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.
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.
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- 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.
- 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.
- Heat a large pan to a touch higher than medium heat and add ½ cup of olive oil and 7 cloves of garlic. Cook the garlic until it is deeply golden, then remove it and set aside.
- Add the chopped chili peppers and cook for another 30 seconds.
- 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.
- Add 1 pound of spaghetti and spread it out into the pan. Note: It is recommended to not use bronze extruded pasta for spaghetti all'assassina as it releases too much starch and can interfere with the burning of the pasta. More on that below.
- Allow the pasta to brown and char a little (about 2-3 minutes), then add a ladle or 2 of the hot broth.
- 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.
- Repeat the process until the spaghetti is cooked and very charred. The entire process can take anywhere from 15-18 minutes.
- 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. Enjoy!
Top tips for spaghetti all'assassina
- 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.
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.
- Spicy pepper bucatini - long hot peppers, cubanelles, and bell peppers with tomato and a touch of anchovy.
- Spaghetti arrabbiata - garlicky marinara with hot cherry peppers and fresh basil.
- Shrimp fra diavolo - linguine tossed with shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce.
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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
- ½ 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
- 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!
- 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.