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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
Wow!!! Family friendly if you don’t put a lot of the red pepper in it.
I’ve read in numerous pasta cooking articles that it’s a bad idea to coat your pasta with olive oil as in the recipe. It makes the pasta slippery and the sauce won’t stick to it as well. For the same reason, never put oil in the the pasta water, too.
Hi Robert, the reason we are putting a little olive oil on the pasta is so that it doesn’t stick together, but you can certainly skip that step if you want.
This was delicious, I added red wine and served it over spaghetti squash. Great on bread too.
I threw in some eggplant, chopped kale, and sliced mushrooms to up the veggie factor – terrific! The olives and capers are great together! I can also recommend using soy crumbles for a vegetarian version.
Holy cow! Made this tonight and the family LOVED it! Even the kiddos :)
I heard a syndicated radio host say that Italian women would toss the sauce from their balconies at ladies of the night because of its overwhelming aroma–hence the name.
Wow, there are so many stories about the origin of the name of this fantastic pasta dish. I read that the “ladies of the evening” could only shop on Sundays, when all the “proper wives” were in church, and so, had to buy pantry items that would last all week: this sauce is made up of those items. Regardless of the source of the name, this is my favorite pasta dish!
This was delish as written! I did, however, add a splash of vino :)
Thanks for a great recipe. And the beautiful plate is Arabia design from 1960’s, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s the Arabia Finland Valencia pattern. I love the cobalt blue.
Hah, and I heard the dish was named after ladies of the evening because the intense aroma of the ingredients cooking would waft out onto the street and attract customers!
I’m just starting to appreciate the taste of olives (already like capers and anchovies), so I may give this a try.
We add to most recipes and this is what we liked best after delving into this fabulous dish. It may be too bold for some palates but if you are into big flavors try these tweaks and let me know what you think:
In a blender puree (work in two batches if necessary):
3-14oz. cans Hunt’s diced tomatoes (Basil, Garlic, Oregano flavor– no salt added).
1-can no sodium/organic tomato paste
1 cup no sodium chicken broth
½ cup vodka (optional but really good)
Dash or three of Worchester sauce
To the above for texture and flavor:
Add 1-small jar sundried tomatoes (drained) – roughly chopped in the blender mix.
In a very large sauce skillet or sauce pot (at least 3.5 quart) sauté in EVOO:
1-medium to large white or mild onion diced (don’t brown just sweat to remove moisture and soften)
½ cup red or yellow bell pepper (optional)
Add above tomato mixture to taste:
4-8 cloves of pressed garlic
1-2 tablespoons capers (drained)
4-8 anchovy fillets minced (or equivalent in anchovy paste, 1-3 tsps, to taste)
1-full tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (this amount is perfect for this size recipe)
Then lightly coat the top of the skillet/pot with (then stir in):
Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset Italian salt free seasoning mix or dry oregano, basil, thyme combo
(using fresh or combining dry and fresh ok too)
Then add to taste and your desire:
1-small can mushroom pieces – if using fresh add to sauté above to lightly soften
½ to ¾ cup black or kalamata olives
1-small jar artichoke hearts
½ to 1 cup fine chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf also ok) add ½+ cup to sauce – reserve balance for garnish
Pinch sugar (optional)
Baby spinach one cup de-stemmed added at the very last 1-2 minutes (to wilt only)
Black pepper a few grinds
No salt needed (capers and other ingredients add the right amount of saltiness), but if you must just a pinch
Oh dear, I forgot my question. Do you drain the canned tomatoes? Thanks.
Marcia: I don’t drain them, because I use crushed tomatoes mostly. If you use whole peeled tomatoes, use the whole can and just cook it down a little longer.
An Italian lady informed me years ago that this sauce is so named because of the quickness of it’s preparation. The ladies needed to eat fast and get back to work, she said. I have always made this with 1/2 cup olive oil and no tomato paste. It’s quite oily and typically I eat it with capellini. I look forward to trying your version, Hank. Thanks!
Thanks Hank! This was amazing. All the ingredients blended perfectly into a flavorful, rich sauce. My husband loved it and he wouldn’t touch an anchovy with a ten foot pole. I’m not a big salt user and thought it was a little salty for me so I didn’t salt the pasta water and it worked out fine. This will be a keeper!
This was lovely, easy, tasty and I could exercise my habit of not measuring anything. :) Kids gobbled it up, as they love olives and capers, and I got to indulge my fondness for anchovies. We used fire-roasted tomatoes and added some basil, and then some parmesan on the top when it was done.
Outstanding! Any excuse to eat anchovies is a winner in my book.
Great recipe! Don’t forget to add the capers. I used a 28oz. can of diced tomatoes with herbs and garlic and added a splash of red Italian wine. WoW!
This does sound deliciously quick and easy. Any suggestions for a vegetarian-friendly option to the anchovies?
Kitty: Leave them out. It will still be fine. Just add a little salt to the dish.
This looks wonderful, Hank! It reminds me of the dish I always turn to, time and time again, penne vodka. Can’t wait to try your recipe!
I’m glad I stopped by for this one; great story! And my kind of recipe, too – quick and easy! Only pity is the hubby doesn’t like anchovies…
I’ve been making pretty much the identical dinner for years but instead of anchovies I use canned tuna. Not sure if your hubby would go for that, but my whole family loves it. And tuna is something we always have in the pantry so I make this when I forget/don’t have time to go grocery shopping.
Hey Alison, I’ve made puttanesca a zillion times without the anchovy and it’s fine, so you can leave it out; you may need to add some salt then.
Alison, if you don’t tell him he will never know! I serve this dish to people who claim to not like anchovies all the time, no harm, no foul
I never use anchovies and a great substitute is Feta. I also like to add greens like spinach or Arugula.
By chance I’ve just been making this today and last week, from another (but authentic Italian) recipe. Which is quite different, for starters instead of letting it simmer for a while, you blast it at high heat for a couple of minutes. The ingredients are simpler and includes red wine. I love it because it’s an easy and quite powerful sauce.
In this variation you use:
Whole Canned Tomatoes
A Glass of Red wine
In a frying pan.
You slice the garlic, throw it in the hot oil until golden – then you add the olives and the capers (which you can slightly crush in your hand) – let it simmer for a few minutes, then add the red wine and a can of tomatoes.
You boil it on full heat for just a few minutes, and serve it with boiled pasta with lots of Parmesan or another hard cheese.
Maybe the name: harlot’s sauce comes from this:
The word puta means ‘prostitute’ or ‘whore’ in Spanish, but it has stronger connotations than the equivalent in English does. It also combines to form some common and potentially offensive phrases, so it’s a word you must know if you’re going to master Spanish.
I’ve been making this Pasta for years and I make it a little differently..I don’t use onions, tomato paste or oregano. I use the crushed tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and yellow, red or orange peppers chopped; all other ingredients are the same though and instead of spaghetti, I use either a rotelli, penne, or ziti type pasta. It’s one of the best pasta’s around. I’ve also tried this same sauce with grilled salmon instead of anchovy and it’s very yummy too. You’ve got to have hot crusty bread with it to mop up the sauce…yum yum.
I’m eating this now and it’s pretty tasty! Thanks for the recipe.
A quick question: the ingredient list calls for parsley and red pepper flakes — where in the recipe do we add these?
Hi YB, put the chili pepper flakes into the sauce in step 2 and the parsley right before serving. We’ve adjusted the recipe.