Pasta Puttanesca - Ricetta - Recipe - Gustorotondo Italian food boutique

Pasta Puttanesca, an original Italian taste

Always have the ingredients for a pasta puttanesca – precisely called ‘pasta alla puttanesca’ – in your larder. Any Italian knows this simple piece of good culinary advice, and it has saved all of us countless times when we are struck by hunger and need a quick fix of something truly delicious.

The ingredients for a pasta puttanesca couldn’t be simpler, nor more reflective of Italy’s produce and cuisine as a whole. All you need are wonderful capers (preferably kept under salt), the finest taggiasca olives you can find, peeled plum tomatoes and preserved anchovies. With these ingredients kept stocked in your cupboard, you will always have the basics available to make one of Italy’s most beloved and discussed pasta recipes.


Pasta puttanesca, whore’s way pasta

But why is the sauce so often discussed? This may be due to its slightly crude and eccentric title, which when translated into English gives us ‘Whore’s way pasta’

The truth behind this quite outlandish name for the pasta puttanesca is surrounded by myth and legend, and of course as with all myths and legends in Italy there are as many different versions as there are churches and bell-towers. Before we move onto the delicious puttanesca recipe below, let’s explore some of our favourite stories, from the oddest to the more feasible.


Was Pasta puttanesca simply a pasta for prostitutes?

Naturally the most common story surrounding the pasta puttanesca, or ‘the whore’s pasta’, is that it was a dish cooked up by Italian prostitutes once upon a time. The idea is that, given the simplicity of the dish, it was quick and easy to make so could give them a fast boost of energy in between clients. It hence became a favourite of Italian prostitutes round the country.

However there’s no real evidence for this history, and it seems most likely to be a slightly dirty tale that people like to exchange more so for its effect than for its accuracy.


Though pasta puttanesca can have another meaning…

A more likely explanation for the title of pasta puttanesca comes from translating it in a different way. The tale goes that the famous chef Sandro Petti in Ischia was asked in the 50s to make a ‘puttanata qualsiasi’ (any old rubbish) late one evening by some guests when he had run out of food from his menu.

This is when the genius of the pasta puttanesca revealed itself. Delving into his store cupboard, Petti found he rustled together all of the essential ingredients of the Italian larder (anchovies, capers, olives, tomatoes) and fried it up in a pool of golden and delicious olive oil. He served it to the guests who were blown away by the deep and salty flavours, and from that moment on pasta puttanesca was named on his menu.


How pasta puttanesca has spread since

The above story seems like it could be true when you consider the ingredients of the pasta puttanesca and where they grow. Olives, capers, anchovies… these are the staples of southern Italy, particularly along the Amalfi coast and near Sicily. The dish was first recorded in the mid-20th century and seems to have reached all across Italy by the 1980s. One would suspect that this was due to higher amounts of canned and preserved goods being produced and allowing the whole country to keep the staples in their cupboard for this wonderful sauce.

Whatever the story for the pasta puttanesca, one thing can be agreed on by all; it is an absolutely sensational dish, and if know this recipe below, you will always have a delicious meal awaiting you even if in you’re a rush and have an empty fridge!


Preparing a pasta puttanesca properly

With the history properly explained, now let’s explain properly how to make this wonderful dish full of umami flavour.

The key, as with all Italian cooking, is simplicity.

You must buy the best ingredients that you can possibly find, so invest wisely in your anchovies, olives, capers, oil and tomatoes. All these ingredients will last a long time in your larder, and will make you many a pasta puttanesca so spare no expense!

Now the next thing to consider is to not throw to many things into this dish. You already have very strong flavours such as olives and tomatoes, and very salty flavours in the capers and anchovies. These are plenty of ingredients, and in fact many more than we would normally put in one pasta sauce. Therefore please don’t be tempted to add anything else to your pasta puttanesca, such as onions or peppers or whatever other vegetable you see in your fridge and decide to chuck in!


Pasta puttanesca recipe for 4 people

  • 400g spaghetti
  • 400g san marzano plum tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 20 taggiasca olives
  • 5/6 anchovy fillets
  • 1 or garlic cloves
  • 1 chilli
  • Fresh and finely chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil


Pasta puttanesca method

Heat enough water to cook your pasta in and salt it generously. When it is boiling add your pasta and cook for the stated period of time.

In the meantime prepare your pasta puttanesca sauce. Heat the olive oil with the anchovy fillets, garlic and chilli. The anchovies will start to fall apart and fuse with the oil. The garlic will start to sizzle, and just as it looks as if it’s about to begin to change color (and start browning), this is the moment to add your tomatoes, olives and capers all together. SImmer the sauce on medium heat until it has cooked down to a thick consistency.

At this point, add your drained pasta to the pan with a good fistful of the parsley. Add a bit of pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce, and mix well in the pan letting the pasta puttanesca cook together for up to a minute or so.

Serve straight away, and enjoy it’s rich, salty, umami goodness!

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