Classic southern Italian dish. Rich and fiery. It’s quick to make and tastes so much better than the stuff from the jar. Note also that despite what non-Italians seem to think, there is no cream in this dish. It’s rich enough with the oil and garlic. Although the quantities of these seem large, they really make the sauce and if you cut down, you only have a wishy-washy tomato sauce. You’ll notice that there seems to be very little sauce for the quantity of pasta but this is typical of Italian pasta sauces: the idea is to generously coat the pasta, not have the pasta swimming in a pool of sauce. This recipe scales easily but be careful with the bird’s eye chillies: they vary in heat and their effect is not always proportional to their amount. You can always adjust the amount next time if you don’t have enough heat, but your dinner guests may never forgive you if you burn the mouth out of them!
Note: You can make a non-vegetarian variation by adding some fried bacon strips or similar at the very end.
Makes: 4 mains, 6 starters
Preparation: 10 mins
Cooking: about 30 mins
Bird’s eye chillies (!!!)
Good olive oil
Chop the onions finely. Chop the garlic very finely or use a garlic crusher. Break up the chillies.
Pour the olive oil into a medium saucepan and place over a medium heat. There should be enough oil to comfortably cover the bottom of the pan. Don’t be tempted into using too small a pan as the sauce can spit a bit later. Generally, the saucepan should not get more than a quarter full when making the sauce.
When the oil starts to get hot, which you can tell by the fact that it becomes fragrant, add the onions and chillies, followed a minute or so later by the garlic. Fry until the onions are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the passata, mix and bring to the point of boiling. Then turn down the heat very low and let the sauce simmer gently uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Place a large pot containing 5 litres of salted water onto a high heat. When boiling add the penne. Reduce the heat a little but ensure that the pot is still boiling. The time depends on the pasta and you should refer to the instructions with the pack, but 10 minutes is a good guideline to start testing for dried pasta and about 4 minutes for fresh pasta.
When the pasta is done al dente, drain and return to the pot. Add the sauce, which by now should be lovely and thick, since most of the water will have evaporated, and mix well.
Serve immediately in warmed shallow bowls. Pasta doesn’t wait!