3 to 4 cups of sauce, enough to dress 1 pound of pasta
Salsa arrabbiata —literally, “angry” sauce—is a tomato-based pasta sauce made in countless versions in Italy, sometimes with meat, sometimes without, but always with some kind of hot pepper. I like bits of meat in my sauce, either thick bacon or, even better, prosciutto. The heat here comes from small whole pickled peppers, packed in jars of vinegar, labeled peperoncini or peperoncino (the same term I use for red pepper flakes). Though these are milder than pickled “cherry” peppers,” they provide plenty of spice—especially peperoncini Toscano, which I hope you can find. The sauce should have a pleasing play of textures as well as tastes, providing nice and distinctive bites of all the ingredients. Cut the onions, peperoncini, and the prosciutto (or bacon) thick enough so that they don’t get lost, or lose their shape in the tomato sauce.
- 3 cups (one 28-ounce can) canned San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1-1/2 cups sliced onions, 1/-4 thick “half moons”
- 1 cup (about 6 ounces) strips of prosciutto or thick bacon cut in 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup Tuscan-style peperoncini in vinegar, drained, seeded and sliced in strips (from about 8-10 whole pickled peppers), or more, to taste
- Hot water from the pasta cooking pot
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste
Dump the tomatoes and juices into a large bowl and squeeze the tomatoes into small chunks with your hands.
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, toss in the onion slices and the prosciutto or bacon strips, and set over medium-high heat. Stir well, toss in the bay leaves and cook, stirring and shaking the pan occasionally. If using bacon, start over medium heat and turn it up as the bacon releases its fat.
After 5 minutes or so, when the onions have softened, drop the strips of peperoncino into a clear part of the skillet and toast them in the hot spot for a minute. Pour the crushed tomatoes into the pan; rinse out the tomato can and bowl with 1 cup of pasta cooking water, and pour it into the skillet too. Add the salt, stir well, and rapidly bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat so it is bubbling steadily.
Cook at a gentle boil for 8 to 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced by a third or so. The onions and peppers should be cooked through but still retain their shape and texture to the bite.
Remove bay leaves, then toss and cook the pasta with salsa arrabbiata together. Remove the skillet from the heat and toss in the cheese just before serving.