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.
Video: How to Make Pasta Puttanesca
The Ingredients for Pasta Puttanesca
Puttanesca is the quintessential "I'm tired" meal, as it is almost entirely made up of pantry staples:
- Canned tomato paste
- 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.
What Does Puttanesca Mean?
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.
What to Serve With Pasta Puttanesca
Storing and Freezing Leftovers
If you do have any leftovers, they'll keep for a few days in the fridge and can be reheated in the microwave.
The sauce (without the spaghetti) also freezes quite well. Freeze for up to three months and thaw in the fridge.
Love Italian Pastas? Try These!
- Spaghetti Pasta Carbonara
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Shrimp Pasta alla Vodka
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3-4 canned anchovies, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons small (non-pariel) capers
- 3/4 cup (95 g) pitted olives (black or green), roughly chopped
- 1 pound spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Heat pasta water:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (1 Tbsp of salt for every 2 quarts of water). While the water is heating, start making the sauce.
Cook onions, anchovies, garlic:
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep sauté pan. When the oil is hot, cook 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 finely chopped garlic and cook another minute.
Make the sauce:
Mix in the tomato paste and cook it for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, chili pepper flakes, olives, and capers. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then lower the heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer, 10 to 15 minutes.
Cook the spaghetti:
When the salted pasta water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, to al dente, cooked but still slightly firm.
Finish the sauce:
Stir the parsley into the pasta sauce. Add some pasta water into the sauce to thin it if it has become too thick.
Drain the pasta and put in a large bowl. If you want, mix a little olive oil into the pasta so the pasta doesn't stick together.
Add a ladle's worth of sauce to the pasta and mix to combine. Serve in shallow bowls with more sauce on top.