Spaghetti all’Assassina

About a year ago, my Italian cooking friend Frank whose blog is Memorie di Angelina, published a recipe on spaghetti all’assassina. I commented that I was so intrigued with this unique pasta recipe, and couldn’t wait to make it! Then, I forgot about it.

Recently, on the NYTimes.com website, I came across this pasta with the funny name by Anna Francese Gass. The recipe is quite similar to that of Frank’s on his blog.

This dish, basically assassin’s pasta, is common on menus in Bari, Italy. There are a couple versions of its origin story. According to some, a distracted chef accidentally left his pasta cooking until the sauce burned, while others attribute the recipe title to the dish’s killer spiciness.

Why this pasta is unique is that the spaghetti is cooked in the sauce in a skillet on the stove. It isn’t boiled first. A large cast-iron skillet is recommended; a non-stick pan will not create the charred saucy bits. Ideally you want the pasta to fit in the base of the skillet.

If you want to watch a video, here is a youtube video from Vincenzo’s Plate, another Italian blog I follow. He topped his with stracciatella, which sounds absolutely divine. Some whipped ricotta sounds good, too, but by itself this assassin’s pasta is out-of-this-world wonderful.

Spaghetti all’Assassina

2 1/2 cups jarred or homemade tomato sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red-pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 pound (uncooked) spaghetti

In a medium saucepan, heat the tomato sauce with 3 1/2 cups water over medium heat. Stir to combine and bring the tomato broth to a simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a 12- to 14-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium. Add red-pepper flakes and garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring, until garlic is just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, press it into the pan to spread it out, and cook until it begins to melt and toast.

Using a ladle or big spoon, add about 1/2 cup of the warm tomato broth to the pan and swirl to combine with the other ingredients. Carefully place the spaghetti into the pan on top of the sauce. Ladle 1 cup of the tomato broth on top of the pasta. Using a fork, move the spaghetti strands until evenly coated, pressing the spaghetti to distribute the broth until it evenly coats the pasta.

Allow the pasta to cook for 3 minutes. Once the broth is absorbed, add 1 1/2 cups tomato broth and repeat the process. As the pasta softens, move the strands out so they begin to create an even layer in the skillet.

Add another 1 1/2 cups broth. Rearrange the pasta again so it’s in an even layer and covered in liquid, and cook another 3 minutes.

At the 9-minute mark, the pasta should begin to crackle and sizzle. Gently lift the pasta and peek underneath it. There should be crispy, almost burnt pieces. If so, flip the pasta. If not, increase heat a bit until it crisps, then flip and continue.

Once the pasta is flipped, add the remaining broth. At this point, the pasta should be soft enough to easily move in the pan. Continue cooking until broth is absorbed and pasta is cooked through but still al dente. (If your pasta is still on the firmer side, you can add a splash of water, if needed, and cook until al dente.)

Divide among bowls. Serve immediately.

This pasta dish is really incredible. Even though the spaghetti looks dry, the noodles themselves and tender and flavorful. One thing I’m very sure of is that exact measurements aren’t necessary. Just follow the directions.

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

50 Comments

  1. Bernadette June 6, 2024 at 7:32 AM - Reply

    I read about this recipe and it does look intriguing. I am happy that you posted it. I like to try new recipes from a trusted source like you.

  2. Frank Fariello June 6, 2024 at 7:44 AM - Reply

    Thanks for the shout out, Mimi! Looks like you knocked it out of the park. Reminds me that I haven’t made this in quite a long time. Now I’m hungry!

    • Chef Mimi June 6, 2024 at 6:47 PM - Reply

      It was so good. Even better than what I expected!

  3. beth June 6, 2024 at 8:41 AM - Reply

    yummmmmmmmm! well done, chef mimi!

    • Chef Mimi June 6, 2024 at 6:47 PM - Reply

      Thank you Beth!

  4. sherry June 6, 2024 at 2:27 PM - Reply

    Such an interesting method to cook pasta! Sounds very flavoursome.

    • Chef Mimi June 6, 2024 at 6:47 PM - Reply

      I really wish we knew how this dish came about! It’s a fascinating way to cook pasta !

  5. Mary June 6, 2024 at 4:46 PM - Reply

    I’m going to enjoy this Pasta dish. Already lots of flavour but could have almost anything added to change the flavour profile.
    Thanks Mimi, great find!!
    Mary :))

    • Chef Mimi June 6, 2024 at 6:48 PM - Reply

      I personally wouldn’t change a thing! It was just perfect.

  6. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen June 6, 2024 at 5:40 PM - Reply

    Perfect for a rainy spring night! Yum!

    • Chef Mimi June 6, 2024 at 6:48 PM - Reply

      Definitely! I hope you try it – it’s pretty wonderful!

      • Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen June 7, 2024 at 5:01 AM

        I’m definitely going to give it a try! Such a unique cooking method, who could resist?

      • Chef Mimi June 7, 2024 at 11:23 AM

        Exactly. I wish I knew how this “mistake” came about!

      • Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen June 7, 2024 at 11:49 AM

        I suspect the neglected pot on the stove might be the reason!

      • Chef Mimi June 9, 2024 at 6:21 PM

        Definitely. But why are the uncooked noodles in the skillet first?!!

  7. Travel Gourmet June 7, 2024 at 1:32 AM - Reply

    What an interesting recipe. Sounds fabulous.

    • Chef Mimi June 7, 2024 at 11:22 AM - Reply

      It’s so good. The spaghetti is so flavorful after absorbing the sauce!

  8. Tandy | Lavender and Lime June 7, 2024 at 2:07 AM - Reply

    This looks so good! I also saw this on Frank’s blog and thought I should make it. Now I know I must do so :)

    • Chef Mimi June 7, 2024 at 11:23 AM - Reply

      It’s really good. You won’t be disappointed!

