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Humble Origins

There are many variations of pasta puttanesca. The name puttanesca is derived from the Italian puttane or “whore”. According to one story, the name purportedly comes from the fact that the intense fragrance of this sauce was like a siren’s call to the men who visited such “ladies of pleasure.”

Most varieties of puttanesca come from Naples. However, uncooked versions exist and typically hail from Tuscany. The recipe below features crushed canned tomatoes. Colavita is a good brand if you can’t get Pomi vacuum-packed. Traditionally, the sauce is served with pasta lengua (long cut pasta such as spaghetti or bucatini). I didn’t have any on hand so used penne rigate instead.

Penne alla puttanesca

4 cloves garlic, minced
extra-virgin olive oil
red pepper flakes, to taste
Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
capers, drained
crushed tomatoes
chopped Italian parsley

Saute garlic in olive oil until it takes a bit of color, about 2 minutes. Add anchovies and stir until the anchovies disintegrate. Add red pepper flakes, to taste. Add olives, capers and crushed tomatoes. Stir and reduce heat. Cook for about 15 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring frequently or until sauce reduces and thickens slightly. Fold in a handful of chopped Italian parsley at the last minute.

Add cooked and drained pasta to saute pan; toss. Serve immediately. You don’t need to check seasoning (or if you do, then do so sparingly). The sauce should be flavorful enough on its own without the need for added salt.

Cheese is superfluous. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Philistine added a little, you know, to “kick it up a notch”.

3 replies »

  1. Nice.
    I also read several accounts of the origin of the term “puttanesca” that say that ladies of the evening used to cook it because it was fast.
    I wanted to say that prostitutes in Southern Italy cooked this type of sauce because fishermen would pay them in anchovies, but maybe I just made that up.
    Mmm… I could go for some of this right now.


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