Spice Up Boxed Pasta with This Fiery Assassin’s Spaghetti Recipe
Nadia Caterina Munno, a.k.a. ‘The Pasta Queen’ on TikTok, shares her tips for the pan-fried, Calabrian chile–fueled spaghetti.
When TikTok’s “Pasta Queen,” Nadia Caterina Munno, pans her camera over a sumptuous plate of carbs, she never forgets to utter, “Just gorgeous.” For Munno, these words are not just a cheeky catch phrase, but part of a grander cooking philosophy. The TikTok star believes that when you look and feel gorgeous, you will inevitably create better pasta.
“It’s not cool anymore to be a homemaker,” observes Munno, who comes from a long line of women who did just that. But she’s proud of that role, maintaining that it’s not mutually exclusive with being a successful businesswoman, nor does it exist for the sole purpose of serving others. “I notice that when I feel good about myself—when I’m wearing what I want, when I tell myself that I’m gorgeous—I add that extra little sparkle to the food, versus going in with the mind frame of ‘I have to do this. This is just my duty.’”
In her debut cookbook, The Pasta Queen: A Just Gorgeous Cookbook, out now, Munno details her family’s connection to the dried pasta business, which dates back to the 1800s in southern Italy. Her recipes, which touch on personal memories, include everything from the fresh pasta dough she learned from her nonna to the recipes that went viral later on in her TikTok career.
One of those dishes is the Assassin’s Spaghetti, which Munno shares on TikTok with a dramatic hair flip. Just as pasta-making is in Munno’s blood, so too is a love for story-telling. “I come from a family of silly people, and Naples has a huge theater community,” she explains. “Between that and the telenovelas that my nonna would make me watch with her religiously, I grew up with the idea that life is so much more fun if you add a bit of drama.”
The story behind the Assassin’s Spaghetti, which hails from Puglia, is centered around the kind of gorgeous woman that Munno channels. Legend has it that a drunk cook at a restaurant in Bari was so distracted by a beautiful woman passing by, that he put uncooked spaghetti directly into a cast iron pan of simmering tomato sauce overloaded with chile peppers. He corrected the mistake by turning the sauce into a kind of broth and cooking the pasta risottata style, later serving it to a guest who, upon tasting the spice, said, “What are you trying to do—kill me?”
The recipe went viral, Munno suspects, because it’s controversial. “We are tossing the spaghetti completely uncooked inside the spicy sauce, and then using a tomato-based broth to cook it as you would a risotto, without moving it,” she explains. “You let it cook in one place so that the bottom develops this burnt crust of deliciousness. When the tomato chars a little bit, it really adds that extra kick.”
This is one of the many recipes in the book that celebrates boxed pasta—the Munno family’s claim to fame. “It’s as good and sometimes better-performing than fresh pasta,” Munno explains. “You can cook it al dente, because it’s made out of a heavy durum wheat, which is a harder wheat than the one used to make fresh pasta.”
Not only will cooking al dente give you a better bite, but it might also prevent the feelings of bloating and fatigue that many people experience after eating a plate of pasta. When you save the noodles from overcooking, their digestive enzymes remain intact, and your body is able to break them down slowly. “It doesn’t trick your system into a sugar spike,” Munno explains. “A lot of the time, when you overcook pasta, all of the good nutrition ends up getting dispersed into the pasta water.”
It can be tricky to land that perfect texture when you’re exercising the risottata method, which requires you to add small quantities of warm liquid to the pan as it cooks. “Don’t soak the pasta in the water,” Munno advises. “You add just enough until it is absorbed and keep on doing that while tasting it.” The process overrides the absenteeism that we so often associate with pantry pasta. Rather than setting a timer and tackling another task, this one’s really about “taking your time and putting that love into it,” Munno says.
A cast iron pan will ensure that you get the perfect crust at the bottom of the pan. And don’t skimp on the Calabrian chile flakes, which are worth seeking out over the standard red pepper variety (Munno has purchased hers from Amazon or Alma Gourmet). “They’re not just spicy,” Munno says. “They have a very specific flavor that you’ll recognize instantly when you’re used to using them.”
The cooking method in this recipe might be artful, but the ingredients remain simple. According to Munno, if you’re using the best version of tomato paste, for example, there’s no need for add-ons. “When I share my recipes with other chefs or foodies, it’s always, ‘Why don’t you use these seasonings? Why don’t you add more herbs? Why don’t you add more spices?’,” Munno explains. “But the flavor of a really good, ripe tomato? It’s like 15 different seasonings altogether.”
The Assassin’s Spaghetti
• ¼ cup tomato paste
• Sea salt
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tablespoon Calabrian chile flakes, or to taste
• ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
• 1 pound spaghetti
• Whole fresh long red chile peppers (I like cayenne varieties like Pinocchio’s nose), for garnish
1. In a medium pot, bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in the tomato paste until it dissolves to create a tomato broth. If necessary, season it with salt until it tastes like a seasoned soup and keep the tomato broth warm over a very low heat.
2. Meanwhile, in a large, deep sauté pan, sizzle the garlic and chile flakes in the olive oil over low heat. Add the tomatoes and a heavy pinch of salt. Increase the heat to medium high and add the uncooked spaghetti. Ladle in the tomato broth to keep the spaghetti just barely submerged, adding more as needed. Let the pasta cook until it sticks to the bottom of the pan and starts to burn slightly. Toss briefly and add a splash (1/4 cup) tomato broth to the pasta. Cook until al dente, allowing the pasta to completely absorb the liquid. Add 1/4 cup tomato broth at a time as needed to finish cooking the pasta.
3. Serve garnished with fresh chile peppers.