Spaghetti all’assassina, or assassin’s pasta, is unlike any pasta you’ve ever had. Spaghetti is cooked in a garlicky, spicy tomato-based broth until charred and just a little crisp making this an unexpected delight for the senses.

Hands holding black plate of assassin's pasta.

Spaghetti all’assassina is a pasta dish that hails from Puglia, Bari to be exact, and is quite unconventional when it comes to pasta.

The pasta is not boiled, rather it’s cooked in a hot pan.  A little liquid, a flavorful tomato broth to be exact, is added to the pan a bit at a time which allows the pasta to char and crisp up every so slightly.

There are varying stories of how this pasta got its name; some believe it’s the result of a patron telling the chef he “killed it!”, meaning the dish was a success.

Some believe it was named for the risottatura method in which it’s cooked, and others believe the spice level inspired the name.

No matter the origin, I’m thankful assassin’s pasta exists as it’s an absolute delight for the senses and is easily one of the tastiest pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten.

Recipe Ingredients

All ingredients for this recipe are shown in the pic below and special notes are made in this bulleted list to assist you.

  • Passata – Italian brands will call this ingredient passata while it will often be labeled as tomato puree by American brands. They are both the same thing. The ingredient is simply pureed and sieved tomatoes that have a smooth consistency that is thicker than crushed tomatoes but not as thick as tomato paste.
  • Cherry Peppers – Though this dish is almost always made with Calabrian chilis, we actually used both peppers in our Assassin’s pasta YouTube video, the cherry peppers are great because they add more visual bulk to the dish. Cherry peppers are about 4-5000 on the Scoville scale while Calabrian peppers are a bit higher and therefore hotter.
  • Spaghetti – This is one of the few dishes, in fact probably the only one, that non-bronze extruded pasta is recommended. The theory goes, that this type of less expensive and lower quality pasta produces less starch for the frying process. We’ve made spaghetti all’assassina with both types and can’t really tell the difference, though.

Want to learn more about Italian condiments? If you love spicy food and other Italian condiments as much as we do, you will probably want to listen to The Sip and Feast podcast episode 15 – Top Italian Condiments.

Ingredients shown: passata, sugar, tomato paste, cherry peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spaghetti.

How to make it

Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.

  1. Remove the seeds and stems from 4 large hot cherry peppers and give them a rough chop.  Alternatively, you can use whole Calabrian chilis, chili paste, or any hot red pepper of your choosing (Photo #1)
Spaghetti all'assassina recipe process shot collage group number one.
  1. Add 20 ounces of water, 14 ounces of passata (tomato puree), 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 4 tablespoons of tomato paste to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer.  Season with salt to taste (Photo #2).
  2. Heat a large pan to a touch higher than medium heat and add 1/2 cup of olive oil and 7 cloves of garlic. Cook the garlic until it is deeply golden, then remove it and set aside (Photo #3).
Recipe process shot collage group number two.
  1. Add the chopped chili peppers and cook for another 30 seconds (Photo #4).
  2. Add 1 cup of straight passata and spread it out in the pan.  Cook the passata for 1-2 minutes or until it thickens slightly (Photo #5).
Recipe process shot collage group number three.
  1. Add 1 pound of spaghetti and spread it out into the pan (Photo #6).
  2. Allow the pasta to brown and char a little (about 2-3 minutes), then add a ladle or 2 of the hot broth (Photo #7).  
Recipe process shot collage group number four.
  1. Move the pasta around in the pan and allow it to continue to darken.  Once the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle and repeat the process (Photo #8).
  2. Repeat the process until the spaghetti is cooked and very charred.  The entire process can take anywhere from 15-18 minutes (Photo #9).
Recipe process shot collage group number five.
  1. The final product will be dark red with bits of burnt pieces.  Taste test the pasta and adjust salt, pepper, or spice.  Serve with grated cheese or toasted breadcrumbs (Photo #10).  Enjoy!
Tongs holding spaghetti all'assassina over cast iron pan.

Top Tips

  • Tomato broth. I’ve had good results with both a heavy tomato paste flavored liquid or mostly passata.  The choice is yours but the results are fairly similar.  For a full tomato paste broth, just mix 1 6-ounce can of paste with enough water to thin it out.  Adjust the sugar level to your liking.  You might not need all of the broth.  You want a good char with little sauce left on the finished dish.
  • The pan. Traditionally, assassin’s pasta is made in a cast iron pan and that is the type of pan I’ve used here in my process.  If you don’t own a cast iron pan, you will still be able to get good results, so don’t let that deter you.  Just be sure to use a pan that’s large enough to accommodate the pasta.  I recommend a 14-inch pan.  The pasta needs enough surface area so that it’s constantly in contact with the bottom of the pan which will allow for proper charring. If you don’t have a large enough pan, you may wish to consider halving the recipe to allow for proper cooking.
  • Pasta. It is typically not recommended to use bronze extruded pasta for spaghetti all’assassina since the starch level can interfere with the charring.  In this instance, you’re better off foregoing the premium brand of pasta.
  • Patience.  The method in which this pasta is cooked requires a bit of patience since you’ll need to constantly monitor and add a ladle of liquid, move and flip the spaghetti, etc.
  • Spice level. Assassin’s spaghetti is meant to be a bit spicy.  I used jarred hot cherry peppers but you can also use chopped whole Calabrian chilis, Calabrian chili paste, or any other hot red pepper you’d like.  
Assassin's pasta in large cast iron pan on walnut cutting board.

