Pasta Puttanesca

VideoDinnerBudgetItalianPasta and Noodles

A classic Italian pasta sauce based on pantry items such as olives, capers, anchovies and canned tomatoes.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Puttanesca is the quintessential “I’m tired” meal, as it is almost entirely made up of pantry staples: canned tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, canned anchovies, jarred olives and capers.

How to Make Pasta Puttanesca

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.

Pasta Puttanesca

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.

How to make pasta puttanesca (video)

Pasta Puttanesca Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6

Spaghetti is the normal pasta for this recipe, but any kind of pasta will work.


  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely 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 (95 g) pitted olives (black or green), roughly chopped
  • 1 pound spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine
  • Salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley


1 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.

2 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.

3 Mix in the tomato paste and cook it for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4 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.

5 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.

6 Add parsley, water to sauce: Stir the parsley into the pasta sauce. Add some pasta water into the sauce to thin it if it has become too thick.

7 Serve: 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.

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Shrimp Puttanesca, from TasteFood

Skillet Chicken Puttanesca here on Simply Recipes

Spaghetti alla puttanesca, an explanation in the Wikipedia

Pasta Puttanesca

Hank Shaw

A former restaurant cook and journalist, Hank Shaw is the author of three wild game cookbooks as well as the James Beard Award-winning wild foods website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. His latest cookbook is Buck, Buck, Moose, a guide to working with venison. He hunts, fishes, forages and cooks near Sacramento, CA.

More from Hank

37 Comments / Reviews

No ImagePasta Puttanesca

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Mark

    Was in the restaurant Biz for well over a decade. (close to two) At one of them, this was consistently in the top sellers. Ours was slightly different, with a New Orleans twist. Pasta was penne, but some times Buccatinni. Meat wise, we used chunks of rotisserie chicken and grilled chunks of Andouille sausage. Some times (if extra available), we’d toss in a handful of bay shrimp. You pair this up with a good Caesar salad & French bagget’s and you’ve got one hell of a great meal, with Pinot Noir to wash it all down. And the history story behind the name is true, named after the hookers if the time. I’ll give this version a go. Thanx for posting it. You sound like a fasinatting guy!
    Regards, ~Chef Spudsrus.

  2. Sonya

    This is one of my go-to quick meals. The first time, I made it with sardines and penne because it’s all I had. I even tossed it all together with some leftover roasted broccoli and fresh-shredded parm, and popped it in the oven for a bit. It was indulgent without feeling too heavy, and perfectly tasty. My boyfriend claimed it cured him after a pretty long bender. So…thanks! Side note to the author: I normally hate reading through a person’s cute, long anecdote about the recipe I’m trying to get to at the end of the page. However, I enjoyed reading yours! Cheers!


  3. Allison

    Simply delicious! The only changes I made were to use anchovy paste instead of the anchovies and diced tomatoes instead of whole ones. My husband loved it! It will added to my file of recipes worth repeating.


  4. Leah

    My dad passed away before he was able to teach me his famous Italian sauce he would always talk about and his mom died when he was 18, so I was never able to learn the ‘family recipe.’ I’ve looked and tried different sauce recipes, but I was never happy with them until I came across this recipe. I’ve made it countless time since now and it always comes out amazing. Sometimes i’ll substitute the anchovies for sausage, sometimes i’ll add a can of green chilies for my Coloradan hubby, but every time it’s a home run. I’ve also realized that Cento is the best for the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and anchovies, at least for me anyways. Thank you so much for sharing a recipe that I think would have made my Italian dad and grandparents proud


  5. Margaret

    Wow!!! Family friendly if you don’t put a lot of the red pepper in it.


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