One evening, when we were feeling particularly hungry and lazy, the store run was simply not an option. Instead, we opted for the age-old tradition of rummaging through the kitchen to see what we could possibly create with the ingredients on hand. Fortunately, we just so happened to have the makings of the classic pasta puttanesca, a traditional Italian dish that almost certainly was created through a similar rummaging process.
Now, the term puttanesca literally means “in the whore’s style.” This poetic notion seems to be a common way of naming sauces in Italy (see: “in the angry style“, “brother devil“…) so we will leave its implications at that. The important thing to remember is that this is a really wonderful and easy dish that takes just a little bit of legwork, and you will be a better cook for it.
We have made this so many times, and it is a recipe that loves innovation. Anchovies are optional (they are traditional in the south, but rarely used in the north.) Use Kalamata olives, or a mixture of black and green. Change the amounts of onion, garlic, and herbs to slightly adjust the flavor. Just never forget those capers, and SALT like you’ve never salted before. Trust.
1 lb pasta, preferably rigatoni
1/2 onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
large handful chopped pitted olives
2 tbsp capers, chopped
3-4 anchovy filets, chopped (optional)
1/4 c. olive oil
pinch red pepper flakes
Boil the pasta until al dente and drain. Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic. Add olives and capers to garlic, and continue to crush together (also add anchovy if using.) This step is imperative, and will greatly enhance the flavor of your sauce.
Add a good amount of olive oil (about 1/4 c.) to a medium sized saucepan. It should cover the bottom of the pan completely- add more if need be. Once the oil is heated, sautee the onion 2-3 minutes.
Once onion is tender, add garlic/olive/caper/anchovy mixture. Be sure to control the heat so that the garlic doesn’t burn. Stir gently to marry the flavors, adding more olive oil if need be. Cook together for 2-3 minutes, then add tomatoes/passata, and stir.
Lower heat and let simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point, add the fresh herbs (chopped very finely) and let simmer another 10 minutes.
Add a few large pinches of sea salt. If using table salt, be careful as table salt has a higher sodium content than sea salts. Also add a pinch each of black pepper and red pepper flakes. Continue to simmer and stir, tasting after a few minutes. Add more salt of needed. After about 5-10 minutes your sauce should be ready to go! transfer some to a pan and toss with the pasta- the mark of a good pasta is that it holds a lot of sauce. Yum!
Although it is tempting to eat an entire plate of this pasta alone, remember that all pastas are best served as a side dish. Serve this with a simple green salad, or even a piece of fish or chicken. A sausage with similar herbs is also a nice accompaniment. Enjoy!