Arrabbiata is a spicy Italian pasta sauce made primarily from tomatoes, garlic, pepper flakes, and olive oil. The word “arrabbiata” means “angry” in Italian, and it is called so because of the heat provided by the chili peppers.
Arrabbiata sauce is typically served with penne pasta but can be used with various types of pasta, including spaghetti. But since pasta isn’t exactly nutrient-dense (being made with highly refined grains), I usually replace it with more nutritious — and less glycemic — foods such as beans or vegetables. You can also poach eggs, shrimp, tofu cubes, or meatballs in arrabbiata sauce, or use it as a base for tomato soup. Endlessly versatile.
I taught this recipe at a webinar for the Boulder Community Health Cancer Center recently, making a large batch of arrabbiata, halving it, and then combining one half with cooked cannellini beans and the other with cooked broccolini. Here’s what that looked like:
But why broccolini? Well — in addition to being a passionate cook, I’m also a nutrition geek, and as I was prepping this class, I dimly remembered a 2007 study that found that when rats implanted with prostate cancer were fed tomatoes (rich in prostate-cancer-fighting compound lycopene) or famously cancer-fighting broccoli, their cancers receded slightly, but when they were fed tomatoes and broccoli together, this combination proved more effective at slowing tumor growth than either tomato or broccoli alone. This finding, the authors wrote, “supports the public health recommendations to increase the intake of a variety of plant components.” Hear, hear.
More recent reasearch has shed further light on the tomato-prostate cancer connection. A 2020 study of 27,934 Adventist men free of cancer at enrollment found that eating canned and cooked tomatoes 5 to 6 times a week was significantly associated with a 28% decreased risk of prostate cancer compared with men who never consumed tomatoes. The effect was still significant even after adjusting for potential confounders including ethnicity, education, obesity, exercise levels, alcohol consumption and others. Interestingly, the researchers found no significant association between prostate cancer and consumption of raw tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato sauce and tomato-based vegetable juice. Lycopene bioavailability is higher when tomatoes have been heated or cooked, and especially if cooked with oil.
Lastly, a 2018 study reported that cooked tomato sauce in Mediterranean style (sofrito, maed with olive oil, garlic, onions & tomatoes) was related to low prostate cancer aggressiveness (along with a high consumption of fruits & vegetables).
Without further ado, then, let make some arrabbiata! (This keeps for several days in the fridge and also freezes well.)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 cups grape tomatoes quartered
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup basil coarsely chopped; save a few leaves as garnish
- 15 oz cannellini beans cooked/canned; drained & rinsed in a sieve (optional addition)
- 2 bunches broccolini trimmed and steamed in the microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes.
- Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and warm until it shimmers. Add the chopped garlic and pepper flakes. Cook for 30-40 seconds, stirring constantly, until the garlic softens. Do not let it brown as this will make it taste bitter.
- Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- If adding beans, rinse and drain these and fold them into the fresh arrabbiata sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.
- If adding a green vegetable, cook it while the sauce is simmering and then fold it into the arrabbiata sauce once it's ready. Different vegetables require different cooking times; at this cooking demonstration, I microwaved 2 bunches of broccolini for 3 minutes on HIGH before adding them to the sauce.
- Once the beans or cooked vegetable have been incorporated, add the chopped basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the tomatoes are very acidic, add a smidgen of maple syrup. If they taste too sweet, add a splash of lemon juice.
- Refrigerated in a tightly sealed container, this lasts 4-5 days. Freezes well.