Pasta Puttanesca

What started out as a sharing a recipe with you today turned into a journey…and a fun one at that!

Many years ago, I frequented a local restaurant who has since then closed but my favorite meal on their menu was Pasta Puttanesca. It was rich with flavor, salty and briney. I would go there monthly for my monthly fix. When I heard that the restaurant was closing, I was heartbroken. I went in for my last dish of Puttanesca and commiserated with the waiter over my sense of loss. Within minutes, the owner of the restaurant escorted me back to the kitchen to share her Puttanesca recipe.  It has since been my go-to recipe for pasta comfort.

As I was researching other Puttanesca recipes online to see how this one was different, I came across the legend of Puttanesca…

It was known as the pasta of The Ladies of the Night (otherwise known as ‘Whore Pasta’) – seriously, I didn’t know this but find it intriguing…

Puttanesca sauce, most often employed for pasta, originated in Naples.  It is made from tomatoes, black olives, capers, anchovies, onions, garlic, and herbs, usually oregano and parsley but sometimes also basil.  It is an easy sauce, briefly cooked, and is very fragrant and spicy.  Puttanesca translates as “in the style of the whore.” The name derives from the Italian word puttana which means whore.  Puttana in turn arises from the Latin word putida which means stinking.

Now I’ll bet your wondering how this tasty dish became associated with such sordid content.  As is often the case when sifting through culinary history, there are multiple explanations.  The first interpretation is that the intense aroma, (harking back to the “stinking” Latin definition), would lure men from the street into the local house of ill repute.  Thus, the Napolese harlots were characterized as the sirens of the culinary world.  Three additional accounts all hinge on the fact that Puttanesca sauce is easy and quick to make.  The first is that the prostitutes made it for themselves to keep the interruption of their business to a minimum.  The second is that they made it for the men awaiting their turn at the brothel.  And the final version is that it was a favorite of married women who wished to limit their time in the kitchen so that they may visit their paramour.

So there you have it…here’s the recipe without all the scandal. It’s easy and it’s vibrant with flavor. Don’t let the anchovy paste scare you. It scared me at first too but it’s better than working with little hairy fish. If you’re a vegetarian – leave them out, the capers take care of the saltiness and brine. If you’re not a vegetarian, then try it – you’ll like it!

The line up is fresh zucchini, fresh mushrooms, crushed tomatoes, anchovy paste, capers, fresh garlic, crushed red peppers and oregano.

And of course, pasta.

Here’s what to do:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28.2-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 small pack of fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
1 medium size zucchini, finely chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, halved, pitted
2 tsp. – 1 tbsp. anchovy paste, flavor to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons drained capers
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
3/4 pound spaghetti or your favorite pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and zucchini and saute for 3 mintues. Add tomatoes with puree, tomato paste, olives, anchovies, capers, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Simmer sauce over medium-low heat until thickened, breaking up tomatoes with spoon, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta; return to same pot. Add sauce and basil. Toss over low heat until sauce coats pasta, about 3 minutes. Serve with cheese.

This is one ‘sexy’ pasta – easy to make, full of flavor and quite a story!

Printable recipe here.


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3 comments on “Pasta Puttanesca

  1. Andrik Sim on said:

    Looks and sounds great, going to try it tonight and using real anchovies(for lack of paste). You seem to have written 1 tbsp tomato paste twice there :)

  2. Denise @ TLT on said:

    I love pasta puttanesca and people always laugh when I tell them the translation of the title! I like your variation with zucchini and mushrooms:)

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