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"It Went From 0 To Literally Everywhere": People Are Scratching Their Heads Over This Suddenly Viral (And Super Delicious) Pasta Recipe

Friends, Romans, pasta-lovers, lend me your tastebuds. I come to tell you of a (very worthwhile!) pasta dish that's been taking over social media feeds everywhere for reasons that...no one can really figure out! And that's OK. I'm talking about Assassin's Spaghetti (or spaghetti all'assassina in Italian), and though it's been around for over 50 years, it's having a biiiiig moment in 2024.

Plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce topped with grated cheese
Ross Yoder

I've known about Assassin's Spaghetti for a while now. Basically, it's a one-pot pasta dish that existed well before "one-pot dishes" were a viral recipe trend; you make it by cooking spaghetti risotto-style, adding a tomatoey broth to uncooked pasta in a skillet a little bit at a time, which produces a super concentrated tomato sauce. Think: marinara sauce, but a LOT punchier and far more interesting in both flavor and texture, IMO.

Quick but interesting history lesson, then I promise to move right along: Like many older recipes, Assassin's Spaghetti's origins aren't 100% set in stone. Most people agree that the dish itself traces back to the '60s in Bari, a major coastal city in the Italian region of Puglia. As evidenced by the photo below, Bari is, clearly, to die for!

Scenic view of small boats on clear water with an historic building in the background

If you've heard people talk about the Amalfi Coast, Bari is essentially on the opposite side of Italy, nestled on the Adriatic Sea — exactly where someone's heel might sit in the "boot" shape of the country.

Lysvik Photos / Getty Images

Geography aside, the rest of the dish's origin story isn't 100% agreed upon. It's believed that a local chef served customers a dish of very spicy spaghetti that they claimed was "trying to kill them," and thus spaghetti all'assassina (aka "killer spaghetti") was born. Another theory is that a chef got so distracted that he unintentionally burnt, or "killed," a pasta dish, but the customer loved it anyway, so the recipe stuck around. In a TikTok that I swear I saw but can no longer find, one creator claimed that said chef was actually distracted by a "beautiful woman outside his restaurant." Oh, men. So silly!

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Let's speed ahead to the 2020s. A few weeks ago, I saw a TikTok of Milk Street's Christopher Kimball recreating the famed recipe...and after watching that video, apparently it was game over for my For You page.

Milk Street / Via tiktok.com

Most new mainstream TikTok food trends feel like they blow up all at once, but this one took things to the next level. I genuinely think most TikTok chefs (and even digital media outlets, clearly 👋) took this recipe and ran with it. I have seen hundreds of recreations of Assassin's Spaghetti in the past two weeks — many with millions of views — and I cannot escape it.

Search results for 'assassin spaghetti' showing various images and videos of spaghetti dishes, with textual overlays and user interactions
TikTok

After perusing the comments on a video from creator Stephan Cusato (@notanothercookingshow), I'm not alone, either. Commenters were quick to give their two cents on how bizarre the sudden and seemingly unprompted spike in Assassin's Spaghetti content felt, with one commenter referring to the dish as an "industry plant" and yet another saying it felt like a "social experiment" to see how long it takes for a trend to start.

A plate of spaghetti with thick tomato sauce being served, with various comments from TikTok users about its sudden spike in popularity

Unlike many other viral food trends, however, let me be the first to tell you that this dish is so very worth trying yourself. I mean, garbage recipes don't stick around for 50+ years. When I felt obligated to finally try it myself after the influx of social media content swirling around my little overused iPhone, let's just say that it exceeded every expectation I had. Calling all garlic girlies: You're gonna love this one.

(And if you can't yet trust me, believe hottest-person-alive Stanley Tucci, who tried spaghetti all'assassina in Bari while filming his show Searching For Italy.)

Stanley Tucci tasting spaghetti in a restaurant kitchen
CNN

Here's precisely how I make my version, inspired by all the various recipes out there (with a few meaningful tweaks every now and then).

Man with glasses and beanie eating spaghetti, looking at camera
Ross Yoder

First, you'll need to gather your ingredients. Lucky for you, Assassin's Spaghetti is a minimal-ingredient masterpiece by design, so it only relies on six or so pantry staples (but tastes like something far more elaborate).

Ingredients for a recipe laid out on a baking sheet including canned tomatoes, pasta, garlic, oil, sugar, and pepper flakes

Importantly, you'll also need a 12-inch nonstick skillet. A 10-inch skillet could work, but you'll probably need to snap your spaghetti in half to cook the pasta correctly...and we all know The Pasta Queen will be mad if you do that.

Nonstick is critical here. Since the pasta will become super starchy as it softens, other skillets will likely leave you with a sticky, burned mess. I haven't tried it in a traditional skillet myself — maybe I'm wrong! — but I'd advise you to use your largest nonstick skillet.

STEP #0 — Before you start cooking, PUT ON AN APRON! I learned this recipe is Splatter City the hard way, so do me a solid and apron up before you even think about starting. Alternatively, wear a shirt you couldn't care less about.

Person giving a thumbs-up over a large pan of sauce. They wear an apron and glasses, smiling at the camera with text saying splash zone and apron up
Ross Yoder

STEP #1 — In a medium saucepan, whisk together 2 1/2 cups of tomato puree with 2 1/2 cups water, 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar, a generous pinch of salt, and a few good cracks of black pepper. Bring everything to a gentle simmer, then set it over low heat to keep warm.

