Perfect Pasta Fra Diavolo

If something has an intriguing name I feel compelled to cook it.   I love to research cooking terms, find out where they came from, the stories behind them, the history in the syllables.  Yeah, I am nerdy that way.  But, I have found that some of the most loved dishes I set at my table come from my curiosity about the food of the world, the stuff of other cultures and other lands.

Fra Diavolo means “brother devil” in Italian and it is so named because it’s a very fiery sauce, flavored with copious amounts of dried red pepper flakes.   This is a red sauce made with a base of tomatoes, and its velvety texture plumped with fruity olive oil is an exquisite contrast to the heat that radiates from the pepper flakes.

I didn’t expect this to be a family favorite-it’s vegetarian, it’s cheap, it’s simple and easy…it just seemed to good to be true.  I have now made this dish numerous times, and each time all four plates were cleaned, the last drop of the sauce slirpped off the wooden spoon I used to stir it.

It is a  must try.

Boil a large pot of heavily salted water for the pasta.  I prefer to use a lengthy noodle such as spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine for this dish.  I’m a little biased toward a long noodle-it’s the slirpability factor.  Whole wheat pasta is also nice in this dish.

Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente.

For the sauce you need a plump bulb of garlic.  You are going to use at least half of it…yes a half to three quarters of a bulb…not a clove.  It’s enough garlic to keep the vampires at bay for good.  Give the garlic a good mince.  Show it who’s boss.


Then, heat up about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet or pot and drop the garlic in, heating over medium for a minute or two until it sizzles and turns golden.  Please be careful not to burn it, garlic turns hopelessly bitter when burned.

Sprinkle about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes into the oil and garlic, using more if you like it hot.  The heat will help infuse the spiciness of the peppers into the garlic and oil.  Just let this sit for another 30 seconds or so.


You need a 28 ounce can of pureed tomatoes.  I like Cento tomatoes because they come in this pretty yellow can and they taste robust and vibrant.


Pour about 3/4 of the tomatoes into the pan.  You can add the whole can if you’d like, but I find that the sauce is a little heavy when the whole can is used.  Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and two tablespoons of sugar to the sauce.


Give this a little stir and taste it.  Please don’t skip the tasting part.  Not only do you look like an authentic Italian momma putting your mouth to a big spoon, leaning over a hot pot that is boiling with love and goodness, it is important to make sure your seasonings are right.  I often need to add more sugar and salt.  The sauce should not taste too acidic.  Every can of tomatoes is different, so add a little sugar and salt at a time until the sauce tastes fresh and sweet.

Take a big bunch of beautiful green herbs like these.


I like basil and oregano, but you can use just about anything…some mint, thyme, rosemary, whatever floats your boat.  Give them a rough chop and drop them into the sauce.


Give the sauce a stir, drain the pasta noodles adding them back to the pot and pour the sauce over the noodles.


Toss the pasta and sauce with tongs until the noodles are coated.  Grab a nice wedge of Parmesan and grate some up.


Carefully place a big winding of this red, delicious mess onto your plate and top it with Parmesan gratings and some black pepper.  Place a little sprig of fresh herb on the side.


If you are feeling extra devilish, you could drizzle a bit of olive oil on the plated pasta for a bit of extra mouth feel.  You won’t have any regrets about this, I swear.

Oh, the sweetness tinged with a shock of spice at the back of your throat.   It’s lovely.


My family ate this with pure willingness and bliss.


See below for the easy-to-follow recipe.  I will try not to use so many adjectives in that version.  I do hope you try it and enjoy it!

Perfect Pasta Fra Diavolo

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Serving Size: 4


  • 1 lb pasta (preferably a long noodle type)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 whole fresh garlic bulb
  • 1/4 C olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz can of pureed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt (and more for pasta water)
  • 1/4 tsp pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 Tbs granulated sugar
  • a hand full of fresh herbs such as basil and oregano
  • a small wedge of Parmesan cheese


  1. Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions for al dente.
  2. Heat up a large skillet or pot and add the olive oil, heating up over medium heat.
  3. Mince the garlic and add it to the oil, cooking for a minute or two being careful not to burn.
  4. Add the red pepper flakes and stir.
  5. Add 3/4 of the can of tomatoes (saving the rest for another recipe).
  6. Add the salt, pepper, and sugar. Taste and add more seasoning as needed.
  7. Chop the fresh herbs and add them to the sauce.
  8. Drain the pasta, add the sauce to it and gently stir with tongs.
  9. Plate the pasta and sprinkle on some of the Parmesan, some pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil if desired. Garnish with a sprig of fresh herbs and enjoy!









  1. chad havey says:

    I took leftovers to work yesterday, this pasta only gets better the next day.

  2. This sounds wonderful!

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