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Spaghetti all’assassina (assassin’s spaghetti)

Crispy goodness: Spaghetti all’assassina (aka assassin’s spaghetti).
Crispy goodness: Spaghetti all’assassina (aka assassin’s spaghetti).Katrina Meynink

easyTime:< 30 minsServes:4-6

On a recent trip to Bari, Italy, a dear friend and I inhaled more than our fair share of spaghetti all’assassina, and I became completely enamoured with the umami-forward, almost-burnt flavour that comes from cooking the pasta not in boiling water but instead, frying the raw spaghetti directly in the sauce.

If you’ve never made this pasta, allow me to hold your hand a little. The key to this dish is in thoroughly reducing the sauce to the point of burning – that lightly charred, sticky flavour is the heaven-sent element of a proper assassina.

You also need to disregard your urge to interfere. Leave it to bubble, sizzle and splatter – it’s what makes this so good. It may get its name from the cook “killing” the pasta, but in truth, that is what makes the dish come alive.


  • 4 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 brown onion, finely diced

  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 500g spaghetti (bucatini is also fun; traditionalists look away)

  • 2 cups tomato passata

  • 2 tbsp tomato paste

  • 1 litre water

  • chilli flakes, to taste


  1. Step 1

    Place a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and once hot, add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the pasta. Leave it to cook undisturbed for a minute or two before adding the tomato passata.

  2. Step 2

    Now leave it be. It will begin to thicken and turn dark red, blackening at the edges of the pan – don’t be alarmed. While this is happening, bring the litre of water to the boil and add the tomato paste to the water, stirring to combine.

  3. Step 3

    As the tomato passata reduces, bubbles and hisses, and the pasta cooks, add a ladle of tomato water every so often, continuing to add gradually until the liquid has mostly been absorbed, and the pasta has softened to al dente, about 10-12 minutes. You might not need to add all the water. Test a strand of pasta a few times along the way − the soft parts should be al dente, and the liquid should be sauce-like and coating the pasta, rather than soupy.

  4. Step 4

    Add dried chilli flakes to taste and transfer into serving bowls. Season with salt, pepper and more chilli flakes, and enjoy piping hot.