Tasting the World

Spicy, charred and crunchy. Try the pasta Stanley Tucci said he's never seen before

Janelle Davis, CNN. Recipe from Celso Laforgia, Urban BistrotUpdated 31st October 2022
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(CNN) — Pasta comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and sauces. But the first step to cooking pasta has typically been a simple, tried-and-true process: Drop the main ingredient into a pot of boiling salted water.
Spaghetti all'assassina, or assassin's pasta, though, is about to make you question everything you know about pasta.
When Italian chef Celso Laforgia dropped raw pasta into a pan with oil and aromatics, but not a drop of water, Stanley Tucci was shocked.
"Honestly, I've never seen anything like that before," Tucci said during an episode of "Searching for Italy." "I love that. And I've been around, too."
Laforgia is the chef and owner of Urban Bistrot in Bari, capital of Puglia in southeast Italy. He first cooks his pasta in olive oil with crushed red pepper flakes and garlic, then adds tomato sauce and finally ladelfuls of water to create a spicy, partially burnt spaghetti dish.
The trick is to burn the pasta enough that it's crunchy, caramelized and a little charred but not so much that it's bitter.
"When it crackles, you know it's done," Laforgia said. "The pasta is talking to you."
Spaghetti all'assassina got its name because the first person who tried the dish called the chef a killer since it was so spicy, according to Laforgia.
"Celso's cooking method goes against everything I know about cooking pasta," Tucci said. He joked during his visit that the dish mirrors its people: fiery, uncompromising and rule breaking.
The dish is simple, but the technique takes years to master. Laforgia makes 10 versions of the assassina, including one replacing the tomato with cream of broccoli rabe and topping it with creamy stracciatella, a Puglian cheese made from buffalo's milk.
Spaghetti all'assassina has a cultlike following in Bari, where it originated in the 1970s.
spaghetti all'assassina stanley tucci searching for italy origseriesfilms_00005006
Tucci (center) is surprised to see chef Celso Laforgia (left), of Urban Bistrot in Bari, put raw spaghetti into the pan — pasta is almost never cooked this way.

Spaghetti all'Assassina

(Assassin's Spaghetti)
This spicy dish delivers explosive heat. Chef Laforgia suggests at least 16 grams (or 3 tablespoons) of crushed red pepper flakes to balance the flavors, but you can adjust the heat level as desired.
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

150 milliliters | ⅔ cup olive oil
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
16 grams | 3 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste (1 to 5 tablespoons)
Table salt to taste
400 grams | 1 pound dry spaghetti
150 grams | ⅔ cup tomato puree
Pinch of sugar

Instructions

1. In a large sauté pan, add the olive oil, garlic cloves and red pepper flakes.
In a separate pan, boil about 4 liters (17 cups) of salted water.
spaghetti all'assassina stanley tucci searching for italy origseriesfilms_00015210
The two things you need for the dish is a powerful fire and a big pan that will fit the spaghetti.
2. In the first pan, brown the garlic over high heat for about 30 seconds and then add the raw spaghetti. Toast the pasta until it has reached a light brown color, then pour and spread the tomato puree over the entire pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in a pinch of sugar to correct the acidity of the tomato puree. When the spaghetti starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, flip it to the top using a heat-resistant spatula.
3. Pour a medium ladleful of the hot salted water into the pan with the spaghetti and continue to stir. As soon as the water begins to simmer, let it rest. When you hear the sauce sizzle, flip the spaghetti that's stuck to the bottom of the pan to the top with the spatula.
spaghetti all'assassina stanley tucci searching for italy origseriesfilms_00010715
The trick to the dish is to burn it enough to make it crunchy, but not burn it so much that it's bitter.
4. Carefully turn the spaghetti, letting it stick a little to the bottom of the pan. When the spaghetti starts to stick to the bottom, flip it with a spatula to bring it to the top. Pour another ladleful of water and continue, as if you were preparing a risotto, until the pasta starts to crackle, 8 to 9 minutes.
5. When the pasta is ready, serve immediately from the pan to the plate.
spaghetti all'assassina stanley tucci searching for italy origseriesfilms_00020917
When the pasta makes a crackling noise, you know it's ready.
This recipe is courtesy of chef Celso Laforgia at Urban Bistrot in Bari, Italy.