Please welcome Hank as he shares his favorite pasta puttanesca, made with pantry staples! ~Elise
Of all the dishes I’ve cooked over the years, pasta puttanesca holds a special place in my heart. I’ve been making it regularly since the late 1980s, when I was a freshman in the dorms at SUNY Stony Brook. Puttanesca was the first “adult” meal I ever cooked by myself for myself; I’d done clunky versions of traditional “date night” dishes for girls before that, but this simple pasta sauce was my go-to meal after long, long days at track practice.
It is the quintessential “I’m tired” meal, as puttanesca is almost entirely made up of pantry staples: canned tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, canned anchovies, jarred olives and capers. The only chopping required is a little bit of onion and as much garlic and parsley as you want. You turn the water on to cook the spaghetti, and by the time the pasta is cooked the sauce is ready. Done and drinking beer (or doing homework) in 30 minutes.
It was only later that I learned the origins of this sauce. I’d made it for a female friend who was Italian, and she said, “Oh, harlot’s sauce.” I might have snickered. She explained that the legend of this sauce was that it easy to prepare for anyone who works when markets were closed — and ladies of the evening certainly fit that bill.
So do newspaper reporters. In the years I worked as a journalist, working past 9 p.m. was the norm, not the exception. Puttanesca was always there for me when I got home, however, and in a half an hour I could throw myself down in front of the TV, watch ESPN or somesuch, and eat a home-cooked meal. All these years later, I still make puttanesca whenever I am tired or stressed. It’s one old habit I never want to break.
Pasta Puttanesca Recipe
Spaghetti is the normal pasta for this recipe, but any kind of pasta will be fine.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3-4 canned anchovies, chopped
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 Tbsp small (non-pariel) capers
- 3/4 cup pitted olives (black or green), roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Olive oil for drizzling
1 Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep saute pan. When the oil is hot, sauté the onions until they're soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. While the onions are cooking, stir in the chopped anchovies along with some of the oil from the can. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
2 Mix in the tomato paste and cook it for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, chili pepper flakes, and olives. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer.
3 Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When you add the spaghetti to the boiling water to cook, add the capers to the sauce and continue to simmer it gently. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, to al dente, cooked but still slightly firm.
4 Drain the pasta and put in a large bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil over the pasta and mix to combine. Stir the parsley into the pasta sauce. Add a ladle's worth of sauce to the pasta and mix to combine. Serve in shallow bowls with more sauce on top.
Yield: Serves 4-6.