Rapid tomato, basil and cinnamon pasta sauce


  • Penne or other pasta
  • Olive oil
  • A can of tomatoes (4ooml)
  • A couple of medium sized onions
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • A few fresh chilies
  • A fistful of basil leaves
  • Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon (or cinnamon sugar if you prefer some sweetness)
  • A hard, salty cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Black pepper to taste


  • Prep: 3 minutes
  • Cooking: About 10 minutes


This simple pasta sauce is basically a twist on a what the Italians call sugo all’arrabbiata.  Or at least that’s what I think they call it though they might view this a bit of a perversion. At it’s core, it’s a fast cooked (~10 mins) sauce of tomatoes, chili, onion and garlic. This recipe adds basil and a hint of cinnamon to give it an pungent, earthy taste. The whole meal should take less than 20 minutes to knock up.

Put some olive oil in a saucepan and place on medium heat. Finely chop the onions, chilies and garlic. In the meantime, get the water for the pasta (anything will do, doesn’t need to be penne) going and cook according to the instructions on the pack. I tend to use a dash of olive oil or a pinch of salt in the water but everyone knows how to cook pasta right? Keep it al dente especially if you intend to throw the pasta in the pot with the sauce.

Once the oil is hot, add the onions and cook for a couple of minutes until soft and the aroma starts to fill the kitchen. Toss in the chilies and cook for another minute or two. Then throw in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more (you don’t want to burn the garlic). Pour in the canned tomatoes including all the liquid and mash it up a bit. Throw in most of the basil and cinnamon too at this point. Keep the pan hot and partially covered (it should be splattering the underside of the lid).

Let it cool a bit before serving topped with the cheese and the remaining basil. Add cracked pepper to taste. I find it goes well with a glass of cheap and cheerful Chilean Merlot. A chunk of crunchy bread, lightly toasted and drizzled with oil if you like, can be useful to mop up the remnants of the sauce from your bowl if you’re still hungry.

Fun fact, I originally based this on a recipe I found years ago on Berlin beat combo Stereo Total‘s website. It was something I often cooked and my flatmate’s and I dubbed it “Cactus Sauce” in honour of Francois Cactus, the member of the band with the penchant for cooking. I couldn’t find it on their website these days but there is a note that:

Their first recording was a 10 minute cooking-recipe, in which all ingredients had a sexual connotation. The recording is sadly lost.

I recommend dancing around the kitchen to their work after pouring yourself another large glass of wine.


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