Cholula. That’s because the chili is not the focal point and is often dampened by the natural acids and sugars of the tomatoes, as well as aromatics like basil and oregano. It’s got a kick to it, but it won’t leave you dripping snot into your spaghetti.

Is arrabbiata sauce vegetarian? Is arrabbiata sauce vegan?

Every brand of arrabbiata sauce is going to be different, so here’s your usual reminder to check your labels. However, traditional arrabbiata sauce is vegan as it tends to eschew parmesan or pecorino romano in the recipe. I’ve taken a look at the ingredients for a lot of different arrabbiata brands and have yet to see cheese in the ingredients, so vegans, you’re good to go.

What is arrabbiata sauce used for?

Arrabbiata sauce is traditionally used on pasta, specifically spaghetti or penne. But it really could be used as a replacement for marinara sauce in any dish. Use it on homemade pizza and lasagna. Slop it onto a meatball sub. You can also dip mozzarella sticks in it. 

Try swapping it for some of your standby sauces at your next pasta night. You won’t be disappointed.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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