Spaghetti all’assassina, also known as spaghetti bruciati (burnt spaghetti), is a traditional recipe from Bari in Puglia. It is simply raw spaghetti cooked in a tomato passata (purée) broth using a method known as ‘risottata’. In other words, risotto style. The result is slightly burnt, crispy caramalized spaghetti with an intense spicy tomato flavour. It’s difficult to put into words how amazing this assassin’s spaghetti recipe is. You’ll have to try it to understand!
A cult recipe from Puglia.
In the Southern Italian city of Bari, spaghetti all’assassina is practically a cult recipe. It ‘s even the title of one of the Lolita Lobosco detective novels written by Garbriella Genisi, a writer from Bari. The novels have recently been adapted into an Italian TV series! Spaghetti all’assassina is the title of the third episode!
In Bari, they also have an organization called L’accademia dell’assassina (the academy of assasin’s spaghetti) to protect and promote the authentic recipe!
Why is it called assassin’s spaghetti?
The word ‘assassina’ means assassin or killer in English. However, the name of this killer pasta doesn’t refer to a criminal. It is most probably used as a colloquial way to say ‘impressive’, a bit like saying ‘you killed it’ to someone who’s done something really well! Or, the name refers to the fact that this dish can be quite spicy!
Spaghetti all’assassina history.
According to a few Italian articles I read, spaghetti all’assassina was the invention of Enzo Francavilla, a chef from Foggia. At the time, he had just opened his own restaurant in Bari. The restaurant was called Al Sorso Preferito and still exists today.
As recounted by Chef Francavilla in an interview published in 2018; one day in 1967, two Northern Italians came into the restaurant asking for a substantial and tasty pasta dish.
So, he invented a plate of spaghetti with a tomato sauce and a generous dose of peperoncino, prepared directly in an iron pan. After the customers had finished, chef Francavilla asked them if they had liked it. One said it was very good indeed and added that he (the chef) was a killer! And apparently that’s when and how this spaghetti all’assassina got its name!
There are other theories about the origin of assassin’s spaghetti. For example, Tik Tok’s pasta queen claims it was invented by mistake by a chef who was distracted by a beautiful woman! However, I haven’t come across that theory in any of the Italian language articles I’ve read about this recipe.
This isn’t the only popular pasta recipe that started as a chef’s invention. The stories behind spaghetti alla Nerano and pasta puttanesca are similar.
Why is spaghetti all’assassina different to other tomato spaghetti recipes?
As you may have gleaned from what I wrote above, spaghetti all’assassina is made in a unique way. The pasta cooks in the sauce , not in boiling salted water. Italians call this method ‘risottata’, meaning risotto style. There are other pasta dishes made risotto style.
But, this recipe is a little different because the spaghetti caramelizes in a small quantity of tomato passata before the rest of the sauce is added a little at a time until the pasta is al dente.
The other two features that make this recipe unique is that, according to the Academy of Spaghetti all’Assassina, the pan should be iron. They also recommend not using bronze extruded pasta as this apparently releases more starch and interferes with the browning of the spaghetti.
I used a non-stick iron skillet and bronze extruded spaghetti from Gragnano made by Pasta Di Martino. The latter because I don’t like pasta made with Teflon dies.
What are the ingredients for spaghetti all’assassina?
You need very few ingredients to make this assassin’s spaghetti. In fact, it’s really just a spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce. So, the ingredients are fine spaghetti or vermicelli, tomato passata/purée (homemade or store-bought), garlic, tomato paste/concentrate, red chilli pepper (peperoncino), sugar (optional) and olive oil.
Two thirds of the tomato passata need diluting with water, although homemade may need less than store-bought. Of the 2 garlic cloves, one remains whole, and the other is chopped and the peperoncino can be fresh or dried flakes.
How to make Puglia’s killer spaghetti
The first step is to make a tomato broth using 2/3 of the passata, diluting it with water (1:1) and adding in the tomato paste and some salt. Bring this to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer. This broth needs to be hot when you add it to the spaghetti, otherwise you will lower the cooking temperature for the pasta.
The second step is to sauté the garlic and red chilli pepper in olive oil in an iron pan. Then add the undiluted one third of passata. This is likely to spit quite a bit so be careful you don’t burn yourself. Spread the passata over the pan and once it has reduced and thickened add the spaghetti. You can add some sugar to temper the acidity of the tomatoes.
How to crisp the spaghetti.
Wait for the underside of the spaghetti to start caramelizing before turning it over. You have to do this carefully, a little at a time, using a spatula. Let the other side of the spaghetti start to crisp a little and then pour in a ladle of the hot tomato broth. It’s better not to pour it over the spaghetti but to add it to the sides of the pan so the pasta will stay a little crispy.
