pasta puttanesca

Pasta puttanesca means literally something like “the whore’s pasta.” The story goes two ways: either this sauce was whipped up by Italian prostitutes in hopes that its smell would seduce passersby in off the streets (in case the normal attractions of a brothel weren’t enough, I guess), or they made it for themselves for a quick and easy bite to eat when they had a bit of down time.

Who knows if either of these legends is actually true. What is true about this sauce is that it is packed full of flavor: garlic, anchovies, olives, and capers simmer (briefly) with tomatoes to produce a loud, complexly flavored sauce. A healthy dose of red pepper flakes contributes a spicy kick. This is definitely racier stuff than your average tomato sauce. I recommend having some crusty bread to mop up the leftovers, plus a nice glass of red wine (or two). 

Pasta Puttanesca

This is traditionally made with spaghetti noodles, but I had some rotini on hand, so I used that instead. I thought it worked very well with this sauce, since the bits of tomato, olive, and caper clung nicely to the ridges in the noodles. Plus, with a sauce of such colorful origins, you might as well use something more exciting than plain old spaghetti noodles. If you’re very sensitive to spice, you should cut the quantity of red pepper flakes. A full teaspoon is more than it sounds like. I thought the level of spiciness was perfect, but it was a bit much for Mark’s delicate palate.

Serves 4


4 medium garlic cloves, minced very finely
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 teaspoons minced anchovies (about 8 fillets)
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1/2 cup black olives (I used Kalamata), pitted and chopped coarse
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 lb. pasta (spaghetti, rotini, or other shape)


Place the minced garlic in a small bowl with one tablespoon of water, and set it aside while you are prepping the rest of the ingredients. Mash the minced anchovies into a paste, using a fork. Bring the pasta water to a boil; when it has boiled, add pasta and salt liberally. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic mixture, red pepper flakes, and anchovy paste over medium. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant but not brown. Add tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 8 minutes. You can mash the tomatoes with the back of the spoon or a potato masher to break them down more as they cook.

Drain the pasta when it is finished cooking. Stir the olives, capers, and parsley into the sauce. Add the pasta to the sauce, and toss until evenly mixed. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

One Comment on “pasta puttanesca”

  1. The Marquis di G. says:

    puttanesca: the
    name is italian for
    prostitution whore

    the above inspired
    by a poetic genius:
    teresa giudice

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