Spicy Tomato Pasta

with slow cooked onions

This is swiftly becoming my new favourite winter pasta dish, and is also inexplicably delicious eaten cold as leftovers the next day (or perhaps that’s just me). The onions do take a while to slow cook but this really deepens the flavour of the cheery bright orange sauce and creates a lovely meltingly soft texture, so it’s worth it. The rest of it is very low effort to pull together, as long as you can source the chilli pâté / paste which adds so much flavour, but which I haven’t so far found in my local supermarkets. Instead, I used a chilli “pâté” from a local Italian delicatessen, which consists of a red paste of ground red chillis mixed with olive oil from Puglia and which really created some heat and flavour. An Italian chilli paste will fulfil the same function. You can turn it into a vodka sauce if you feel like it by adding a couple of tablespoons, but it also works well without if you prefer.

Rigatoni collects the sauce well so it’s my preferred choice of pasta to use for this dish, but you can use whatever type of dried pasta you like – I also make it with spaghetti sometimes for an easy Sunday night dinner.

Serves 2-3 as a main course, or 4 as a primi


  • 50g butter
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tsp caster sugar
  • salt and black pepper, to season
  • 50-100ml water
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp chilli "pâté"
  • 1 tin tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 tbsp vodka (optional)
  • 100ml double cream
  • ½ tsp dried and crushed red chillies (add more / less to suit preference)
  • 250g pasta, dried weight (ideally rigatoni)
  • Parmesan, to serve


Heat the butter in a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan. When it has melted, add the onion, one teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt and fry for 5 minutes. Add 50ml of the water, and turn the heat down to very low. Simmer the onion for 1 hour / 1 hour 15 mins, until they are meltingly soft. Stir them regularly to ensure they don’t burn – you may need to add more water as you go but you don’t want there to be too much excess liquid when they are cooked so add it gradually.

Add the garlic for the last 2-3 minutes and fry it off. Add the tomato purée, the chilli “pâté”, the tinned tomatoes, the vodka (if you are using it) the remaining two teaspoons of sugar, and the dried chilli flakes and combine over a medium heat.

In the meantime, boil the water for your rigatoni. Cook the rigatoni until al dente. Drain the water but keep a little back to thin the sauce out if it needs it.

When you are nearly ready to serve, finally add the cream to the tomato sauce and stir through over a medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of pasta water, and then stir the rigatoni through. Season with salt and pepper, and top with Parmesan if you like.