At this point the spaghetti will start to soften enough that you can stir it gently with a wooden spoon, move any pasta strands that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan and allow the tomato broth to spread and reduce. Keep repeating this step until the spaghetti is al dente. If you run out of tomato broth, you can add a little water.
Cherry tomatoes are optional!
I added cherry tomatoes which I had first sautéed in the iron pan before starting on the pasta. I removed them from the pan and then just added them back when my spaghetti all’assassina was ready. However, the addition of cherry tomatoes isn’t in the original recipe.
Variations of spaghetti all’assassina.
Like with many Italian recipes, traditionalists would never want to change the original killer spaghetti recipe. However, a number of chefs in Bari and even Naples are making variations. There’s an assassina di rape, made with broccoli rabe and stracciatella cheese, as well as an assassina di mare with squid and prawns and another with fried nolche olives (a sweet table olive).
I like the idea of the stracciatella cheese and want to try that next time!
Pin for later.
Let me know what you think.
Puglia’s killer spaghetti may sound challenging to make, but mine turned out pretty amazing and I’d never made it before! So, I’m absolutely sure yours will too! Plus, you’ll definitely love this recipe as much as I do. I reheated the leftovers the next day in my cast iron pan with just a little olive oil and water. It tasted exactly the same. I think you can keep leftovers sealed in the fridge for a couple of days.
If you do try this assassin’s spaghetti recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.
Your feedback means a lot to me!
Spaghetti all’Assassina (Assassin’s Spaghetti) from Puglia
- 1 Iron skillet large enough to fit spaghetti
- 320 g spaghetti or vermicelli (12oz) fine spaghetti is better. I used spaghetti Di Martino
- 400 g tomato passata (14oz) homemade or store-bought
- 1-2 tbsp tomato paste/concentrate
- 100 ml extra virgin olive oil. (1/2 cup)
- 2-3 garlic cloves peeled and 1-2 chopped, 1 left whole
- 1 fresh peperoncino (red chili pepper) or 1/2 tbsp flakes or according to taste
- 1-2 tsp sugar optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- 12 cherry tomatoes optional
- Peel the garlic and chop 1-2 cloves finely. If using a fresh red chilli cut into small pieces. Remove the seeds if you prefer it less spicy.
- Prepare a broth made with water, 2/3 of the tomato passata/purée (1:1), and the tomato paste and salt, and bring to a boil and simmer. You want the broth to be a bright red and tasty, but still a broth. This broth needs to be hot when you add it to the spaghetti, otherwise you will lower the cooking temperature for the pasta.
- In a cast iron pan, add ½ cup of olive oil, 2 garlic cloves (one whole one chopped), and red chili pepper according to how spicy you want your spaghetti to be. Cook the garlic over a high flame until golden then remove the whole garlic clove and pour in the 1/3 of undiluted tomato passata/purée. To temper the acidity from the tomatoes, you can add 1 tsp. sugar.
- Spread the passata over the whole pan with a wooden spoon and let it reduce and thicken slightly. At this point put the uncooked spaghetti in the pan, distributing the pasta a way that it lies on top of the sauce. NB the passata will spit when first poured into the pan so take care not to get burnt
- Wait for the underside of the spaghetti to start caramelizing before turning it over. This must be done carefully, a little at a time using a spatula. Let the otherside of the spaghetti start to crisp a little and then pour in a ladle of the hot tomato broth. It’s better not to pour it over the spaghetti but to add it to the sides of the pan.
- At this point the spaghetti should start to soften enough that you can move and stir it gently with a wooden spoon. Move any pasta strands that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan and allow the tomato broth to spread. Once the tomato broth has reduced and the spaghetti starts to stick a little again add more broth.
- Keep repeating this step (adding tomato broth and stirring the spaghetti) until the spaghetti is coated in the sauce and cooked. If you run out of tomato broth, you can add a little water. NB when finished, this dish is relatively dry and crispy, not saucy.
- I added cherry tomatoes which I had first sautéed in the iron pan before starting on the pasta. I removed them from the pan and then just added them back when my spaghetti all’assassina was ready. This step is optional.
- Serve your spaghetti all’assassina immediately topped with Parmigiano, stracciatella or just as is.
Other pasta recipes made risotto style
- Risotto style pasta with pumpkin
- Zucchini flower pasta, risotto style
- Lemon water spaghetti
- The best spaghetti with tomato sauce ever!
If you are interested in learning how to make homemade pasta and different types of gnocchi, check out my shop page for some great video online courses from my friends in Rome! Nothing beats learning to make pasta from Italians! Plus while you’re there why not order a copy of one of my pasta recipe cookbooks or checkout some recommended pasta making tools?
