Creamy Calabrian Chili Pasta

published Oct 2, 2023
Creamy Calabrian Chili Pasta Recipe

A big spoonful of Calabrian chili paste gives quick and creamy pantry pasta a spicy kick.

Serves4

Prep5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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Overhead view of spaghetti on a cream colored plate, topped with cheese and basil and with a fork in the pasta.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

For those who like spicy foods, there are endless ways to get your fix. I regularly reach for harissa, chili crisp, red pepper flakes, and beyond, but Calabrian chili paste is particularly unique. It’s hot, yes, but also sweet-tart and fruity. A spoonful or two is all you need to bolster a humble pantry pasta into something much, much more. This creamy 30-minute dinner is proof.

Make Room in Your Fridge for a Jar of Calabrian Chili Paste

Calabrian chiles hail from the Italian southwest region of Calabria, the tip of the boot. The red peppers are bright and fruity with a warm, tangy heat that’s a bit sweet and smoky rather than sharp. They’re medium-hot in terms of spiciness and are most easily found crushed and preserved in oil and a little vinegar as a paste. Tutto Calabria is my favorite brand, but other jars are becoming available at grocery stores. 

How to Use Calabrian Chili Paste

Spread a thin layer of the paste on a sandwich or burger, fry eggs in it (à la chili crisp eggs), stir a little into soups and stews, and dollop it on pizza. But first, make this creamy Calabrian chili pasta. It’s my favorite introduction to the paste because it proves just how easily it can turn a box of pasta into a satisfying meal without too many extra ingredients. 

Here, it mingles with garlic, lemon zest, and a bit of tomato paste for added sweetness, then it’s combined with starchy pasta water and a generous splash of heavy cream, which lends just the right amount of creamy richness to balance the heat. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

Creamy Calabrian Chili Pasta Recipe

A big spoonful of Calabrian chili paste gives quick and creamy pantry pasta a spicy kick.

Prep time 5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 6 cloves

    garlic

  • 3 large sprigs

    fresh basil

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 1/3 cup store-bought grated)

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil

  • 1/4 cup

    tomato paste

  • 2 tablespoons

    Calabrian chili paste, such as Tutto Calabria

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water

  • 1 pound

    dried pasta, such as spaghetti, bucatini, or penne

  • 1/3 cup

    heavy cream

Instructions

  1. ​​Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, thinly slice 6 garlic cloves. Pick the leaves from 3 large fresh basil sprigs until you have 1/2 packed cup, then coarsely chop. Finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup) or measure out 1/3 cup store-bought grated. Finely grate the zest of 1/2 medium lemon (about 3/4 teaspoon) and reserve the lemon.

  2. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and light golden-brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

  3. Add 1/4 cup tomato paste. Cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste breaks up and stains the oil, darkens in color, and starts to stick to the bottom of the skillet, about 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons Calabrian chili paste, the lemon zest, and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir and cook for 30 seconds more. Remove the skillet from the heat.

  4. Meanwhile, add 1 pound dried pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until 1 minute less than al dente. Transfer 2 cups of the pasta water to the skillet. Drain the pasta.

  5. Stir the pasta water and tomato paste mixture together. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until the liquid thickens and reduces slightly, about 3 minutes.

  6. Add 1/3 cup heavy cream and the pasta. Toss continuously until the sauce thickens a bit more and coats the pasta, and the pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes more.

  7. Remove the pan from the heat. Squeeze the juice of the reserved lemon half over the pasta. Add half of the basil and Parmesan and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the remaining basil and Parmesan.

Recipe Notes

Storage: ​​Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.