More spicy pasta recipes

If you’re as big a fan of heat as I am, I think you’ll love these other spicy pasta recipes.

If you’ve enjoyed this spaghetti all’assassina recipe or any recipe on this site, give it a 5-star rating and leave a review.

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Spaghetti all’Assassina (Assassin’s Spaghetti)

4.86 from 7 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 4
Spaghetti all'assassina is a spicy pasta that's made by cooking the pasta with tomato broth in a pan until charred and slightly crispy yielding a pasta that's as rich in texture as it is in flavor.

Ingredients 

For the red broth

  • 20 ounces water
  • 14 ounces passata (tomato puree)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • salt to taste

For the spaghetti

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 7 cloves garlic
  • 4 large red cherry peppers seeds and stems removed, chopped, see notes
  • 1 cup passata (tomato puree)
  • 1 pound non-premium spaghetti see notes below
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions 

  • Bring to a boil the broth ingredients then turn down to a simmer. Season with salt to taste.

For the spaghetti

  • Heat a large pan to a touch higher than medium heat and add the olive oil and the garlic. Cook the garlic until it is deeply golden then remove it. Add the chili peppers and cook for another 30 seconds.
  • Add 1 cup of the passata and spread it out in the pan. Cook the passata for 1-2 minutes or until it thickens slightly.
  • Add the pasta and spread it out into the pan. Let it start to brown (about 1-2 minutes) then add a ladle of the hot broth.
  • Move the spaghetti around the pan and let it darken. Once the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle and repeat the process until the spaghetti is cooked and very charred.
  • The final product will be dark red with bits of burnt pieces. Serve with grated cheese or toasted breadcrumbs. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Skip the premium bronze extruded pasta for this dish.  It is traditionally made with cheaper brands.
  • The charring action without burning is the most important part of this dish.  A large cast iron pan works well.  If you don’t have a 14-inch pan it is recommended to halve the recipe to get enough char on the pasta. 
  • Red cherry peppers or Calabrian chili paste both work well, but any spicy pepper would be great.
  • Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days in the fridge and can be reheated on the stovetop or microwave.

Nutrition

Calories: 674kcal | Carbohydrates: 97.4g | Protein: 16.6g | Fat: 27.6g | Saturated Fat: 3.7g | Sodium: 440mg | Potassium: 616mg | Sugar: 10.8g | Calcium: 32mg | Iron: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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16 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Great recipe! Quick question, what happens to the 7 garlic cloves after sautéed and removed? Do you just discard them or return to the pan at some point?

  2. 5 stars
    Yum! It takes patience but it was fun and worth it. Love how you explain everything so well in your videos .

  3. 5 stars
    Excellent, excellent!!!, and fun to make too. Brings me back to Sunday night leftovers when my mother would reheat the leftover pasta from our Sunday pasta dinners, (but even better). The hot peppers are a great addition. Thanks for bringing me back to my childhood days Jim!

  4. 5 stars
    My mom used to make a casserole using Franco American Spaghetti. Same consistency without the flavor. But we always fought over who got the crunchy pieces. This was that and everything more. And not only was this delicious, but I could see serving it as a side, or even as a bed for a protein. Easily a 10 out of 10 Foh-get-about-its!

  5. Ugh…I’m going to have to buy, yet another, kitchen tool, i.e 14 inch skillet because I want to try this so bad! Looks so good! Any protein recommendations to add? Thank you!

    1. Hi Meghan, Hope you enjoy this one! I wouldn’t add any protein to this particular pasta, however, you could serve this as a precursor or alongside any protein you’d like.

  6. 4 stars
    This is an amazing dish! I will make it again but will need to make some adjustments. I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet and so had to break the spaghetti in half to get it in the pan, which I’d rather not have to do. I have a 14-inch stainless steel skillet, but I’m hesitant to use that, as I’m afraid my spaghetti will burn too much. Also, when I added the tomato broth to the garlicky pepper oil, it EXPLODED all over the stove and floor and parts nearby! I quickly put a spatter screen on the skillet, but I wasn’t quick enough. Tomato products spatter like crazy, especially in hot oil and a shallow skillet. Next time, I’ll have the spatter screen RIGHT THERE and will take the pan off the heat for a minute or two before I add the first round of tomato broth. The dish tasted wonderful, though, and I’m always happy to learn a new pasta dish. Thank you, Jim!

    1. Hi Patressa, thanks for the comment. Yes, I recommend using a 14 inch pan to make the dish so there’s ample room for the pasta and no need to break it in half. And yes, this is a good time to use the spatter screen. Happy to hear you enjoyed it in spite of these things though!

  7. Happiest of new years Jim to you and your family. Though your directions with photos corresponding to directions is always so helpful will you be making a video of this recipe? I think we’d all benefit from the video tutorial
    Thank you
    Robyn

    1. Hi Robyn, thanks for the comment, and appreciate the feedback. Yes, I’ll have a video up for this at some point. I hope sooner rather than later.