  9. paulineandneil3147 June 8, 2024 at 12:42 AM - Reply

    This looks like a risk free method for cooking spaghetti, even though it sounds like it originated with a mistake, and it’s a one pot dinner, win win. I just know this would be delicious. I found a frozen jar of my homemade tomato sauce this morning, now I know what to do with it.

    • Chef Mimi June 9, 2024 at 6:20 PM - Reply

      That’s perfect! Hope you like it as much as we did!

  10. Jeff the Chef June 8, 2024 at 10:13 AM - Reply

    This sounds like something I would love. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Chef Mimi June 9, 2024 at 6:20 PM - Reply

      Well we sure loved it. And it was even better than I thought it would be!

  11. Ann Coleman June 8, 2024 at 11:32 AM - Reply

    I might have to dial back the spice a bit, but this still sounds delicious!

    • Chef Mimi June 9, 2024 at 6:19 PM - Reply

      Right. And I added more! But we like spicy.

  12. Darlene June 8, 2024 at 3:41 PM - Reply

    This looks so good!! I will be trying it.

    • Chef Mimi June 9, 2024 at 6:19 PM - Reply

      We though it was incredibly good!

  13. Marcelle June 9, 2024 at 10:04 AM - Reply

    I have never heard of this pasta dish, but like you now I’m excited to try it! This will make our summer menu, for sure. It looks good and spicy too! Thanks for sharing the recipe, Chef Mimi :0)

    • Chef Mimi June 9, 2024 at 6:19 PM - Reply

      I added more cayenne pepper, but we do love spicy!

  14. Ronit Penso Tasty Eats June 9, 2024 at 11:25 AM - Reply

    Very intriguing way of cooking spaghetti! I’m sure it all started with a preoccupied cook, just like burnt butter sauces, and other tasty accidents! :)

    • Chef Mimi June 9, 2024 at 6:18 PM - Reply

      Maybe. But the uncooked pasta in the skillet is intriguing!

  15. Ben | Havocinthekitchen June 9, 2024 at 7:21 PM - Reply

    Yes, pasta all’Assassina is one of recipes from Frank’s blog I’ve been planning to make! It truly is unique and intriguing.

    • Chef Mimi June 10, 2024 at 7:04 AM - Reply

      You will be so happy you tried it! It’s incredible!

  16. Elena Bourke June 9, 2024 at 9:55 PM - Reply

    How fun! I never would have thought to completely cook pasta in sauce.

    • Chef Mimi June 10, 2024 at 7:04 AM - Reply

      Exactly. But it turns out so good!

  17. angiesrecipes June 9, 2024 at 10:24 PM - Reply

    I believe that cooking pasta directly with the sauce makes them so much more flavourful and tastier!

    • Chef Mimi June 10, 2024 at 7:05 AM - Reply

      The sauce ends up in the pasta, which is so different than adding sauce to cooked pasta. It’s wonderful!

  18. cookingwithauntjuju.com June 10, 2024 at 8:25 AM - Reply

    Surprise – a sauce I haven’t made! I love the whole recipe and even the fact that you made your own spaghetti sauce and canned it too? I use to can a lot when I had my monstrous garden but just the tomatoes and never made my own sauce :)

    • Chef Mimi June 11, 2024 at 9:12 AM - Reply

      Well I didn’t can, I froze in huge jars! Canning just gets annoying to me. I’m not that patient. It’s a real process to puree all of the tomatoes, too, but for some reason I don’t mind!

      • cookingwithauntjuju.com June 11, 2024 at 2:15 PM

        My two freezers would never hold all the tomatoes I canned to use for different reasons. My freezer was used for items I couldn’t can. Canning is so easy – I only can my Grandma’s applesauce now…

      • Chef Mimi June 11, 2024 at 2:32 PM

        I’ll have to try just canning whole tomatoes some time!

  19. Anonymous June 10, 2024 at 2:59 PM - Reply

    Love the fact you can put everything in one pot – making cleanup a snap. We are all about this! Looks so rich and delicious. Must give this spaghetti allassassina a try soon.

    • Healthy World Cuisine June 10, 2024 at 3:01 PM - Reply

      Hiya Mimi! This is Healthy World Cuisine – sorry forgot to fill in the details.

    • Chef Mimi June 11, 2024 at 9:12 AM - Reply

      I hope you do. It’s amazingly wonderful!

  20. David @ Spicedblog June 12, 2024 at 5:44 AM - Reply

    I remember reading about this on Frank’s site…and like you I thought, “I should make that!!” Then I promptly forgot about it. I absolutely need to make this soon. The flavors are right up my alley, and it’s certainly a unique recipe.

    • Chef Mimi June 12, 2024 at 7:08 AM - Reply

      You really need to make it because it’s so so good. Interesting cooking technique as well!

  21. David Scott Allen June 15, 2024 at 12:39 PM - Reply

    Mimi, I hope this comment comes through. I’ve tried twice now, and I’m not sure what’s going on. Usually if I change browsers, I can comment on your posts…

    Anyway, when Frank posted this, I thought I should make it. But I never did… So, with your post, we added it to our menu for last week and it was fantastic! Such a different flavor when you come short of burning the sauce and pasta. Exquisite!

    • Chef Mimi June 15, 2024 at 2:28 PM - Reply

      I think I’ve read this comment before! I wish I could fix whatever isn’t working. Sorry! Definitely make this!!!

  22. nancyc June 16, 2024 at 8:35 AM - Reply

    I love spaghetti and this sauce sounds really good! :)

    • Chef Mimi June 16, 2024 at 8:49 AM - Reply

      And instead of sauced noodles, the noodle themselves are saucy!

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