Master this traditional Italian puttanesca pasta. It’s easy, flavorful and perfect for a homemade dinner on a busy night.
There are some traditional Italian recipes that everyone knows around the world such as Spaghetti Bolognese, Melanzane all Parmigiana, Pasta e Fagioli, Spaghetti all Vongole, Pasta all’Amatrice, and Tiramisu to name just a few. If one wants to become a decent Italian cook, it helps to master these traditional recipes. Most Italian recipes are relatively simple and use a limited number of ingredients. To create the best dishes, Italians use fresh seasonal ingredients and good quality pantry ingredients. We eat a lot of pasta in my house, and in fact, I could serve my husband pasta every night of the week, and I doubt he would ever complain. Most of our favorite pasta dishes can be prepared in thirty minutes or less, including this Spaghetti all Puttanesca recipe. Spaghetti alla Puttanesca translates as “spaghetti in the style of a prostitute”.
There are a variety of ideas of where this recipe originated, but it is thought to date to the mid-twentieth century. Some say a restaurant in Ischia created the first puttamesca, while the more romatic story is that ladies of the evening in Naples created it because they needed something cheap, quick, that used readily available ingredients. Wherever it originated, it is an easy pasta dish that should be on everyone’s list of easy recipes. The recipe for puttanesca almost always contains tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, chili peppers, and oregano. The version made around Naples omits the anchovies, while other versions skip the chili pepper. Dried oregano is often used to season the sauce, although some chefs use fresh parsley. I include the chili pepper, anchovies, and dried oregano in mine. I also like to add garlic to my sauce, and some fresh chopped parsley just before serving.
The best thing about this sauce is that it can be created with basic pantry items that most cooks keep in their kitchen. Because this sauce is so simple, you do need to use the best ingredients when making it for the best results. I tell everyone that when choosing canned tomatoes, taste them right out of the can. They should taste fresh and have a vibrant, slightly sweet tomato flavor. If the tomatoes don’t taste great right out of the can, they aren’t going to create a wonderful sauce! I prefer Mutti brand tomatoes at this point, which are sold everywhere here in Italy. When I am stateside, I either order my Mutti tomatoes by the case from Amazon.com, or I can also find them at World Market. If unavailable in your area, try to find a good quality San Marzano tomato. I use either kalamata or taggisca olives, salted capers from Sicily that I rinse well before using, our own olive oil harvested last year, and Sicilian anchovies packed in olive oil. It is up to you, but this dish is almost always made with dried spaghetti. When using dried pasta such as spaghetti, I usually stick with a dependable brand like DeCecco. This pasta dish is most often served without cheese as the general rule is that any pasta that includes seafood is served without cheese. If you like cheese on your pasta (as I do), use a sharp grated Pecorino Romano cheese. You’ll need a strong cheese to hold up to these flavors.
- 2 (14 Ounce) Cans Pureed or Finely Chopped Tomatoes (See Notes Above)
- 3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
- ¼ Cup Olive Oil
- ½ Cup Flavorful Black Olives (See Notes Above), Halved
- 3 to 6 Anchovies (Depending On How Much You Like Anchovies!)
- ¼ Cup Salted Capers, Rinsed Well
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- Salt & Pepper
- ½ Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 Pound Dried Spaghetti
- 2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Fresh Parsley
- Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (Optional)
- Put a large pot of lightly salted water on to boil for the pasta.
- Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan and add the garlic, and cook briefly.
- Add the anchovies, and use a fork to break them up as they begin to melt.
- Add the tomatoes to the oil and garlic, and then the olives, and capers.
- Season with salt & pepper, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes.
- Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- When the pasta water is boiling, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is “al dente”.
- Drain the pasta, then return the pasta to the pot.
- Add the parsley to the sauce and stir.
- Add half the sauce to the pasta in the pot, and cook over high heat for a minute or two while tossing the pasta with the sauce.
- Serve the pasta in individual bowls, with a spoonful of extra sauce on top.