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Stanley Tucci: “Searching for Italy” Recipe: Puglia’s Spaghetti all’Assassina

Stanley Tucci: “Searching for Italy” Recipe: Puglia’s Spaghetti all’Assassina
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Chef Celso Laforgia, Sophie Minchilli, Stanley’s Barese Food Guide, and the man himself. Photo from CNN

Crispy, spicy, and deeply tomato-ey flavor from a whole new technique for cooking Spaghetti.

Our lead visual may look like an ordinary bowl of spaghetti but it is most certainly not. This is spaghetti cooked in an entirely different way. In Italian, it’s called the “risottatura” technique. Here pasta is cooked like risotto. The spaghetti isn’t boiled, it is cooked directly in a spicy tomato sauce that’s gradually added to the pan. The pasta absorbs the tomato sauce. The texture is crisp reminding Andrew of his childhood eating leftover spaghetti that had been re-heated.  It’s truly a revelation brought to us by Stanley Tucci in Season 2 of “Searching for Italy”. He headed to the ‘heel’ of the boot that is Italy, Puglia. He visited the city of Bari, on the Adriatic Coast. More specifically he went to Vecchia Bari (Old Bari), an area of the city that has 2000-year-old roots. There he visited a restaurant called Urban Bistro and its chef, Celso Laforgia.

Just 6 ingredients and you’ve got Spaghetti all’Assassina made.

Why would anyone call this dish Assassin’s Spaghetti?

Chef Laforgia explained: Yes, Assassina means ‘killer’. But it’s not a reference to murder. It’s a reference to the chef—as in, “are you trying to kill us with spaghetti this spicy?” Our version wasn’t over the top. You control the amount of red chili flakes, you control the heat.  The recipe we followed was from the actual Academy of Spaghetti all’Assassina. Yes, the Barese take this recipe very seriously  The recipe varied from what we saw with Stanley.  The Academy insists on cooking the dish in a black cast iron pan. They don’t even wash the pan between uses, cleaning it with old newspapers.  Chef Laforgia used a non-stick pan.  We used our Italian stainless steel. The other key difference: on “Searching” Chef Laforgia put the spaghetti directly into the olive oil mixture Our instructions added tomato broth before the spaghetti. Suit yourself. This is one incredible dish of spaghetti.  Here’s the recipe and some other “Searching for Italy” favorites.

From Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy: Spaghetti all'Assassina

October 31, 2022
: 4
: 10 min
: 25 min
: 35 min
: Simple. Just keep your eyes on the pan.

Crispy, spicy and deeply tomato-ey flavor from a whole new technique for cooking Spaghetti.


  • 320 g spaghetti (12oz) (Finer spaghetti is better.)
  • 400 g tomato passata (14oz) homemade or store-bought
  • 1-2 tbsp tomato paste/concentrate
  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil. (1/2 cup)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves peeled and 1-2 chopped, 1 left whole
  • ½ tbsp red chili pepper flakes or according to taste
  • 1-2 tsp sugar optional
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmigiano for serving
  • Step 1 Prepare a broth made with water, 1½ cups purée, and plenty of tomato paste and salt, and bring to a boil. According to the academy, the sauce “must be bright red and tasty, but still a broth.”
  • Step 2 In the pan, add ½ cup oil, 3 garlic cloves, and chili pepper to taste. Cook the garlic over a high flame until golden then pour in around ½ cup tomato purée. To temper the acidity from the tomatoes, you can add 1 tsp. sugar.
  • Step 3 Spread the purée over the whole pan with a wooden spoon and let it reduce slightly. At this point put the uncooked spaghetti in the pan, distributing them in such a way that the pasta collects the sauce.
  • Step 4 Stir the spaghetti as it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan a little, swapping the top layer of noodles for those already glossy from having been stuck to the bottom.
  • Step 5 At this point add 2 medium-sized ladles of the tomato “broth.” The liquid will sizzle and start to simmer. Let it reduce without turning the spaghetti and “listen” for the boiling point. When you hear it “sizzle” again (the noise changes sharply), keep your distance and wait for the “burning” process to continue (this will take 30 seconds to 1 one minute).
  • Step 6 Repeat, stirring to remove the burnt spaghetti from the bottom of the pan while adding more tomato liquid. Each addition must correspond to the time needed for it to sizzle and then repeat by soaking the pasta in the sauce. The stiff spaghetti will start to bend, and the whole process takes about 8-9 minutes. – the assassina “must suffer.”
  • Step 7 The result is hard spaghetti with a different consistency than boiled spaghetti, but only the burnt ones “crunch.” You need to taste it to decide the level of cooking and burning, and serve it when you think it’s ready – bring the pan directly to the table.

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