This spicy, cheesy pasta bake gets its heat from Calabrian peppers and its cheesiness from plenty of mozzarella cheese. You’ll love this spicy Calabrian tomato sauce!
I love all things pasta, but I especially love cheesy, rich, flavorful baked pasta. This recipe for a cheesy spicy pasta bake delivers on all fronts. My secret ingredient? Jarred Calabrian peppers and just a hint of Calabrian hot honey.
Work this spicy cheesy pasta bake into your weekly rotation because it’s sure to be a huge hit with your family.
How to make this spicy cheesy pasta bake:
This recipe is a breeze to make. If you have a wide, ovenproof pot you can transfer it directly to the oven. Otherwise, you can transfer the ingredients for the bake to a large casserole dish.
First, get a big pot of water boiling. You’ll likely get pretty close to finishing the sauce right as your pasta finishes cooking.
Next, start the sauce. Sauté shallot and then add minced Calabrian peppers and garlic to the shallot and cook for 1 minute.
Next, add tomato paste and let it sizzle in the skillet–mashing it into the garlic and shallot–until it deepens in color, about 1 to 2 minutes.
From there, simply add canned tomatoes, Calabrian hot honey, and a splash of water and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20–30 minutes.
Once the pasta is close to finishing boiling, add basil leaves, spinach, and diced mozzarella to the sauce and stir to combine.
Add a bit of the pasta cooking water, the cooked, drained pasta, and toss to coat completely. Arrange a few slices of mozzarella on top and transfer to the broiler for 5–6 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and melted.
What if I can’t find Calabrian peppers or Calabrian hot honey?
In the US, most Calabrian chili peppers will be found jarred and in oil. I’ve never personally seen them offered fresh, but if you can’t find the jarred variety, worry not! Calabrian peppers are quite spicy and can range from 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville units. For context, a jalapeño pepper will range from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville units. This recipe uses about 1/4 cup of the jarred Calabrian peppers so it’s very spicy! Of course, you can adjust based on your heat tolerance. Here are my recommendations:
- Lightly spicy: Use just a few healthy shakes of crushed red pepper
- Medium spicy: Crushed red pepper in addition to a minced red Fresno pepper
- Spicy: Use one or two Thai chili peppers
If you can’t find Calabrian hot honey, use any variety of hot honey, like Bee’s Knees or Mike’s. Alternatively, you can add a drizzle of maple syrup in with whichever variety of chili pepper you opt to use.
Looking for more vegetarian recipes? Check my archives
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Spicy Cheesy Pasta Bake
- Food processor
- Large pot
- Sieve or colander
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots peeled and diced
- ¼ cup jarred Calabrian peppers or use as many or as few peppers as you like depending on your heat tolerance
- 8 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon Calabrian hot honey plus more for serving
- 2 15- ounce cans cherry tomatoes or use diced tomatoes or whole-peeled tomatoes
- ¼ cup water
- .5 ounces basil divided
- 5 ounces baby spinach
- 10 ounces mozzarella from a mozzarella log divided
- 16 ounces tubular pasta such as paccheri rigatoni, or penne
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mince the peppers and garlic:
- Transfer the garlic and Calabrian peppers to a food processor and pulse until minced. Set aside.
Start the pasta:
- Place a large pot of well-salted water on the stove and turn the heat to high.
Prepare the sauce:
- As you wait for the water to boil, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a wide, ovenproof pot over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for 3–5 minutes until it begins to soften.
Cook the peppers and garlic:
- Add the minced peppers and garlic to the shallot and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and mash it lightly into the aromatics and cook for 2 minutes until it deepens in color. Be careful not to burn the garlic!
Simmer the sauce:
- Add the hot honey and the canned tomatoes into the pot and add 1/4 cup water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 20–30 minutes.
Cook the pasta:
- Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package instructions. Right before draining, scoop out 1/4 cup pasta water. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
Prepare the cheese:
- Before finishing the sauce, prep the cheese. Cut the mozzarella log in half. Dice half the log into bite-sized cubes and thinly slice the remaining half into thin rounds.
Finish the sauce:
- Taste the sauce and season to your preferences. Add half the basil leaves to the sauce along with the baby spinach and stir until wilted. Add the diced mozzarella to the sauce and toss to combine.
- Pour in the reserved pasta cooking water along with the cooked pasta and toss to coat. Turn off the heat.
Broil the pasta:
- Turn the broiler on. Arrange the mozzarella rounds on top of the pasta and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Transfer to the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, about 5-6 minutes, depending on your broiler.
- Scatter the remaining basil leaves on top of the pasta and divide the pasta between shallow bowls. Serve with a touch more hot honey if you like. Enjoy!