Pasta alla Puttanesca

As the story goes, pasta puttanesca got its name from prostitutes who used to serve the spicy dish to attract customers.  Other accounts trace it back to an Italian restaurant in the 1950's and it gained popularity in the 1960's.  Whatever the case may be, it is a very quick and easy dish to prepare bursting with bright flavours.  You can adjust the spiciness to suit your taste and omit the anchovy if you are vegetarian.

This is a great beginner's dish for novice cooks and goes very quickly if all the ingredients are chopped and ready to go.  

Serves 4 alongside a salad and bread or 2 as a hearty main

  • 1 can (28oz/796ml) whole Italian-style plum tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes or 1 Tbsp Italian hot pepper condiment, or to taste
  • 4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • 1 - 2 Tbsp capers, rinsed
  • ¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • shaved parmesan for garnish
  • 1 lb (454 gr) penne rigate (penne with ridges which hold the sauce better)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.

Remove the tomatoes from their liquid, reserving the liquid in the can.  Roughly chop the tomatoes or crush them with your hands.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes; sauté until the garlic just begins to soften.  Don't let it burn.  Add the tomatoes and heat for a few minutes.  Add the anchovy, capers, and kalamata olives; simmer to reduce slightly for 5 mins.

Meanwhile, salt the boiling water and cook the penne until al dente, or just tender.  When done, reserve a cup of the water before draining the pasta.

Season the sauce to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If it is not sauce enough, add some of the reserved tomato liquid and heat through.  Add the parsley to the sauce and toss with the pasta.  After tossing with the pasta, if it still isn't saucy enough, add some of the reserved pasta water.

Transfer to a large serving bowl or individual pasta bowls.  With a vegetable peeler, shave parmesan cheese over the pasta just before serving.

A perfect accompaniment is a tossed Italian salad: arugula, endive, and radicchio with thinly sliced red onion and a simple red wine vinaigrette balances nicely with the bright, briney flavours in the pasta.

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