Hand whisking tomato sauce in a pot on a stove
Ross Yoder

STEP #2 — Meanwhile, add the 1/4 cup olive oil to your large (preferably 12-inch) nonstick skillet and place over medium heat. Then, add four cloves of garlic, minced, along with 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

Oil, minced garlic, and chili flakes in a frying pan
Ross Yoder

Once the mixture is sweating, you'll want to cook it for no more than a minute! Also, if your spice tolerance is low, reduce the amount of red pepper to 1/2 teaspoon or even 1/4 teaspoon. Conversely, if you want to blow your head off, double to 2 teaspoons. 1 teaspoon, as written, produces a dish that's spicy but manageable, so heed my warning and use caution.

A wooden spatula rests in a pan with oil and spices being cooked on a stove
Ross Yoder

STEP #3: Add your dried spaghetti to the hot oil mixture and turn the heat medium-high...

Uncooked spaghetti with spices in a skillet
Ross Yoder

...then spoon over two ladlefuls of your bubbling tomato "sauce," which is about 1 1/2 cups if you don't own a ladle.

Spaghetti noodles half-submerged in boiling tomato sauce
Ross Yoder

STEP #4 — Here's where I beg you to read the following directions carefully. The pasta-cooking element of this recipe will take around 15–17 minutes. Do your best to smoosh (a technical term) and flatten the spaghetti into the sauce as best you can with a flat utensil or fork, and for the first 3–4 minutes, continue to push the spaghetti into the saucy mixture; you can even spoon some of the sauce overtop the spaghetti.

Uncooked spaghetti with sauce in a pan with a wooden spoon
Ross Yoder

But! DO NOT FLIP OR STIR the spaghetti (!!!) or move things around too much. Trust the process even though it feels bad and wrong. Your garlic may turn dark brown or burn over the next 15 minutes, but that's all part of the gig. It will be delicious in the end. I promise I won't lead you astray.

Spaghetti noodles cooking in sauce in a pan
Ross Yoder

STEP #5 — At the end of those first 3–4 minutes, once the sauce has been absorbed and you're hearing the spaghetti sizzle in the oil, use a spatula (or even some kitchen tweezers) to flip the spaghetti over in two sections.

Spaghetti being flipped in a pan with tomato sauce, hand holding tongs
Ross Yoder

Hopefully, it looks something like this: just beginning to turn golden and charred in places, and the noodles will feel pretty stuck to each other. Again, this is expected. You're doing it right!

Spaghetti being cooked in a pan with tomato sauce
Ross Yoder

STEP #6 — Add another two ladlefuls of your tomato mixture over the flipped spaghetti, once again smooshing the spaghetti around with a flat utensil to get everything coated and covered.

Tomato sauce simmering in a pan with a wooden spoon
Ross Yoder

And you know the drill: At the end of 3–4 minutes, or when the sauce is absorbed and the bottom of the pasta has some nice color — at this point, it should have some solid char — flip!

Charred spaghetti pieces in a skillet
Ross Yoder

STEP #7 — Add another two ladlefuls of sauce over the spaghetti. For your third round of saucing, you'll want to start breaking apart the noodles if they're still pretty stuck and start swirling everything together.

A person cooking spaghetti in tomato sauce in a pan, using tongs to stir
Ross Yoder

As you twirl the spaghetti around, it'll start to look like this. Once mixed up, allow the spaghetti to cook until the bottom starts sizzling and browning.

A person stirring spaghetti with tomato sauce in a pan, next to a pot of sauce boiling over on a stovetop
Ross Yoder

STEP #8 — At this point, taste a noodle. If it's cooked and al dente, you're all done. If it's not quite there, add one last spoonful of sauce and keep it cooking until the mixture becomes sizzly. You may or may not use all the sauce.

A pot of tomato sauce and a pan of spaghetti on a stove top
Ross Yoder

When your pasta is al dente and the sauce is thick and dotted with charred bits and pieces, you're all done.

A pan of spaghetti with charred red sauce being cooked on a stove
Ross Yoder

Twirl into bowls, top with some grated parm, and you're ready to serve.

A plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and grated cheese on a windowsill

She's a beauty!

Ross Yoder

It's nearly impossible to describe what Assassin's Spaghetti tastes like, TBH; you just have to try it yourself. But to give you a hint, it's the better-than-marinara sauce I never knew I needed. The sauce itself has an almost meaty thickness, and for a dish with fairly minimal ingredients, the resulting flavors taste incredibly alive. The sweetness of the condensed tomato sauce perfectly balances out the touch of bitterness from the very-cooked garlic and that signature slap of heat you get at the end of each bite.

Person holding a bowl of spaghetti, smiling at the camera

All in all, it's a 10/10 if I do say so myself.

Ross Yoder

If you try out Assassin's Spaghetti for yourself, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below or by shooting me a message over on Instagram. If you have questions or run into issues, you can send those my way, too!

Happy pasta-ing, and if you remember one thing from this post, it's that sometimes the things in life that feel extremely wrong end up being delicious bowls of sweet and spicy spaghetti goodness.