Rich and deep flavour, despite my having had my pan a bit too hot in the first steps, resulting in some slightly charred garlic, and spaghetti. (My burners are high BU , so I will need to adjust next time). I found it easier to turn the spaghetti with tongs than a spatula. This is a very filling dish, so a small serving goes a long way. The extra tomatoes on top are lovely.
This recipe was so well-written that I almost got it exactly the way it is supposed to taste. I did a couple of things differently and that made a difference. I used a full pound of pasta and it was too much in the pan. Next time, I will use 8 oz of pasta and this will make it easier, but my husband and I are dying for the leftovers. It was really delicious. I think it could have used a bit more sauce too because it needed a to soften a bit more. But we’re not complaining. It was delicious.
Thanks for your comment Cathy. I’m happy to hear this spaghetti all’assassina was a hit! Yes it’s important not to put too much pasta in the pan. If the spaghetti needs to be softer you can add more water or passata. The type of spaghetti can affect how quickly it absorbs the liquid. However, sounds like you enjoyed it just the same.
thats a pasta dish I’ve never heard of and I can’t wait to try it. Your recipes are always amazing!
Hayley Dhanecha says
I’m so glad you explained this recipe in very details, amaze to see that spaghetti only cooked tomato sauce. Can’t wait to try as tomatoes are in season right now.
Not much is better than a comforting pasta dish. I can’t wait to give your recipe a try, it sounds delicious, and based on the comments it will not disappoint!
David Skulski says
For the very first time, (and probably the last), I found a recipe here that, sadly, wasn’t a hit. It came out exactly as described and as in the photos but just didn’t hit the spot. The sauce was very intense and will be used again. I’m sorry to be th e only one who wasn’t thrilled but we’re all individuals, after all. My loyalty to this site, however, is undiminished.
David Skulski says
I came across this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8B5ZtKIlWY&t=2s and I think the diluted tomato “broth” is a good idea.
Hi David, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like this recipe so much. But as you say we’re all individuals. I guess there are very few recipes that absolutely everyone likes. Re the tomato broth in the video you shared. I agree fresh tomatoes are a good idea, maybe less intense than using tomato passata. Although I liked the intense spicy tomato flavour. My recipe for best spaghetti in tomato sauce is spaghetti cooked like risotto in a fresh tomato puree.
Tom Davidson says
I read a reference to this recipe somewhere on apple news. Googled it and selected your post. Turned out rather well. I changed a few things, most notably a heavy stainless skillet (I don’t keep cast iron around) and a pound of whole wheat pasta. Al dente with plenty of caramelization. Your technical instruction about adding the broth and turning the noodles was really helpful. I think it might have been a mess had I winged it. This will certainly become a regular meal. Thank you.
This was my first time preparing spaghetti this way but it won’t be my last. It was fabulous! I will definitely be making it again.
So I made this the day after you posted it as I was so excited to try it. It isn’t a way of cooking pasta I was familiar with, but it sounded delicious.
It was definitely more time consuming than standard pasta, but the flavor was amazing!
So much so that I made it again yesterday. But this time I adapted it, taking inspiration from your adaption ideas. My son won’t east broccoli, but we are all massive fans of stracciatella. So I added some just before I served it. WOW!!!
thank you for a really delicious and interesting dinner!
Cooking spaghetti in just tomato passata is something I haven’t heard of before so I wasn’t sure what to expect but this dish exceeded my expectation! It was delicious, packed with flavor, and so different from other tomato kinds of pasta I’ve tried.
This spaghetti is easy, flavorful, and so simple! We love making this any night of the week! Thank you for sharing your recipe!
As always you have me drooling with your gorgeous photos and flavour descriptions. I love how you always tell the background of each dish. Who knew there was a spaghetti dish cooked like risotto? Not me until now! I have to try it.
This was a new way for me to make spaghetti and it was so easy to make and so flavorful.
My eyes went wide at the mention of “assassin’s spaghetti,” but they went even wider when I actually tasted this dish. The caramelization in this sauce is utterly divine. I loved it.
What an unusual way for cooking spaghetti! I like the story behind the dish as well.
Saving this, the name alone may make my son try spaghetti! Love how easy this looks to put together. Thank you!
Such an easy and delicious spaghetti — super full of tomato flavour! Thanks for sharing the history behind its name too!
You had me at “caramelized spaghetti”. We loved the interesting slightly burnt taste and texture of this dish as it had so much depth of flavor to it! And it was way easier than I thought it would be to make.
Sisley White - Sew White says
I don’t know who loved calling it assassins spaghetti more, me or my partner. Absolutely yummy and definitely give yourself a big portion.